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One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. -- Plato (429-347 BC)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Front Row At The Arkansas Legislature

Arkansas State Representative Karen Hopper (R - Dist 81) lives in Lakeview (Baxter County), Arkansas. She shares about her first 30 days as a freshman in the Arkansas House of Representatives.
ARRA News Service Guest Editorial by Rep.Karen Hopper:
~The First 30 Days~

It is indeed an honor and a privilege to serve the almost 27,000 residents of House District 81 as a freshman legislator. Thank you to all of you have contacted me during these first five weeks to voice your feelings about some of the almost 200 bills that have made their way to the House floor, not including the numerous budget bills, as well as other bills that have been introduced and have not cleared the various committees. Your input is invaluable.

Please know I welcome your comments and the opportunity to be of service with individual constituency matters. The best way to reach me during the session is via email--

This past week we passed the 30-calendar-day mark. We have already tackled a number of hot topics. The following is a synopsis of the first five weeks with a few personal observations...

Week 1--January 12-16
Monday and Tuesday were highlighted with ceremonial duties and organizational tasks that take up every legislative session's first couple of days. All 100 members of the House and the 35 members of the Senate were sworn into office on the session's opening day, January 12. The following day, the 35 members of the Senate gathered in the House for the State of the State address by Governor Mike Beebe. The State of the State Address provided a preview of some of the major issues expected to be addressed during the 87th General Assembly.
  • While the calendar for the first week is traditionally light until bills start flowing through committees, it was not without controversy. On Thursday, the House was divided on a resolution to recess for the presidential inauguration the following week. Some, including myself, voiced our opposition to a random practice of recessing for the inauguration. While the majority were in favor of the recess, we would resolve this matter in Week 4 by passing a resolution that the House will recess on the date of a presidential inauguration without regard to political party affiliation. While the House had recessed for the inaugurations of Presidents Clinton and Obama, it remained in session during both of President George W. Bush's inaugurations.

  • Week 2--January 21-23
    The second week was shortened by the Legislature being in recess on Monday in observance of Robert E. Lee/Martin Luther King Jr. Day and on Tuesday for the presidential inauguration. Among the items receiving passage during the second week:
  • Returning the state's presidential primary election to its traditional date in May alongside state and local primary election ballots. Lawmakers moved the presidential preferential primary in 2007 to February in hopes of Arkansas gathering more national attention during the campaign season. While Arkansas saw a tremendous voter turnout for the February 2008 presidential primaries, the turnout in May for state and local primary elections was down considerably. Governor Beebe has since signed HB 1021 into law.

  • By a vote of 98-0 the House approval stiffer penalties for violating a protection order. This bill makes such a violation a Class D felony, punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, if the offense occurred within five years of a previous conviction for violating a protection order. It is still in the Senate.

  • By a vote of 99-1 the House passed a bill whereby Arkansas homeowners over age 65 could see lower property taxes. Until Governor Beebe signed this new legislation into law, tax rates for homeowners were frozen when they turned 65. With some home values having dropped over the past few months, this new law ensures that a homestead of a person who is disabled or 65 years of age is assessed for property tax on the lower of the assessed value at the time the taxpayer qualified for the property tax relief or a later assessed value.

  • Also gaining passage was an act requiring health benefit plans to provide prostate cancer screenings for men 40 years of age and over. HB 1031 has also been signed into law.

  • Week 3--January 26-30
    It was hard to stay focused this week as news arrived of the devastating ice storm back home. However, work continued at the Capitol with passage of the animal cruelty bill in the House and two bills that would restrict the use of cell phones while driving.
  • After several attempts during past legislative sessions to pass an animal cruelty bill, Arkansas is now the 47th state allowing felony charges to be filed for aggravated cruelty against dogs, cats, and horses. The measure makes the cruelty offense punishable by a maximum penalty of six years in prison and a $10,000 fine. It adds five years to any conviction of torturing an animal in the presence of a child. Exemptions are for standard animal-husbandry and agriculture practices. The new law also states that officials with animal rescue groups do not have arrest power in animal cruelty cases. I cast my vote in favor of this measure backed by numerous groups including the Farm Bureau that gained passage in the House 88-9.

  • With input from a number of constituents, I voted in favor of both HB 1119 and HB 1013 restricting the use of cell phones while driving. HB 1119 prohibits drivers under age 18 from using a cell phone at all times and requires drivers ages 18 to 20 use a hands-free device. HB 1013 prohibits text messaging while driving for drivers of all ages.

  • I was among 28 voting against a measure that passed giving a city council the power to fill a vacancy on the council without the possibility of veto by the mayor.

  • By a vote of 93-1, the House passed a measure creating a separate criminal offense for smothering or strangulation or the attempt to smother or strangle. The bill makes such battery a felony offense, rather than the misdemeanor it is now.

  • Arkansas has a new law honoring and paying tribute to a soldier who is killed in action by lowering all state flags to half-mast on public buildings following House passage of this bill 98-0.

  • HB 1022 cleared the House Week 3 and has since been signed into law creating a $500,000 loan program for nursing students and faculty through the state Board of Nursing fund balances.

  • Counties are now required to reimburse their personnel for tips of up to 15 percent, bringing them in line with state employees. This measure easily passed the House and has since been signed into law.

  • Week 4--February 2-6
    Week four arrived with the list of bills for consideration growing daily, including the most contentious item to date--the tobacco tax hike. The week's highlights included the unveiling of a bust of the last Lt. Gov. Winthrop Paul Rockefeller.
  • In keeping with my campaign pledge to work to both oppose any new taxes as well as reduce existing ones, I was among 24 fellow conservatives voting in opposition to HB 1204 raising tobacco taxes. The initiative gained the 75 votes needed for passage in the House and has since passed the Senate. While many promises have been made for a wide range of healthcare initiatives to be funded from the increased funding the tax will bring, it should be noted HB 1204 provides only for the tax increase. Funds generated from the increased tax will flow into the general revenue account versus a line item where many believe these funds will be automatically set aside for the almost two dozen healthcare initiatives promised in the campaign effort to gain passage of the tax increase. The most costly item promised from the proceeds of the tax increase is a state-wide trauma system with an estimated $28 million annual price tag. I co-sponsored an alternative bill to fund the trauma system through an increase in fines to be deposited in a Trauma System Trust Fund.

  • A bill to adopt an agreement among the states to elect the president by nationwide popular vote cleared the House Committee on State Agencies on which I serve. I was among those voting in opposition.

  • Senator Johnny Key of Mountain Home's bill to allow blood donations by 16 year olds with parental permission cleared the House 98-0 and has since been signed into law.

  • The Senate approved SB 88 lowering the state sales tax on groceries from 3 percent to 2 percent. Lawmakers cut the tax from 6 percent to 3 percent in the last session. It is now in the House Committee on Revenue and Taxation.

  • Week 5--February 9-13
    Week five began with the passage of a resolution congratulating Barack Obama on his historic election as the 44th president. This resolution had stalled earlier in the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee when a number of us voiced our objection to a line in the resolution that maintained the United States was founded by slave owners. The verbiage was amended to read "a country whose history includes the shame of slavery."

    The deadline passed this week for filing proposed constitutional amendments. The General Assembly may refer up to three "general issue" measures to voters each general election. At the close of the deadline, 23 proposed amendment had been filed. I serve on the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee where all of these measures will be considered.
  • HB 1237, which I am co-sponsoring, cleared the House 57-42. It would remove churches and other places of worship from the list of places where people with concealed weapons permits are not allowed to carry guns. HB 1237 allows individual church memberships to decide whether to ban weapons versus the state of Arkansas.

  • The partial birth abortion pan passed the House 84-6. The bill mirrors a federal law upheld as constitutional in 2005 by the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • A bill that would bring extra revenue to county jails gained passage. The revenue would be generated by an increase in fines for misdemeanor offenses and would allow cities and counties to collect an additional $20 fine from a defendant upon conviction.

  • HB 1058 would remove the statute of limitations on rape when DNA evidence is present. The current limit is now 15 years.

  • HB 1046, The Freedom to Farm Bill, passed the House and would allow Arkansas animal owners the option of whether to register or enroll in an animal electronic identification program, except for federally mandated programs.

  • An initiative Rep. Mike Burris of Malvern has pushed for the past three sessions cleared the House this week and would make it easier and less expensive for students who have completed associate degree programs at two-year colleges to transfer to four-year universities in Arkansas.

  • Thank you for the opportunity to serve you in the Arkansas House of Representatives. Karen Hopper

    Tags: Arkansas, Baxter County, District 81, Karen Hopper, Representative To share or post to your site, click on "Post Link". Please mention / link to the ARRA News Service. Thanks!
    Posted by Bill Smith at 8:00 AM - Post Link


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