Senate OKs school choice bill; House puts off override vote

LITTLE ROCK — A bill intended to replace Arkansas’ stricken school choice law passed the Senate on Thursday, while the House approved human trafficking legislation and measures aimed at protecting the privacy of workers and students with social media accounts.

The House put off an attempt to override a gubernatorial veto of legislation to require voters to show photo identification when they go to the polls.

The Senate passed Senate Bill 65, the school choice measure, by 34-0 and sent it to the House, where the sponsor, Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, pledged it would get a major rewrite.

In its present form, the bill would remove race as a factor in student transfers between school districts. He said he would amend the bill in the House to cap the number of student transfers at 3 percent annually and to include a July 1, 2015, expiration date.

He said he also would add a requirement that the state Department of Education collect transfer data and report to the education committee. Other changes he said he will propose would restrict transfers from districts currently under desegregation orders, and would specify that all transfers approved prior to enactment of the proposed new law would be exempt from it.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Robert T. Dawson struck down Arkansas’ school choice law, ruling that a race-based provision in the 1989 statute violated the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law.

The ruling was appealed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, which heard oral arguments in January.

Earlier this month, the House Education Committee rejected a separate school choice proposal after several committee members indicated they wanted to wait until the federal appeals court ruling.

Key says adopting his proposal would allow lawmakers to revisit school choice in two years in light of the federal appeals court ruling.

The Senate also voted 34-1 to approve House Bill 1690 by Rep. Debra Hobbs, R-Rogers, which would require public schools to observe a one-minute period of silence at the beginning of each school day. The bill goes to the governor.

In the House, members passed House bill 1581 by 85-1. The bill by Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, would allow a victim of human trafficking who has been convicted of prostitution that resulted from human trafficking to have the record of conviction sealed.

The bill also would require the posting of information about human trafficking, including a national hotline number, in bars, nightclubs, strip clubs, airports, train stations, bus stations and truck stops. Hotels and motels would have to post the information if they have been cited as public nuisances because of prostitution.

The measure goes to the Senate.

The House passed two bills by Rep. Nate Steel, D-Nashville, to protect the privacy of people with social media accounts.

HB 1901, which passed 92-0, would prohibit an employer from requiring a current or prospective employee to disclose his or her user name or password for a social media account. HB 1902, which passed 94-0, would prohibit an institution of higher education from requiring the same of a current or prospective employee or student.

Both bills go to the Senate.

The Senate on Wednesday voted to override Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto of Senate Bill 2, the voter ID bill, and the House was expected to take an override vote Thursday.

But House leaders, anticipating an extended debate, took into consideration an already lengthy Thursday calendar and lawmakers’ desire for a long Easter weekend and decided a veto override vote could wait until next week.