Senate OKs bill to ban sex offenders from state park play areas


LITTLE ROCK –The Senate on Thursday approved measures to restrict where some registered sex offenders can go in state parks and to cover the cost of administrative court clerks for another 60 days.

The Senate also passed a bill intended to help military families better deal with transferring their children among schools in different states. Senators approved an amendment that would make a bill to let churches decide whether to allow guns on their premises become effective immediately upon the governor’s signature.

The House gave final legislative approval to appropriations of $10 million for disaster assistance grants and $309,679 for salaries and expenses of the governor’s office. Senate Bill 10 and SB 78 go to the governor for his signature.

Both chambers will take Friday off and reconvene Monday.

By 35-0, the Senate passed Senate Bill 12 by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, which would prohibit level 3 or 4 sex offenders — the two highest ratings — from frequenting a swimming area or a children’s playground in a state park.

Irvin said the measure was supported by the Arkansas Parks Department and was designed to protect families who might leave children unattended at the recreation areas.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

The Senate also passed, 31-0, SB 82 by Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, which would pay about 125 court assistants across the state for two months until lawmakers can find a permanent source to cover a shortfall in the Administration of Justice Fund.

“We’ve got to address this issue,” Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, co-chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, said while presenting the budget bill. “this is a Band-aid … until we can fix it in joint budget.”

Teague said the Administrative Justice Fund, which is used to pay the clerks, has just enough money for another week.

SB 82 would take $100,000 in unobligated funds from the County Juror Reimbursement Fund and $50,000 in unobligated funds from the Municipal Court Judge and Municipal Court Education Fund to pay the court assistants.

In late 2011, lawmakers learned that the Administration of Justice Fund had been losing money for years because of a drop in fee and fine collections.

In November 2011, Gov. Mike Beebe infused $130,000 into the fund to avoid furloughs and layoffs of the court assistants.

During last year’s fiscal session, lawmakers discussed possible ways to address the shortfall but could not agree on a funding method.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel in February 2012 donated $450,000 from legal settlements, and the Administrative Office of the Courts was able to move about $150,000 from the agency’s automation project to the fund to keep court assistants on the job through the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.

SB 82 now goes to the House.

The Senate passed, 35-0, and sent to the House SB 15 by Sen. Eddie Williams, R-Cabot. It would allow Arkansas to enter into a compact with other states and the armed forces to make it easier for children of military personnel who transfer from one school district to another in different states.

Arkansas is currently one of seven states that have yet to approve joining the Interstate Commission on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. Williams’ bill would ensures that a student’s academic credits would be transferred among states. It also would give extra excused absences to children of deployed parents and make sure a child’s education records follow the family.

The Senate passed an amendment to SB 71 by Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, which would allow individual churches to decide whether to allow people with concealed weapon permits to carry their weapons in the building.

The amendment stipulates that the legislation would become law immediately when passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor. Legislation without such an emergency clause takes effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session unless another date is specified.

SB 71 is on the Senate’s agenda for Monday.

Reporter John Lyon contributed to this report.