FORT SMITH -- Legislators for the River Valley met with the public at the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce on Friday afternoon to discuss some of the final proposed bills from this years' legislative session.
Senate Bill 382 was the first to be discussed. The act is to amend the Freedom of Information Act of 1967 by defining "meeting" as the convening of two or more members of a governing body of a public entity for which a quorum is required to make a decision, discuss public business or deliberate toward a decision on any matter.
State Rep. Cindy Crawford, a Republican representing District 51, which includes portions of Sebastian County, called the bill an overreach that has previously been brought to the legislators for approval.
Zachary Gramlich, the newly elected representative for House District 50, said he thinks it's good to define and clarify what the law means by "meeting," but he hasn't read the bill yet to have a full understanding of its impact.
Rep. Jay Richardson, a Democrat representing District 49, which also includes portions of Sebastian County, agreed there could be some benefits to the legislation, but not in the way it's currently written.
"I think it gets a little dicey when you start involving private businesses and how they could be impacted by such a thing," he said.
Carl Geffken, Fort Smith city administrator, said the Arkansas Municipal League is against this bill.
"As a person that has worked in now four states, this is the first state that says because of the attorney general's opinion you should be careful and only do two, but most states require that if it's less than a quorum, you can bring them together," Geffken said. "And some states also allow where the governing body can meet but not deliberate in order to listen to a presentation. Because it's all about deliberation, and that's where the question comes up."
The legislators also discussed House Bill 1516, which would allow a business to have a subject matter expert provide targeted classroom supplemental training or instruction in a public school and receive an income tax credit in return.
Gramlich said it's usually good to have businesses and education partnering together.
"It definitely incentivizes private businesses be involved with the public school system," he said. "We know how the pipeline works. That's a good thing that we need to be involved with. The tax credit is also a really nice incentive, so I think it's a good thing."
Richardson noted the Fort Smith School District and other county schools already do a good job with bringing business experts in and connecting students with internships.
Crawford agreed it's a win-win situation.
"And it talks about the background checks, that if the instructor is ever left alone in the classroom, then those people must have criminal background checks, and that's the way it's always been, so that kids can be protected," Crawford said.
House Bill 1235 is an act created by the River Valley legislators to create an exemption from sales tax for all purchases by nonprofit groups working with Arkansas residents who have been diagnosed with a disability.
Richardson said the bill affects every county in the state.
"I think most of us in the House are pretty level-headed when it comes to doing what's right for the people we represent. So I feel good that we might be able to get it out of the House," he said.
"There's plenty of organizations here who live on a shoestring budget, and when they have to replace an AC or something like that, it really cuts into the money they've got to work with. $800,000 in sales tax is a lot of money, so hopefully we can help some organizations out and they can continue to do good work for our community and the future of our state," Gramlich said.
The legislators also took a moment to discuss bills they are personally working on.
Crawford is working on House Bill 1465 to amend the law concerning benefits provided to disabled veterans, which entails exemption from state sales tax for disabled veterans and certain household members.
Gramlich said his Senate Bill 47 was recently passed as Act 50. The act repeals the previous law prohibiting leaving a running vehicle unattended.
"If we have an ice storm and you start your car using remote start outside, you're not going to get a ticket," Gramlich explained.
Richardson spoke about House Bill 1589 to repeal the limitation on issuing alcoholic beverage wholesaler permits.
"So right now in the state of Arkansas, there are only 10 wholesaler permits in the whole state," he said. "Think wholesale, we're talking about liquor and wine that can be distributed in the state of Arkansas. This law was passed by Jeremy Hutchinson several years ago, which in my opinion created a monopoly, with just these handful of people to work throughout the state. So my bill will repeal that and open it back up to allow competition and allow people to get the services that they need in the areas that they're in."