by Max Brantley
Several significant bills on the legislative agenda today:
* GOVERNMENT SPENDING: Rep. Bruce Westerman failed to amend his government-strangling HB 1041 to place an arbitrary cap (no more than 3 percent, but less in hard times) on state spending growth. The amendment would have addressed structural problems pointed out with the original bill, particularly the cap it placed on spending of gross revenues, an amount from which operation of statewide offices and other expenses are taken off the top. Some separation of powers problems there.
Westerman got 49 votes for the amendment, not enough to pass it. I haven't seen the roll call yet, but that suggests he's mainly got the Stepford Republican Caucus and most of its 49 votes behind his bill, but few others. For now, Gov. Mike Beebe is winning one. (UPDATE: Two Democrats, John Edwards and John Catlett voted for the amendment. Four Republicans didn't vote, two because of absences and one Speaker Carter, who traditionally doesn't vote.)
* LOTTERY SCHOLARSHIPS: The House passed, 69-21, HB 1295 to change lottery scholarship amounts to a system that provides less for all recipients, but comparatively more for students in the third and fourth years of a four-year college education. Two-year students now get $2,250 and Four-year students get $4,500. The bill changes the amount to $2,000 for all first-year students, regardless of institution, then $3,000, $4,000 and $5,000 for second-, third- and fourth-year students in four-year colleges. A two-year college student would be limited to $2,000 the second year. Cumulatively, community college students take less of a cut than four-year students, particularly the first two years. Two-year students going forward take an 11 percent cut in the first two years over current amounts. Four-year students take a 44 percent cut.
* VOTE SUPPRESSION BY VOTER ID: The Republican Party's bill, sponsored by Bryan King, to suppress Democratic voter constituencies by requiring a voter ID to vote was delayed briefly in the Senate today by addition of an amendment that, among others, removed a photo ID requirement for nursing home residents and made other changes. None lessen the burden on obtaining IDs by people who don't have them or a second trip to a courthouse to attempt to get a challenged vote counted, a process that resulted in wholesale invalidation of votes in states where Republicans have legislated similar schemes.
* TEACHING THE BIBLE IN SCHOOL: "This bill does almost nothing," says Rep. Denny Altes of his bill to allow school districts to develop curriculum for teaching an "academic study" of the Bible. No debate. Three no votes. Is there a better example of the empty demagoguery that defines this legislature in the era of Republican majority? A bill that does nothing but blatantly designed to pander to a narrow interest group.
* 20-WEEK ABORTION BILL PASSES SENATE: Rep. Andy Mayberry's bill to ban abortions in the 20th week of pregnancy and after (except to save a mother's life or in cases of rape and incest) passed the Senate 25-7 and goes back to the House for concurrence in amendments. By banning abortion before fetal viability, the law violates current U.S. Supreme Court precedent. A lawsuit is a certainty when, not if, it becomes law. The no votes — L. Chesterfield, Elliott, S. Flowers, K. Ingram, D. Johnson, U. Lindsey
D. Wyatt. Not voting, same as a no in effect: Burnett, E. Cheatham, B. Pierce.
* POLICE POWER EXPANDED FOR CHURCH COLLEGE: The House approved, 84-4, Rep. Mark Biviano's bill to give police powers to private college police forces. Biviano is home to Harding University. Rep. Jim Nickels questioned giving police power to a private entity and asked whether constitutional rights would be protected. Biviano said similar statutes had been upheld in other states.
* GUN SECRECY: The House was scheduled to vote today on Sen. Fireball Holland's to make secret the names of people issued concealed carry permits by the state of Arkansas. But the bill was passed over. It would end the tiny shred of accountability the list now provides for errors in permits granted and in checkusp on permit holders who commit acts that should result in loss of permits. Meaningful resistance? Hard to fathom in the God, Guns and Fetuses Session of the General Assembly.