From the legislature:
* GUNS: The House approved HB 2025 allowing concealed weapon permit holders to carry guns into liquor stores.
AMPLIFICATION: The law only applies to employees of liquor stores. As several readers have noted, the legislature had already taken care of customers' packing heat. The law previously allowed owners, but not employees, to carry concealed weapons in the stores where they work.
Are concealed fetuses allowed in liquor stores? Zygotes?
* ALIMONY: With 55 votes, the House passed a long debated bill to provide for an end to alimony to a cohabitating spouse.
* EXECUTION WITNESSES: The House, with 48 votes, fell three votes short of passing a bill (resisted by the Correction Department) that would require executions be open to spouse, children or siblings of a capital crime victim. Prison officials had feared the cost of accommodating a potentially large crowd and also raised a fairness issue, as Rep. John Walker did today: the bill provides a place for a victim's family but known for the family of a person being executed.
* BODY ART: The House completed passage of those body arts bills. No debate after much earlier controversy and amendments.
* HIGHER EDUCATION: The House completed action, with 58 votes in favor, on legislation to remove an advanced degree qualification for the job of director of the state Higher Education Department. Gov. Mike Beebe's effort to make Shane Broadway the director were stymied by his lack of an advanced degree, but he's continued to serve as interim director. Rep. John Walker objected to the bill. A lack of reasonable qualifications for certain jobs makes those jobs a "farce," he said. This case sends a message that the state doesn't care about educational attainment. Walker had some rare support from Republicans in his opposition.
* AMENDMENTS: The Senate picked six constitutional amendments to go to match up with House picks to winnow down to three. Not exciting, as you might expect. The "tort reform" amendment from the chamber; election of the Game and Fish Commission; a vote suppression (ID) amendment; a legislative redistricting commission to change control of the process to favor the currently majority Republican legislature.
* CLEAN WATER: A coalition of groups announced opposition to a bill written by polluting industries to gut clean water law in Arkansas. The news release follows.
Today, representatives from the Arkansas Sierra Club, Audubon Arkansas, Citizens First Congress, Ozark Society, and the Arkansas Wildlife Federation joined together in opposition to House Bill 1929 as a direct threat to the water quality in Arkansas.
“House Bill 1929 would immediately and drastically lessen water quality protections all across our state,” said Glen Hooks of the Arkansas Sierra Club. “Arkansas has some of the best water quality in the entire country. This bill puts our water quality at risk, and must be stopped.”
The bill, supported largely by the industry group Arkansas Environmental Federation, purportedly aims to streamline the permitting process in Arkansas. However, instead of specifically addressing that one small problem, House Bill 1929 removes the current presumption in law that most Arkansas waterways are either drinking water sources or potential drinking water sources—thus removing the high level of protections for those waterways.
Dr. Dan Scheiman of Audubon Arkansas said, “HB1929 jeopardizes future water supplies while offering inadequate protection for existing drinking water. Audubon believes that our state’s water issues should be addressed in a public, transparent, and collaborative process with respect for the law of the land. HB1929 does not meet that standard and is detrimental to our future.”
Kate Althoff of the Citizens First Congress said, "HB1929 would compromise the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality’s ability to protect Arkansas waters. It is a blatant violation of the Clean Water Act and, if passed, would ultimately lead to a costly federal intervention. Let’s expose HB1929 for what it is — an expensive, unrealistic, and environmentally harmful “solution” to an easily solved problem. Help us keep the "natural" in the Natural State by encouraging your senators to vote against this bill.
Alice Andrews, Conservation Chair of the Ozark Society, said, “HB 1929 does not fully protect existing drinking water supplies. The ‘broader protections’ the amendments offer to waterbodies within the watershed of lakes or reservoirs used as public water supplies do not extend to the watersheds of rivers and streams that are used as drinking water supplies or to private drinking water supplies.”
“At a time when some of our sister states are being forced to explore expensive new sources of drinking water in the face of drought and population growth, we believe it is short-sighted to limit Arkansans’ future water options by eliminating the drinking-water designation from waterways simply because they are not currently and actively being used for drinking water,” said Wayne Shewmake, President of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation. “Our ‘Natural State’ cannot afford these short-sighted policies.”
In conclusion, Hooks stated, “Rather than the drastic measure envisioned by HB 1929, the bill should be referred to an interim study committee to craft a solution. We stand ready to work with citizens, industry and regulators to find a reasonable way to address the problem. Passing HB 1929 would unnecessarily put our water at risk.”