At least 3 issues make deadline for special Arkansas legislative session

ATVs, alcohol, Rx recompense get by

Posted: February 27, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Lawmakers on Monday finished drawing up bills they hope to have considered during an expected in-and-out special session to be held later this spring.

Drafts of at least three pieces of legislation -- dealing with all-terrain vehicles, open-container prohibitions and pharmacy benefit managers -- were submitted by the deadline set by legislative leaders, lawmakers said.

Notably absent from the trio of bills was any legislation dealing with guns, and backers of measures related to campus carry said Monday that they would try other options for having their proposals heard.

Meanwhile, some legislators were reportedly looking for a means of addressing the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality's rejection of C&H Hog Farms' application for a new permit, though it was unclear whether they had come up with a proposal to do so by Monday's deadline for draft legislation.

The governor and legislative leaders have sought to ensure that a special session held at the end of the ongoing fiscal session will be compact by avoiding complicated issues that are likely to spawn lengthy debates.

Sponsors of any proposals for the session are expected to gather signatures from two-thirds of members ahead of time to show that their bills have broad support.

In identical letters to the governor earlier this month asking for a special session to be called, the House speaker and the Senate president pro tempore set Monday as the deadline for final drafts of bills intended for the session to be completed.

The first two issues were submitted last week, dealing with the off-road vehicles and alcoholic drinks in cars. They are considered technical fixes to existing legislation that do not have opposition, and their sponsors said Monday that they had near-unanimous support from colleagues.

The most highly publicized issue of the special session -- the regulation of pharmacy benefit managers -- went through its final edits on Monday, said one sponsor, state Rep. Michelle Gray, R-Melbourne.

Lawmakers and Gov. Asa Hutchinson have expressed a desire to put pharmacy benefit managers under the scrutiny of the state insurance commissioner, after a large number of the state's independent pharmacists complained they have been squeezed by cuts to their reimbursements rates for generic drugs that were enacted at the start of the year.

Gray said she collected about 25 signatures from her House colleagues willing to take up the issue, before pausing her signature-gathering last week to focus on drafting the bill. She said last week that she would not try to bring up her proposed regulatory bill during the fiscal session, after Hutchinson assured her it would be put on the call for a special session. The governor sets the agenda for special sessions.

The Bureau of Legislative Research, which assists lawmakers in drafting legislation, on Monday put the finishing touches on legislation Gray is sponsoring with state Sen. Ronald Caldwell, R-Wynne, Gray said. She said she expects to get signatures from about 80 House members expressing a willingness to consider the changes.

Also Monday, Donald Ragland, a Republican from Searcy County who was effectively elected to the House this month but who has not yet been sworn in, said efforts were underway to address a controversial hog farm in his district during the special session.

Ragland said legislators are working on finding a way to keep C&H Hog Farms open through a measure that could be passed in the special session. Ragland said he has been sitting in on meetings with legislators but not participating. He won the Feb. 13 Republican primary for a vacant House seat and is running unopposed in a subsequent special election.

He did not say what measures lawmakers were considering. Messages left for lawmakers said to be involved in the possible legislation were not returned Monday.

C&H Hog Farms, which houses 6,503 hogs, is located on Big Creek about 6 miles from where it flows into the Buffalo National River. It has faced criticism from people who are concerned that hog manure spread on nearby land is causing, or could cause, pollution in the river. The Arkansas Farm Bureau and the Arkansas Pork Producers' Association have defended the farm, arguing that the information C&H opponents is using to prove pollution is occurring does not actually show that pollution.

The department denied the farm's new permit, effectively shutting the farm down pending an ongoing appeal, after determining the farm's application was incomplete because it did not contain a study on the flow direction of groundwater or an emergency action plan.

While most lawmakers intent on getting their legislation considered for the special session deferred to the demands of leadership, others said they were charting their own courses.

Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, characterized the demands for signature gathering as "extra-constitutional" and said he would push to get his proposed fix to campus-carry legislation on the governor's call without collecting a single name.

The state constitution's section on special -- or "extraordinary" -- sessions doesn't say anything about requiring proof of support ahead of time for legislation that would be on the call. Once a special session is underway, lawmakers can tackle other items not on the governor's call by a two-thirds vote.

Garner helped pass the campus-carry law, Act 562 of 2017, allowing gun owners to receive extra training in order to take concealed handguns onto college campuses and into other public areas. But Garner says the legislation inadvertently required all instructors to teach the "enhanced" courses, even if they disagree with them. The senator says he wants to allow instructors to opt out.

"It's good legislation and it should be on the call, but I refuse to play this game where there is extra requirements to get something in the special session," Garner said Monday.

Both Garner and another lawmaker who has proposed offering opt-out legislation, Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, said Monday that they think the issue also can be solved through rule-making by delaying the requirement until after the 2019 general session. They said they would accept that option as an alternative. The rules for issuing enhanced licenses were developed by the Arkansas State Police.

Democrats, who have proposed their own changes to Act 562, namely prohibiting guns in school dormitories, similarly are not filing legislation for the special session.

The special session will be called once the ongoing fiscal session, which deals with budget issues, ends. Legislative leaders have said they hope to wrap up the fiscal session by mid-March.


The calendar of public events of the 91st General Assembly for today, the 16th day of the 2018 fiscal session.


9 a.m. Joint Budget Committee, Room A, Multi-Agency Complex.

1 p.m. House Management Committee, fourth-floor conference room.

Upon adjournment of both chambers, Special Language Subcommittee of the Joint Budget Committee, Room B, Multi-Agency Complex.


1 p.m. Senate convenes.


1:30 p.m. House convenes.

A Section on 02/27/2018