January 2019 Magazine

From Our Editor: Caleb Talley

Caleb

“You do not examine legislation in the light of the benefits it will convey if properly administered, but in the light of the wrongs it would do and the harms it would cause if improperly administered.” – Lyndon B. Johnson
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January brings forth an opportunity for lay folk like myself to take a stab at a few resolutions in an attempt to have a year better than the last. When the new year ends in an odd number, like 2019, January also presents state lawmakers with an opportunity to take a stab at a few new pieces of legislation.

On Jan. 14, members of the 92nd General Assembly will converge on the Capitol for their biannual regular session. And they will do so with a catalog of potential legislation waiting in what will be dozens of pre-filed bills. Over 50 have been filed in the months since filing began on Nov. 15.

I enjoy the chance to take the pulse of our incoming legislature, the chance to see where our lawmakers’ priorities are heading into a session that will certainly produce some 2,000 bills.

And as with any regular session, there’s bound to be a little good, bad and ugly.

There have been several issues that have taken center stage in recent years, and they’re bound to take top billing again this session – long-term highway funding, Arkansas Works, internet sales tax, government efficiency, etc. To date, only one pre-filed bill aims to tackle one of these reoccurring issues. The first one filed.

House Bill 1002, filed by Rep. Dan Douglas (R-Bentonville) would require certain out-of-state sellers to collect an Arkansas sales and use tax. For years, Arkansas has operated with a law on the books that put the onus of paying the sales and use tax on the consumer, had the consumer ordered something from out-of-state to be used in Arkansas. Let’s call that the Sears Roebuck Law. HB1002 places the onus on the seller. If passed, we’ll call it the Amazon Law.

While I’m a fan of the low cost and convenience afforded to me by Amazon Prime, the structural advantages of remote sellers harm both the state’s sales and use tax base and small businesses. Requiring remote, online sellers to collect a sales and use tax puts in-state businesses on a level playing field and opens up a line of revenue for the state.

Another pre-filed bill that will undoubtedly garner some attention and plenty of debate is House Bill 1004, sponsored by Rep. Charles Blake (D-Little Rock). The proposed legislation would automatically register eligible voters at the DMV when getting or renewing their license unless they request not to be registered.

Blake saw resistance when he filed a similar bill in 2017. Critics across the aisle weren’t comfortable with the price tag–an estimated $42,000. Perhaps that money is better spent paying lawmakers to debate the merits of a state knife or state firearm (Senate Bills 5 and 6).

If lawmakers are concerned with the cost to the state for unnecessary expenditures, they’ll have an excellent opportunity to refer a serious cost-saving measure to the voters during the 2020 general election. A pair of bipartisan resolutions, House Joint Resolution 1002 and Senate Joint Resolution 1, filed by Rep. Douglas and Sens. Jim Hendren (R-Gravette) and Keith Ingram (D-West Memphis), respectively, will challenge lawmakers to put their money–or their receipts–where their mouth is by offering voters a chance to abolish the biannual fiscal session, which costs the state roughly $1 million.

In 2008, voters approved a constitutional amendment that authorized annual sessions, with fiscal sessions in even-numbered years dedicated only to budget bills. The first fiscal session was held in 2010.

It’s worth noting that when Hendren and Ingram filed the same bill in 2017, it never made its way out of committee. As Rep. Douglas even pointed out, some lawmakers enjoy their per diems, which amount to $155 a day for legislators who live more than 50 miles from the Capitol and $59 for those who live less than 50 miles, in addition to a more than $40,000 salary.

Another bill worth noting is House Bill 1028, filed by Rep. Johnny Rye (R-Trumann), an unenforceable and therefore ceremonious bill that proposes a fine on social media platforms for censoring certain content. The bill curiously defines hate speech as “content that an individual arbitrarily finds offensive based on his or her personal moral code,” and only applies to social media companies headquartered in Arkansas with more than 75 million followers. To my knowledge, there aren’t any.

Rep. Rye has also filed a bill to forbid the removal, renaming or rededication of any monument honoring military service dating back to the French and Indian War.

Political posturing aside, the 2019 regular session is bound to produce some quality legislation, whether it’s the passage of Rep. Julie Mayberry’s (R-Hensley) House Bill 1015, that would require high schools teach journalism, or Rep. Jimmy Gazaway’s (R-Paragould) House Bill 1003, which would strengthen the state’s anti-bullying policy.

Who knows? We could even see some action on long-term highway funding. But I’m more likely to keep all of my New Year’s resolutions than that happening.

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