LITTLE ROCK — A bill to restructure the state treasurer’s office in the wake of questions about the current officeholder’s handling of millions of dollars in state investments passed the Senate on Tuesday.
The Senate also approved, without discussion, a House bill that would remove the governor’s authority to suspend or limit the sale, dispensing or transportation of firearms during an emergency.
The House approved legislation that would impose new restrictions on the body art industry and rejected a measure that would guarantee a place for relatives of a capital crime victim at the execution of the perpetrator.
Senate Bill 838, Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, would increase the size of the state Board of Finance and expand the panel’s oversight of state investments by the treasurer’s office. The board also would be allowed to decide who works at several important positions in the treasurer’s office, and would detail a series of required procedures for various investments handled by the state treasurer.
“The bottom line is to ensure transparency and accountability,” Rapert, R-Conway, told Senate colleagues.
He said Gov. Mike Beebe and state Treasurer Martha Shoffner did not oppose the measure, which passed the Senate 35-0 and goes to the House.
In December, the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee asked for a criminal investigation into the way Shoffner’s office sold bonds, including her decision to sell bonds before they matured that cost the state more than $434,000 in potential earnings.
Results of the state audit were turned over to the Pulaski County prosecutor. Officials also revealed earlier this year that Shoffner has been under federal investigation for more than a year.
Without discussion, the Senate also approved House Bill 1819 by Rep. Charlotte Douglas, R-Alma. The measure passed 35-0 and goes to the governor.
Douglas said on the House floor, where the bill passed earlier this month, that the bill is part of the National Rifle Association’s legislative package and is intended to ensure that Arkansans are able to defend themselves in times when the government may not be able to defend them.
Body art restrictions
The House on Tuesday approved two bills by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain Home, addressing body art.
Senate Bill 387 would allow body scarification and dermal implants but would prohibit sub-dermal implants. The bill originally would have banned scarification, but it was amended to authorize the state Department of Health to regulate scarification instead.
The bill passed 62-11. It goes to the Senate for concurrence in a House amendment.
Senate Bill 388 would make it illegal to perform body art on the nipple or genitalia of a person under 18 or on a person who is incapacitated by the use of drugs or alcohol, among other restrictions. It also would require parental consent for a person under 18 to receive body art and would prohibit branding of a person under 18 regardless of consent.
The bill passed 66-8. It goes to the Senate for concurrence in a House amendment.
The House rejected SB 52 by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, which would guarantee relatives of the victim of a capital crime the right to witness the execution of the person convicted of the crime.
Currently, the attorney and spiritual adviser of the inmate, three members of the media and six to 12 members of the public are allowed to witness an execution. Family members of the victim or victims are not assured seats. SB 52 would guarantee that the spouse, parents, adult siblings and adult children of the victim be allowed to witness the execution if they wish.
Presenting the bill in the House, Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, said Hester filed the bill after being contacted by a relative of a victim who was not allowed to witness an execution.
Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, said the bill would add to the cost of executions and invite lawsuits. He questioned why the state should guarantee seats at an execution to the victim’s family but not to family members of the person being executed.
The bill, which passed previously in the Senate, failed in the House on Tuesday in a 48-13 vote. It needed 51 votes to pass.
Ballot proposal reforms
The Senate approved three ballot proposal reform bills, all sponsored by Sen. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis.
SB 821 would require those being paid to collect signatures for a ballot initiative to be trained and registered with the secretary of state’s office.
Also under the bill, clearly fraudulent signatures would not be counted during the initial signature count, the county clerk or secretary of state would be required to report fraudulent signatures to the local prosecutor and state police, and every group collecting signatures would be allowed just 30 days to collect signatures.
The bill passed 29-1 and goes to the House.
SB 822 would require any company that wants to pay people to collect signatures for ballot initiatives in Arkansas to register with the secretary of state’s office. The measure also would require those ballot question or legislative question committees to file a financial report with the secretary of state’ office if they spend more than $500 on the effort.
The bill passed 33-2 and goes to the House.
SB1029 would require a candidate for political office to undergo a criminal background check by the Arkansas State Police. The candidate would pay for the check.
The candidate would be informed whether he or she has committed a crime that might disqualify him or her from holding public office. Those crimes are any felony, property theft, abuse of office or witness tampering.
If a candidate with a potentially disqualifying conviction gets on the ballot, the attorney general and local prosecuting attorney would be notified. If elected, the person could face up to a $25,000 fine.
Ingram said all three bills are supported by the attorney general’s office and the Family Council and are in response to signature collection problems that occurred last year when 70 percent of signatures submitted to the secretary of state’s office in support of two ballot issues, one to raise the severance tax on natural gas and one to allow casino gambling in four counties, were ruled invalid.
Other bills the House considered Tuesday included:
• HB 1962 by Rep. Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, which would cap lifetime alimony awards at 10 percent of the payer’s net income for a marriage that lasted less than 10 years and 35 percent for a marriage that lasted 10 years or more. The bill also would end alimony payments if the recipient is in an intimate, cohabiting relationship. Currently law ends alimony if the recipient remarries.
The bill passed 55-21 and goes to the Senate.
• HB 2204 by Rep. Gary Deffenbaugh, R-Van Buren, which would require a school board to review any increase in a school district employee’s salary of 5 percent or more. The bill passed 96-0 and goes to the Senate.
• SB 812 by Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, which would eliminate a requirement that the director of the state Department of Higher Education have experience as a teacher on a college campus and instead require that the director “demonstrate competence” in agency management or related skills. Shane Broadway, the department’s interim director, is currently unable to serve as director because he lacks teaching experience.
The bill passed 58-19 and goes to the governor.