From the Arkansas Statehouse...

Week in review.

In General Business on 14 February 2009 at 1:07 pm

By a one vote margin, the Senate decided to send a tobacco tax increase to the governor’s desk. The tax will pay for various healthcare provisions and a statewide trauma system, which legislators still have to create. Senators voted to cut in half the number of members on the state Martin Luther King Jr. Commission. The 26-member commission endured a long period of political infighting before a leadership change last year.

Without debate, the House approved of outlawing a particular abortion method. The bill caused a stir in committee after its sponsor presented a last-minute rewrite that opponents were unable to review before their testimony. The House rejected a measure that would have allowed wider access to the criminal records of public officials. It passed a bill that will allow people to bring concealed weapons into churches. Speaking on the floor in favor of the bill, Rep. Donna Hutchinson said she felt forced to vote for it because it is unfair that poor churches are unable to afford private security teams.

The Senate Judiciary Committee put on hold a proposal to create the crime of strangulation. Opponents argued that strangulation is covered under other parts of the law, and that a new criminal category could wreak havoc in courts. A House committee said natural gas companies should be able to use the power of eminent domain in order to lay pipelines. A separate committee ruled that the Arkansas Contractors Licensing Board cannot fine contractors who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

Rep. Richard Carroll, a white legislator who comes from a majority-black district and whose wife is black, tried to join the Legislative Black Caucus. His request was denied. To join, said the caucus chairman, “You have to be an elected legislator and you have to be black.” Sen. Tracy Steele, the term-limited senator who is rumored to be considering a challenge for Carroll’s House seat in 2010, said he has not ruled out running for President of the United States. Backed only by a shoddy CD player, Charley Pride sang over half an hour of his country hits from the Senate lectern. A House committee recommended that the full body commend Bobby Hurley of Clarksville for making the Professional Rodeo Hall of Fame.

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