by Mark Carter
Posted 2/11/2013 12:00 am
When a potential $1 billion steel mill deal is the “light fare,” then you know your legislative session is, as the kids used to say, heavy.
Guns, abortions and even the death penalty reigned supreme again last week at the 89th General Assembly. Oh, there was that little ol’ steel mill. Legislators in both chambers met to question state officials over the proposed Big River Steel mill in Osceola, and received assurances about everything from finances to risk mitigation.
Before the session ends, lawmakers must decide whether to give a final stamp of approval for the project. Big River plans to employ 500-plus at an average salary of $75,000, which is nearly twice the state’s median household income.
In the meantime, the newly Republican Legislature advanced issues related to guns, abortion and capital punishment (perhaps leaving some in the Capitol longing for the days of state nickname resolutions).
On Thursday, the full Senate approved a bill that sponsors say will overcome a state Supreme Court objection to the state’s death penalty. The bill passed 33-0.
Previously, the flavor of chemical used in lethal injections was left up to the state Correction Department, but the high court said the method must be Legislature-approved. Sen. Bart Hester’s bill would spell out a barbiturate as the chemical of choice. The Cave Springs Republican’s Senate Bill 237 now heads to the House.
Meanwhile. Gov. Mike Beebe awaits a bill outlawing capital punishment in Arkansas that likely will never be filed. Beebe said last month that he’d sign such a bill if it ever made it to his desk.
Moving onto abortion, a House bill banning abortions without a separate rider under the state’s federally mandated health insurance exchange passed the Senate on Thursday and is headed to an amenable Beebe for his signature.
House Bill 1100 by Rep. Butch Wilkins, D-Bono, would ban insurance companies from paying for abortions in the exchange except through a rider the premium of which is paid by the consumer. Currently, no such riders are available through Arkansas insurance companies, but lawmakers who supported the bill expect they may become available.
The bill allows exceptions for rape, incest or if the mother’s life is in danger, and passed the Senate with a 24-9 vote.
Meanwhile, Sen. Jason Rapert relaxed his abortion bill that would ban the procedure where a fetal heartbeat could be protected. Rapert’s original proposal allowed for the detection of a heartbeat by means of vaginal ultrasound as early as six weeks into the pregnancy.
Last week, in response to House committee opposition that resulted in his bill’s delay, the Conway Republican said he would change the provisions to allow for detection by means of an abdominal ultrasound which could be performed at 10-12 weeks.
The measure, Senate Bill 134, remains on the House Public Health, Welfare & Labor Committee agenda, having already passed the Senate. Both Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel have questioned the bill’s constitutionality.
Again last week, the Legislature addressed controversial issues related to guns. The Senate approved legislation that would make secret the names of the roughly 130,000 people in the state licensed to carry concealed handguns.
Senate Bill 131 from Sen. Bruce Holland, R-Greenwood, would exempt those names from the state’s Freedom of Information Act. The measure passed the Senate, 24-9, and heads to the House. State law currently specifies that the names and ZIP codes of concealed-carry permit holders are public record.
A legislative menu that featured guns, abortion and death wouldn’t be complete without some sex-offender laws. Beebe last week signed into law measures that would ban certain sex offenders from swimming areas and playgrounds in state parks and impose a fee on sex offenders who move to Arkansas from other states.
Check out all of Arkansas Business’ legislative coverage at ArkansasBusiness.com/89th-General-Assembly.