September 30, 2021
Griffin [00:08:00] The Senate will come to order. Madam Secretary, call the roll.
Cornwell [00:08:03] Ballinger, Beckham, Bledsoe, Caldwell, Chesterfield, Clark, Davis, Dismang, Eads, Elliott, English, Flippo, Flowers, Garner, Gilmore, Hammer, Hendren, Hester, Hickey, Hill, Ingram, Irvin, Blake Johnson, Mark Johnson, Leding, Pitsch, Rapert, Rice, Sample, Stubblefield, Sturch, Sullivan, Teague, Tucker, Wallace. [all present]
Griffin [00:08:56] Everyone please stand, including those in the gallery. Senator Wallace, you going to lead us in prayer today? But please–
Wallace [00:09:10] I’m sorry.
Griffin [00:09:13] Sen. Wallace will lead us in prayer.
Wallace [00:09:22] Thank you, governor. Oh, Lord, help us this day. Watch over our loved ones, our family. Lord, give us the strength and the wisdom as state senators to make wise laws, to be courteous to others, to work with each other during this time. Lord, thank you for the many blessings you have given us. Thank you for the love that you have shown all of us. In Jesus name, Amen.
Speaker 2 [00:10:07] [Pledge of Allegiance]
Griffin [00:10:12] Any announcements? Any items at the desk?
Cornwell [00:10:19] No, sir.
Griffin [00:10:24] So Senator, Senator Ballinger is passing over SB 719, SB 731, and when we get to it, SB 736, and so that brings us to SB 732. Senator Johnson, Sen. Blake Johnson.
Cornwell [00:10:57] Senate Bill 732 by Senator Johnson to prohibit coercion of persons to receive the vaccine or immunization for COVID 19 and declare an emergency.
Griffin [00:11:11] Senator Johnson, you’re recognized.
B Johnson [00:11:14] Thank you, members, for allowing me to come and my folks for allowing me to serve. This, this bill helps protect everyone from coercion into, to this vaccine. And it uses the existing exemptions that we have in Arkansas law now, and it follows closely to the federal laws. This uses the medical contraindications and a person’s religious freedoms and philosophical beliefs. Philosophical beliefs was put into Arkansas law some time back to protect children and the parent’s right to choose. And this is what I have written into this as an exemption. And if the employer is punitive in his taking into consideration, and the employee is is terminated, the employee can seek his lost wages just like equal to unemployment through the American Rescue Act funds. So that’s what the bill does, and I would appreciate a good vote.
Griffin [00:12:27] Any questions? Sen. Hendren has a question.
Hendren [00:12:29] Yeah, I got a point of order. I don’t think this bill is germane to the resolution with regard to extended recess, especially given the explanation that we had from the author of the resolution in the committee as a whole. So I would make a point that it’s not germane.
Griffin [00:12:46] OK, Senator Hendren has raised the issue of germaneness. I anticipated that all of these bills outside of redistricting and funding would involve a challenge to germaneness. I’ve been researching it, discussing with Steve for days, with Senator Hickey and Senator Ballinger and everybody who wanted to weigh in on it. So here’s, here’s my approach, and then I’ll tell you my answer. So I’m laying this out. So because this is probably going to apply to numerous bills, and it would be great if instead of raising this on each bill to get the same answer, we just realized the answer on this one. Having looked at the others that relate to COVID 19, the arguments I’m about to make apply to all of them. I think I can say all of them without exception. Yes, I think I can say that without exception. So here’s the approach. The first thing you do on germaneness is you look at the resolution. Now the intent of an individual member, Senator Hickey’s intent, I totally get it. But Senator Hickey didn’t pass the resolution. The Senate passed the resolution, and as Justice Scalia used to say, reading the intent of an individual who votes, many of which don’t even read what they vote on, some of them may have a reason for it passing, like I want to go home. That may be their intent. So the idea that intent is, is important is, is really not the case unless there’s some confusion as to words or from the text. So the first place we go is the text, and there’s only one way to read this text. If, if the people who drafted this text, whether they be members or BLR or whoever drafted it, if they wanted to exclude this piece of legislation and all these others– it looks like the only ones we’re handling today before the resolutions– if they wanted to exclude those, all they had to do was delete some words. Words have meaning. And as a, as an attorney and as a citizen, I have to give those words meaning. If it would have simply been written subsection D, “considering legislation related to the distribution of COVID relief funds,” we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But someone in their wisdom thought it needed some additional words. Those words are, “considering legislation related to the COVID 19 Public Health emergency.” I don’t know why they put those in there, but they did. So I don’t think there’s any debate whatsoever on this resolution. I don’t think– I think there are some people that are shocked that it was written this way. But it was and this is the resolution. And so having said that, under the resolution, it’s germane. But we do need to look at the Riviere case, and I’ve studied the Riviere case, and there’s been a lot of talk about the Riviere case. I think some of the statements about the Riviere case are a little more definitive than I can make, because the Riviere case got rid of two constitutional amendments that were not mentioned in the resolution setting out the purpose of the extension. That is in contrast to this case, which clearly articulates the different categories for the extended session, which includes, as I indicated, COVID 19. So the question becomes this one of what the majority in Riviere talked about, which is unfinished business, this whole issue of unfinished business. Now, I will point out, there were some strong, there were some– it’s really important y’all listen to this– there were some strong dissents, a strong dissent in there, that talked about the exceptional, exceptional circumstances, exceptional times. I realize that’s not the majority opinion. The majority opinion is not directly on point. But let’s, let’s– I think we can sort of agree on what the majority opinion said. The majority opinion basically said, you’ve got some work that needs to be finished later and so you extend. I think, I think there’ll be some legal challenges whatever happens in this body, but that, the fact that there’ll be a legal challenge, really doesn’t dictate to me whether something is germane. So the question– so but let me share my thoughts on that. I think that the issue of redistricting, I could argue– and I’ve seen the governor’s comments and some other comments– I think most everyone would agree that is on the safest, most solid rock ground under Riviere. I don’t think there’s any question about that. You couldn’t finish it, OK. No question. I think when it comes to funding, distribution of relief funds, to the extent you were waiting on some regulatory specifics from the federal government– and I’m just making that assumption for the sake of argument because I’m not in the weeds of all these, all the fun mechanisms– but to the extent you were waiting on something and you could not, you could not deal with it until the federal government got their, got their part done. Treasury regulations, I think, specifically in this instance. In that instance, clearly you had to wait on it. Now I will note that unlike redistricting, the distribution of funds is directly related to COVID. Now, Covid is an extraordinary event, an exceptional event like I’ve never seen in my lifetime, and you haven’t either. So that brings us to the third, the third issue, which is just COVID related legislation. I think it is entirely reasonable knowing that the school year would be starting, knowing that vaccinations were pending approval, final approval– and they have been approved finally, for anyone who thinks they’re not. They are. All that was up in the air. So is it as strong a case as with regard to redistricting and the waiting on Treasury under the Riviere case? No. No, it’s not. It’s not as strong legally if it’s challenged in court. However, however, I think there’s a good case to be made that COVID related matters pass the test in Riviere. You can make, you can make a good argument to that. And here’s the other thing. I think there is great deference from this chair to the legislative branch to do what it’s going to do. I will say there’s a lot of stuff y’all bring up I think is unconstitutional. And that’s neither here nor there with regard to whether something is germane. Now this case in particular relates to process in this specific issue. So it is something I needed to consider. I think there’s a good case to be made, particularly deferring to the legislative branch, that the words in the resolution and the legislation it covers is germane. I believe it’s germane. Now, couple of things I would say again, if those words weren’t in that resolution, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Number one. And number two, you could appeal with 18 votes. You could change it. But I believe it and the others relating to COVID 19 are germane. Does anyone wish to appeal?
Hendren [00:21:48] Yeah, I’d like to make a motion to appeal the ruling of the chair.
Griffin [00:21:51] The senator has made a motion to appeal my ruling.
Hendren [00:21:54] Can I explain my motion?
Griffin [00:21:56] The senator can explain his motion.
Hendren [00:22:04] And I agree we don’t need to rehash this on every, every one of these, but I think it’s a fundamental decision that we spent two hours talking about yesterday with regard to whether we’re going to do something. And I’ll fully concede, I’m not an attorney and I’m certainly not one of the great legal minds, as I admitted on the floor yesterday. But I have been here for 8 of these general assemblies of the 93. And I know we’ve never done what we’re getting ready to do. And as Senator Hickey said, it’s unchartered waters or unfamiliar territory. I can just tell you, we’ve never done what we’re getting ready to do. And we can ask ourselves why or we can just go ahead and do it and realize that we are breaking new ground and going in unchartered territory with regard to the General Assembly and how we adjourn our session. For the 8 that I’ve been in– and those of you who have been here know what we do when we sine die– we, we basically end the session, and we give ourselves a week to return in the event to address the issues that the Constitution gives us the ability to address, which is unfinished business, errors and omissions or veto overrides. And usually that takes about 20 or 30 minutes unless there’s a veto override. That’s how it has done for the 8 that I’ve been a member of and for, as far as I know, the other 93. So realize we’ve taken that two hour process and we’re turning it into potentially a week process because we’ve just begun another session. And under the ruling of the chair, what we are saying is it doesn’t matter what the Constitution says, what matters is what the resolution says. I’ve been getting texts all morning like the rest of you have that say you have a duty to uphold the Constitution and with– and withhold– and uphold medical liberty. And that’s open to interpretation about what that means. But I don’t think the precedent– and as far as the legal advice that I have talked to our parliamentarian and others who wrote the resolution, it is clear that there is, if not clearly a violation of the constitutional doctrine of unfinished business, it is very, very questionable what we’re doing. There’s, there’s a lot of reasons why the framers set up our General Assembly the way that they did. They did not want full time legislators, professional politicians. You begin to do this, you say that we can write into a resolution that we can come back and address anything we want so long as we put it in an unfinished business category, you have just changed this into a full time legislature with professional politicians rather than a part time General Assembly that meets 60 days or up to 90 days with three fourths vote of the General Assembly. We have thrown that in the dust heap and said we’re going to come back and do whatever we want whenever we want. I just think that is fundamentally wrong. I think the state is best served by part time legislators. I don’t think that there was any intention for us to come down here and start running dozens of bills through committees in an adjournment, in a recess to a sine die adjournment. But that’s what we’re doing. So I would, I would implore you to do the same thing that the texts are imploring me to do, which is uphold the Constitution. Whether or not the resolution is interpreted one way or another is not nearly–we don’t take an oath to the resolution when we come down here and swear in. We take an oath to the Constitution of the state of Arkansas. The courts have made it clear what unfinished business is. We had three months to address COVID legislation, three months. Many of these bills that we’re talking about have already been run and their fate determined once. To compare that with redistricting, which we had no possible way to complete because we had no census data is in no way the same with regard to unfinished business. We all know what we’re doing here. And I just think it’s wrong that we wink and nod and ignore the Constitution.
Griffin [00:25:59] Senator– one second. Senator Garner wishes to speak against? OK. OK. Before you do, I’m going to correct something for the record. I believe the Constitution, despite what the gentleman said, I believe the Constitution puts limits on this body. I do not agree with what Senator Ballinger said yesterday, which if you just put it in the resolution, you can meet indefinitely. If anyone heard that a few minutes ago, you need to clean your ears out, because that’s not what I said. In fact, I relied heavily on the reading of Riviere. The point is, Riviere is not on directly on point. There is some room there for arguments. It’s not my role to do that. I believe the Constitution sets up a part time Legislature with very few exceptions.
Elliott [00:26:46] Point of order, Mr. Chair. At what point do we determine that you were making comments as opposed to presiding? You’re down here making comments.
Griffin [00:26:56] I am. I am making– I am making comment because it’s part of my opine. I was asked to opine on whether it’s germane, and I am continuing to clarify what was just said. If you want to make a motion–
Elliott [00:27:09] You’re continuing to opine, though, after you had finished and you are back to opining again without a request that you do.
Griffin [00:27:15] I was asked to make a– an opine on, on germaneness. A statement was made from the well that contradicted what I said and I corrected it. If you think that’s out of order–
Elliott [00:27:26] I’m just making a point–
Griffin [00:27:27] –give it a shot.
Elliott [00:27:29] –that previously you were asked. But you continued, that’s all I’m saying. Can you continue to do that whenever somebody else comes up?
Griffin [00:27:35] I see no rule that that prohibits me from doing that. If you think there is one, bring it to my attention and you can ask the body to agree with you. This is, this is my role and it is what it is. Senator, Senator Irvin and then Senator Hammer. OK, Sen. Irvin.
Irvin [00:27:53] Actually, it was, it was a question related to what you just answered. But in the Riviere– it’s a question to the chair. Based on your determination in the Riviere case, it talks about the difference between what is constitutionally our authority as the legislative branch. And so I feel like those are two different discussions, germane to the resolution and then what could be found to be unconstitutional? Is that your understanding?
Griffin [00:28:23] Well, I had this discussion– it’s a very good question. OK, let me, if I could restate–
Irvin [00:28:28] Can I just, before you do that, specifically in the Riviere case, it talks about the fact that we as a Legislature have the ability through Legislative Council to distribute funding. And that’s an ongoing function that we have under the Constitution is to distribute funding and we actually have been doing that through Legislative Council, through peer subcommittee, through review, review subcommittee, through executive. We’ve been dispersing and approving funds, whether they’re from the state funding, whether it’s from federal funding of all kinds, including the ARPA funds and the CARES funding.
Griffin [00:29:12] No one’s questioning that.
Irvin [00:29:13] OK, so that– my question, then, would be as your reading of the Riviere case, that is a separate and distinct policy and that anything, whether we decide if this is germane or not, anything that we do during this extended session will be subject to a court challenge based on this ruling. It’s possible.
Griffin [00:29:33] Look–
Irvin [00:29:34] Is that– I mean, it’s possible.
Griffin [00:29:36] Anybody can challenge anything at any time in court. I’m not going to guess as to who’s going to challenge what. I do think there are certain things that you’re taking up here that are on more solid ground under the Riviere case than others. But that doesn’t mean all of them– that doesn’t mean the ones that aren’t on solid ground should be discarded. I don’t know if you were asking the question about difference in germaneness and the Constitution. We had that discussion last night. So there is, there is a feeling in some parts of the country that the germane issue only relates to the resolution. There are other parts of the country that read the Constitution and the constitutional law in concert with the resolution. We discussed this. I did a little research and I think it is– I take an oath to the Constitution of the United States and Arkansas, and I thought, there’s not a lot on this in Arkansas, right? This is sort of, I won’t– it’s not a case of first impression, but it’s a novel area. OK. And so I think it makes sense to read the case law in concert with the resolution and not just look at the resolution on its face.
Irvin [00:31:08] Thank you.
Griffin [00:31:08] Senator Hammer and then Senator Pitsch.
Hammer [00:31:12] Thank you, Mr. Chair. Senator Hendren, the– you, you made the point about the, about the redistricting portion of the resolution. But as I read the resolution and as I voted on it and the intent I had when I voted on it was that there would be the opportunity to address other COVID matters because COVID has not stood still. CMS is constantly changing the rules. Department of Health constantly changed the rule. And COVID itself is constantly changing. It’s a fluid subject matter that requires, I think, us as a legislative body addressing. In the Proclamation, Point D says considering legislation related to the COVID 19 Public Health emergency and distribution of COVID 19 relief funds, which, in my opinion, those are two separate things in one bullet point. I would just like to hear your response to that. With everything being fluid on the COVID side of things, why this bill and others to come would not be germane to the proclamation, please.
Hendren [00:32:23] No, I appreciate the question. And let me just start by saying with regard to the comments of the chair, I retract zero of what I said. And what I said I believe was accurate. But with regard to the germaneness of the issue of how we deal with this, we have processes that we have used throughout the pandemic outside of the General Assembly being in session. Senator Irvin mentioned those. We have legislative council and as you know, during the session, we passed legislation to give even more authority to require review of executive orders during a state of emergency. We increased the amount of authority that we have to, to respond to things like you’re talking about, the changing pandemic. But that does not mean we come back into a session unless there is– there is a method to do that. And that is the governor issues a call. And so I again, I don’t think that, and as I asked Senator Ballinger yesterday, once you open this door, where does it stop? Again, I think the courts have said it is clear when you cannot, there is no possible way for you to do something that is either by statute or by constitution assigned to you, which redistricting is, because you don’t have the census data, it is absolutely appropriate for us to stretch our session beyond what is viewed as the constitutional process. And the courts have said that’s justifiable because it is legitimately unfinished business. But to take that same approach and apply it to the tax, tax cuts, which is what we were– was said would be done, could be done or to do it to changing pandemics when we already have laws on the books about how we deal with those. We have legislative council. We have Public Health committee. We have ways to deal with those issues. We have ways to deal with the rescue funds. And I think as we heard yesterday, even that provision was not necessary. Those funds are going to– are being dispersed and the rules are in place that we didn’t even, don’t need to change the law because of that. So the processes are there. And the point that I’m making is what we are doing is basically convening another session. And that was not the purpose of the framers when they told us 60 days, 90 days with three fourths vote.
Hammer [00:34:33] Ok. And follow up, Mr. Chair. OK, so the, the bill, though, that’s being debated, not the tax bill or any of the other ones coming on, just this one right here with the proposed remedies that you just mentioned that are in place, that seems to have failed in the process of us being able to address issues that we are now bringing forth in legislation because, for example, the emergency order is no longer in effect and where we have tried to get movement among the agencies to do things that we as a legislative branch have invoked upon them and asked them to do and they are not responding to, it seems to me like through what’s provided in the proclamation is our last avenue of resort. That if we don’t do it now, we’re not going to be able to do it. How do you respond to that?
Hendren [00:35:23] I respond that every session that I’ve been a part of, within a month, two months, three months after the session, there are issues that come up that I wish we could go back and address. And I know that the way our constitution is written, there’s two ways that can happen. The governor can call us into a special session if he decides that it’s to the point where it warrants a special session, or I can wait till the next general session. Or I guess, a third way, if there’s a fiscal session or special session, we have provided ways with two thirds vote that we can address it there. We cannot– again, this is what I think is so important for this body to understand. If we take the approach that any time that we are not in session, something changes to the point where we feel like the Legislature needs to take action, we can just call ourselves back into session because we write a resolution that allows for that, we have fundamentally changed the nature of a part time legislature.
Hammer [00:36:16] Could we not eliminate that by voting down whatever resolution would be presented in the future? And I’m not sure how you voted on this resolution exactly, but we would be able to address that by just voting down a proposed resolution that you reference. And that would be our stopgap, would it not?
Hendren [00:36:34] Again, that’s what I’m saying right here is that I don’t think you can pass by resolution, whether we approve it or not, something that takes us outside the bounds of what the Constitution gives the General Assembly rights to do. And it does not, according to court ruling and according to the way,I understand the Constitution, give us the right to write a resolution that basically says we can call ourselves back here for changing conditions or things that we decide we want to come back for. I think that is a fundamental change from the way it’s been interpreted since I’ve been in the General Assembly and, and since the state’s been having general assemblies.
Hammer [00:37:07] All right, thank you.
Griffin [00:37:11] Sen. Pitsch.
Pitsch [00:37:12] My question almost got answered there because my question dealt with process. I haven’t served as long as you, Senator Hendren. This question may need the chair’s input too. But the Constitution says this is how you do it. The Constitution says we get to be in session when, for what purpose. And I feel like this discussion, whether we vote on the germaneness or not of that, at some level, is important for every resolution. But I’m 100 percent certain, I want everybody to understand, the Constitution says X, and I want the discussion to be around that and what the Constitution says is allowed for this body to deal with. And we kind of got there at this last question and I appreciate you saying what could happen. Does that– I mean, this is a scale. I mean, do we deal with germaneness in the resolution to be outside the Constitution? And that’s really the question, is it not? And I guess I would leave it at that.
Hendren [00:38:15] Well, again, this is the first time I’ve ever seen us not just do a week long, come back and do a sine die, and wrap up. I’ve been– there’s been a couple where we’ve taken a day or two to override a veto, but this is something new. And you know, I think, again, we can write resolutions however we want, but I don’t think that this body needs to start writing resolutions broad enough or even detailed enough– I mean, for instance, all of us may have different priorities about what the state of Arkansas needs to do over the next two years. But I don’t think it’s appropriate and the intent of the framers to say that rather than having a 60-day session every two years, extendable up to 90 days– and we’re day 110 now, and we could take it well beyond that if we open this can up and say, you know, basically, things have changed, we can continue to have this session. That is a fundamental change from what I think the Constitution says and certainly what I have seen in practice.
Pitsch [00:39:17] I guess I want to make sure the Constitution is at the forefront of our discussion, not just the germaneness of this resolution.
Griffin [00:39:28] If you’ll go back to what I said, the reason we’re even talking about the Riviere case is because case law is how we– is the– represents how the Constitution has been interpreted. So the only reason we’re referring to case law is because we’re talking about the Constitution. If, for example, you put tax cuts in here, in my view, that would not be– that would not meet the Riviere test.
Elliott [00:39:57] Mr. Chair, you are participating in debate when the only thing you’re supposed to do is determine points of order. I put this on the floor again. This is inappropriate.
Griffin [00:40:10] Thank you.
Elliott [00:40:10] The question should be to the person standing at that podium.
Griffin [00:40:14] Senator Pitsch asked me a question, didn’t he? I thought–
Pitsch [00:40:18] I, I addressed the chair.
Elliott [00:40:19] I, I know he asked you a question. I’m saying though, but you have a responsibility not to answer it because it was not a point of order. That’s all I’m saying.
Griffin [00:40:26] Thank you.
Elliott [00:40:27] Because that’s what you’re supposed to do.
Griffin [00:40:28] Thank you. Senator Garner. I’m sorry, Sir Dismang.
Dismang [00:40:34] Well, I, in a way, Sen. Elliott, I think I disagree a little bit because I do have a question based on his ruling, which then impacts how I proceed.
Elliott [00:40:47] The rule says points of order.
Dismang [00:40:47] And so, you know, I mean, I don’t know when we want to come back and be able to ask him questions, but I do want to be able to understand his ruling in the context in which he, you know, arrived at the conclusion because there was one thing that I need clarification on, because it’s the way that I see what we’ve been discussing. You know, and I want to make sure that so– what I need to understand–.
Griffin [00:41:06] I’ll go back here and talk to you if you’d like.
Dismang [00:41:08] I don’t even think that’s necessary. I mean, I think we’re to the point right now where we are actually debating. You’re an integral part of this because you made a ruling. And so I don’t think, I don’t have an objection to that. No,. I mean, I hate it for him to have to stand here and listen to it all. But again, it’s critical for me as we move through this to understand what I will be voting for and against, and it’s all contingent on the way you interpret it. And so for me, when I look at it, you know, there’s two qualifying factors. First, it has to be COVID related. And second, it has to be related to the federal funding of COVID. And so if I, if I’m, when I’m looking at these, each one of these bills, that’s the lens I’m going to be utilizing. Did you use that same lens or are you saying if it’s COVID related alone, then it does not meet– then it meets the resolution?
Griffin [00:42:01] No, I read that with the conjunctive. Find my–
Dismang [00:42:06] Because I think there’s some of these bills that we’re going to have that only deal with COVID. Some deal like this one–
Griffin [00:42:12] That’s a good point.
Dismang [00:42:13] No, no, no matter how I feel about the bill, when we talk about germaneness, if these members have included something about COVID and something about the COVID funding, federal funding, I don’t really have much of an argument because it’s, you know, in my opinion– others may feel differently– that it’s germane. And so we went through and said all of them, and, again, I’m not sure if there’s some that don’t, but did you look at it through the, the dual lens or is it just the COVID?
Griffin [00:42:36] Oh, so the way I approached the text is if I said, I’m going to give a piece of candy to Billy and Johnny, I’m going to give it to Billy, and I will give it to Johnny, both. And in this particular case, such as, if you look at B, correcting errors and oversights, I read them as two separate, two independent things. And I go back to what I said earlier. If you simply take out the language related to the COVID 19 public emergency, you just have distribution of COVID relief funds and we’re not having this conversation. So it’s surplusage for no reason if you, if you require it to relate to the second part of that conjunctive. Sen. Irvin.
Irvin [00:43:37] So follow up on that. There are some bills that do not include the language related back to the funding, so would those be germane?
Griffin [00:43:46] Yes.
Irvin [00:43:47] They would. OK.
Griffin [00:43:48] Because of the language.
Irvin [00:43:49] OK, and then if I can ask a question, Mr Cook. Mr Cook, if I can ask a question of you. One of the arguments about doing something in this extended session versus a special session is that it would only require 18 votes, whereas during a special session it would require two thirds. But wouldn’t that be– couldn’t that– is that a Senate rule and could that not be changed by 18 votes in the Senate?
Cook [00:44:27] Would you ask me that again. I know we–
Irvin [00:44:31] The two-thirds vote. So to require something outside of the call of a special session–
Cook [00:44:35] –when there’s special session.
Irvin [00:44:36] –to, to consider something outside the call of a special session. If it’s not on the call of a special session, our rules state that it requires two thirds of a vote. However, 18 members of the Senate could, could, could change that rule.
Cook [00:44:53] No, no, no, that’s a constitutional requirement. That’s in the Constitution.
Irvin [00:44:57] It’s Constitutional? OK, thank you.
Griffin [00:44:59] Senator Garner’s recognized again.
Garner [00:45:03] Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We keep talking about what happened in prior sessions and these procedurals and unwritten rules and things that we do to operate up here. Here’s what I know. Now, all those years Sen. Hendren has been up here, I don’t think there’s been thousands of Arkansans have died from a deadly pandemic. I don’t think there’s been hundreds of our neighbors who potentially could be fired and sent home. I don’t think there’s been schoolchildren who’ve been shut down and out of schools. We can act like we’re operating under normal conditions all we want to use these kind of weak minded, failed, the way it used to be, instead of acknowledging the facts on the ground that we’re in a global pandemic with multiple issues happening in front of us. You want to talk about norms? When in our history that you’ve been alive, have we used the power of government to shut down businesses? The executive branch did that under the rules and the authority they have. How many times we shut down schools for months at a time through the executive branch, which the rules and authority they have? How many times have we denied jury trials in the judicial system in violation of due process because of a pandemic, which we did multiple times? How many times did we have Zoom in those same judicial branch because of this pandemic? How many times have we not let the citizens come up here, be part of the legislative process in your lifetime? But we did that. How many times have we not allowed people on the floor because of the virus? But we did that. You seem to be beholden to the courts. We’re a separate, co-equal branch of government. You talk about the Constitution, the founders. The founders were brilliant in their knowledge. They gave legislators certain powers and far those powers is we determine what we do. It’s that simple. They knew there’d be situations, conditions on the ground that they could not predict when they wrote that constitution so they gave us leeway to address it. We’re not violating the Constitution. If you want to read the black letter law, we’re allowed to go into recess. We do it all the time. If we’re got a week of spring break we’ll, we’ll recess for a week and come back. That’s not against the Constitution. We do this all the time. We get the ability to extend it through the Constitution with two thirds. We are in extraordinary times today and we have a chance to act. I would agree with Senator Hendren if we pass this resolution similar how they did in Wells just to have an indefinite session. That was a trick they used to try to have a full time legislator. But let’s not play this game that we’re doing this to extend our power into full time politicians. I wish I was at home. I wish I didn’t have to come up here and have my neighbors saying they’re going to get fired. I wish we didn’t have to have that resolution on place. It’s time to act. And we have this opportunity due to the circumstances on the ground that we as a legislator, with powers invested us through the Constitution that Senator Hendren seems to be so in reverence of to act as a separate, co-equal branch of government. Do what’s right for the people and the power that’s invested in you. Don’t worry about a court case with a four-three decision with a dissent that basically said the same thing. I said if it goes to the courts, so what? How many abortion laws goes the courts and we don’t stop? How many unemployment whenever the governor takes it away goes to the courts? It gets thrown out. Yet, we came back to special session quickly to fix that. Act like men and women who are elected to act, and we have the opportunity to do so. Thank you.
Hickey [00:49:00] Thank you. Thank you, Mr. President. Members, you know, here I– I stand down here and we want to talk about games and things of that nature. I tell you what the games are nowadays is that the truth is not in all this stuff. What we try to do is we try to sit– we try not only here, but because of this cute little Facebook and all this social media, what we try to do is say that somehow or another that the Arkansas Legislature is now incorporating that in with all of the, the federal mandates that come down and we twist and we turn that and that’s what everybody does.]We’re to the point that I am truthfully believing that we would prefer to, prefer to believe a lie than the truth. And it’s unfortunate. It is very unfortunate because I’m going to tell you the guy that did the resolution is standing down here, is standing down here before you. And it doesn’t mean that I don’t even agree with some of this stuff that’s in the resolution or in some of these bills. It doesn’t mean that I don’t, don’t believe in parts of that. However, what I am telling you is that I put that on there to be prudent for the state of Arkansas to make 100 percent sure that we were going to be able to receive these billion dollars in federal money that I truthfully don’t really believe that should have been dispersed out across the whole United States. But it was, and we were not going to leave it on the table. We can play and act all those little games that we want. We were not going to do it. So what I’m telling you all is that I put that on there and that these bills that do not deal with congressional redistricting or us sine die’ing, or vetoes that may come, that we may have to do, are not unfinished business the way that that was put on.]That is the truth. So you’re either going to take the truth are you’re going to worry about what somebody is going to think and twist and turn. But you have got to make decisions in your life right now of whether or not you’re going to be down here to get reelected or if you’re going to govern. Jimmy Hickey’s decided that I’m going to live on the truth. I’m going to say it the way it is. If somebody wants to run against me, which everybody out here is saying they’re going to do, then do it, you’re going to have to bow up. We’ll just see how it happens. But my constituents will know that what comes out of me, what comes out of me is the truth. Also, just to let you know, I just received through a text that these COVID funds are not available for 732. So these COVID funds, the executive branch had made a request through our consultant, and they’re, they’re not available. They do not comply with that. I will read this to you.
Ballinger [00:52:21] Point of order, Mr. Chair. He’s speaking on the bill, not on the motion to appeal. [unintelligible].
Griffin [00:52:32] Make a motion, and I’ll recognize you.
Hickey [00:52:36] I’d appreciate speak on that. Is that now or later?
Griffin [00:52:39] Well, let’s finish your argument on the motion now.
Hickey [00:52:41] Well, again, I’m the one that put that on there. That’s the way it is. Whenever you take the entirety, whenever you look at the entirety instead of pieces of the resolution– you take the entirety of what the testimony has been in the House, which is of live stream that you all have passed, so that that is of record. Whenever you take all that into account, whenever you take the Riviere case, which is also stated within the resolution, to be sure that that everybody understood that we took that into an account. Whenever you look at all of that, these bills past the congressional redistricting and a sine die down to get out of here, they don’t fit. And I would ask that you do not vote on them. Thank you.
Griffin [00:53:35] Clark against. Anyone else after that? OK. Sen. Clark. I got Sturch.
Clark [00:53:49] I have said before I have never doubted Senator Hickey’s veracity or what he meant. But when I read the resolution, I read it and looked at the pandemic and looked at the way things had been handled and had no doubt that there were things that I would want to handle and had no doubt that there would be a fight about it when we came back but that I would probably want to do it. And that is the truth. And anybody that knows me knows that that’s the way I think. So there ain’t just one truth. And the ruling of the chair is what I predicted the ruling of the chair would be, and I bet the court’s ruling’s what I predicted it would be too.
Griffin [00:54:44] Sen. Sturch.
Sturch [00:54:45] I just had a quick question for the chair. Are we not then voting to either uphold your ruling or against your ruling?
Griffin [00:54:52] Yeah, it’s an appeal. It’s an appeal of my ruling. I believe that motion was made by Sen. Hendren.
Sturch [00:54:58] OK, so then voting for–
Griffin [00:55:00] We’re having debate on the, on the motion.
Sturch [00:55:02] Voting for the appeal would then be against what you ruled. Voting against it would be to uphold it.
Griffin [00:55:07] Yes, to, to overcome. Right.
Sturch [00:55:09] Thank you.
Griffin [00:55:10] To reverse mine. Senator Johnson. Mark Johnson. Yeah, just– yes, a yes on the motion will be to overturn my ruling. And it’s an 18 vote– 18– it requires 18 votes. Sen. Johnson.
M Johnson [00:55:38] Thank you, Mr. President. Sometimes I like to think that the history this state began when I came down, sat right down here in 1965 as a page, and that nothing happened before that and anything that happened that is history that I personally remember, therefore, that’s what’s relevant. And respectfully to our president pro tem and to Senator, and to Senator Hendren, I’m wrong on that. And, you know, it didn’t begin when you guys got here, either. And there is what the Constitution says, and that’s what our rules say. We heard Miss Garrity yesterday explain to us that the, the courts do give deference to the independence of the branches and the fact that we decide our own rules and how we operate. That most important rule is that we have a process, and I, as I asked Mr. Cook yesterday, we are in the midst of that process and I think it’s proper how we’re doing it. I appreciate our lieutenant governor actually explaining how he reached his conclusion and even, again, with all due respect, Sen. Elliott, when he interrupted to further clarify why in the logic of his ruling. And while it takes a little more time, I think it’s important. And as Senator Hickey said yesterday, we are in new waters. We are plowing new ground. But I remember that many years ago, in 1965, there was this notion that on the 60th day at noon, the session’s over. And there weren’t these extended or even short extensions unless there was a compelling reason. I was also told by some old hands and some of y’all– I know Steve remembers a gentleman named Marcus Holbrook. And he was saying how much controversy it was when they created the Legislative Council because there were a lot of people that said, in effect, the Constitution says, you come in every two years. This was before we had fiscal sessions. You meet for 60 days and on the 60th day you go home, you’re done. And that was abided for a long time. Now, whether that’s practical in the 21st century, I don’t know. I suspect it’s not. And I’m not against anything we’ve done to create interim committees and to deal with the world the way it is. I think that’s important and we’ve done it. But we have a real good procedure is that we take, in this case, a resolution that was passed and we apply the clear language of it, not what the author thought because Lord knows everyone in this chamber has probably authored a bill and thought, Gosh, if I had to write that differently, I might have worded that a little bit differently. That’s why we’re– we go in and amend our own bills so much. But once it–.
Griffin [00:58:47] Sorry, please proceed.
M Johnson [00:58:51] Once it’s passed, it becomes a document of the body, not of the author. And that’s where we are right now. I believe that the ruling of the chair was appropriate and correct. And I think all else being equal, not in every case, but all else being equal, I believe we should support the ruling of our presiding officer until such time as it’s very clear that he is incorrect. Now, yes, this may go to court and yes, it may be unconstitutional. That is none of our business at this point. This is where we cross the line into the court’s jurisdiction. When you’re not sure about something– my dad had a saying, that’s why they build courthouses. Judges rule on interpretation of the law and, in this case, it would be interpretation of the Constitution. And I respect that. But I clearly believe that within these walls that we should support the logical conclusion drawn from the language, only the language, of the resolution and interpreted by our presiding officer. So for that reason, I would ask that you defeat this motion, that we move forward, and vote your conscience and your, your feelings, needs, logic, and the words you get from your constituents and, and do so. And I will, I will yield for a question from Senator Irvin.
Griffin [01:00:31] Senator Irvin.
Irvin [01:00:33] Senator Johnson, yesterday we took a procedural vote on the process of how we were going to deal with legislation that came before the Senate. Is that the way you interpret that vote yesterday?
M Johnson [01:00:45] Specifically, which one? The one–
Irvin [01:00:47] Sen. Dismang’s motion to consider votes that are– consider bills before they’re read across the desk and assigned to committee. Was that a procedural vote on how we conducted our business in the Senate?
M Johnson [01:01:00] Yes, ma’am. I believe that was only a procedural vote.
Irvin [01:01:02] It was a procedural vote. Did that have–
M Johnson [01:01:03] But it was only binding to the one day.
Irvin [01:01:05] Did that vote– [Gavel] I am asking these questions for the benefit of the public and people who were attending the Senate yesterday that are spreading lies on social media. That was a procedural vote. Is that correct? It had nothing to do with any issue. Is that correct? It had nothing to do with feral hogs or tax cuts or abortion bills or Covid bills or vaccines or masks or redistricting. It had nothing to do with any of that. It was a procedural vote on how the Senate was going to consider legislation during this extended session.
M Johnson [01:01:41] If, if I, if I, if I may answer your question this way, Sen. Irvin– and my– and I actually asked Senator Dismang in his presentation this question. I said is your intent to allow us to reas across the desk any bill today, talking about yesterday, that related to the redistricting and to postpone consideration of reading, only reading across the desk– and correct me if I’m wrong Sen. Dismang– the– that– we would– for bifurcating the reading of bills across the desk, from a, from a Wednesday to a Thursday at 9 a.m. And that was the only thing I think that was.
Irvin [01:02:23] Exactly. That’s the only thing that was. And just like today, what we’re deciding and discussing is not on anything policy related. It is about how we’re going to determine how we deal with any legislation that comes before the Senate.
M Johnson [01:02:39] No, ma’am. Not exactly. And here’s why. Here’s the difference.
Irvin [01:02:41] But it’s a procedural– this is a procedural vote. This doesn’t have anything–
M Johnson [01:02:46] I believe I’ve answered your question on that, Senator Irvin. And let me, let me follow, though, by saying that whether the Senate votes to do something on Wednesday or decides they want to wait until Thursday to do something doesn’t rise–
Irvin [01:02:59] It’s a procedural vote.
M Johnson [01:02:59] It is procedural, but it does not rise to the level of something that is specifically defined in our rules about a bill is brought forth–
Irvin [01:03:11] This is a ruling, though. We’re dealing with a–
M Johnson [01:03:13] Please let me finish. I’m glad to answer your question, but I really want to close on this. When we have something in the rules, which we clearly do that the chair determines whether, in this case, the bill’s germane to the resolution. And then once he makes a ruling, any senator can challenge that ruling, which is what we are. Sen. Hendren made that challenge, and now it is a debatable motion. We are debating it,. So yes, it’s procedural, but it has a greater impact than whether or not we do something on Wednesday or Thursday. This has to do with the whole precedent and possibly even a constitutional issue that will be decided by the courts of how we take up certain legislation. And I remind everyone, and it’s been said many times, this is a unique situation. This is– sometimes have actually called this a special session. It’s not. This is the 2021 regular session. Legally, it is. Now, anything that goes beyond that– unlike some of my friends, I don’t try to read what courts say because every time I think I know what they’re going to say, they proved me wrong. But that is not our job within this, these four walls. Our job is to do what we think is correct as a co-equal branch of government and then move forward and allow the other branches to do their thing. There is legislation that will be considered here that can be vetoed by the governor, including, in my understanding, the bills on redistricting. Again, they’d be subject to the same constitutional things on any veto override if that were to be considered. But let’s try to stay in our lane. Regardless of the feeling you have about the substance of Senator Blake Johnson’s bill or, or any bill that may come up. To deny the body the opportunity to move forward and act on– in other words, if you don’t like Senator Johnson’s bill, vote against it. If you like it, vote for it. But at this point, our chair has made a very carefully considered and I think well explained ruling, and I ask that you defeat the motion to reconsider or to overturn the ruling of the chair. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Griffin [01:05:47] Senator Hester.
Hester [01:05:50] Governor, I move immediate consideration on the motion challenging the ruling of the chair.
Griffin [01:05:54] You heard the non debatable motion for immediate consideration of the motion made by Senator Hendren. This vote is not on Sen. Hendren’s. It’s on the motion for immediate consideration. Requires 24 votes. All those in favor say aye. Opposed? The ayes have it. We will immediately consider Senator Hendren’s motion. [Gavel] Let’s take a deep breath. All those– OK, so the motion that Senator Hendren made, a yes is to overrule, to overrule my opinion. OK. A yes, if you didn’t like what I decided. A no, if you like what I decided. Correct? All those in favor say aye. Opposed no. Noes have it. Two hands for a roll– there are five hands for a roll call. Please call the roll.
Cornwell [01:08:31] [Yes: Bledsoe, Chesterfield, Dismang, Eads, Elliott, English, Hendren, Hickey, Hill, Ingram, Leding, Pitsch, Sample, Teague Tucker; No: Ballinger, Beckham, Caldwell, Clark, Davis, Flippo, Garner, Gilmore, Hammer, Hester, B Johnson, M Johnson, Rapert, Rice, Stubblefield, Sturch, Sullivan, Wallace; Not voting: Flowers, Irvin; Totals are 15 yes, 18 no, not voting]
Griffin [01:08:34] Anyone wishing to vote or change their vote? Cast up the ballot. 15 yeas, 18– sorry, 15 yeas, 18 nays. The ruling of the chair stands. Cast up the ballot. Senator, Senator Johnson. We’re back on the bill. Senator Johnson. Sen. Johnson, remind me. Did you already– you’ve already– ok. So you were taking questions? Is that where we left off? Yeah. Senator Dismang.
Dismang [01:09:25] And we are at questions. Was this bill debated in Public Health yesterday? Was there any public discussion on this bill or any other consideration besides what we’re doing today here in this chamber?
B Johnson [01:09:36] It was– the committee moved it out onto the floor.
Dismang [01:09:40] But was there any debate? Was there any discussion? Was the public allowed to testify or be a part of the process?
B Johnson [01:09:46] The committee did what the committee did.
Dismang [01:09:49] No, well, I understand what the committee did. But just as far as what I’m asking, just kind of yes or no, was the public allowed to participate in the process yesterday in relation to this bill at any point?
B Johnson [01:10:03]There was no public there.
Dismang [01:10:05] Okay, thank you.
Griffin [01:10:06] Please speak up. And Senator Davis and then Senator Hester and then Senator Ingram.
Davis [01:10:14] Senator Johnson, there was no one from the public signed up to speak for or against any of the bills. Is that correct?
B Johnson [01:10:21] That I saw. I mean, the room was pretty much empty.
Davis [01:10:25] Thank you.
Griffin [01:10:26] Senator Hester. No, he did not– he passed to Senator Ingram.
Ingram [01:10:37] On line 23, where it talks about an employee who seeks lost wages under this section shall be reimbursed comparable to unemployment benefits in the state through the American Rescue Plan, all of my research shows that this is not eligible funding. So are you– will this bind the state to make up the funding if, if the American Rescue Plan does not fund it? Because all the research that I have says that this is not eligible.
B Johnson [01:11:09] The– it doesn’t bind the state. It uses those funds.
Irvin [01:11:12] [01:11:12]I mean, I understand that, but this is not an eligible use of those funds.
B Johnson [01:11:17] [01:11:17]Well, I mean, finding an opinion on that is not surprising.
Irvin [01:11:22] [01:11:22]No, it’s very clear– the rules and regulations. I mean, Senator Caldwell, Senator Sample and myself are on the ARP committee and this is not an approved use of the funds. So again, my question is where is the money going to come from because these are not eligible funds?
B Johnson [01:11:42] [01:11:42]The it– doesn’t change the protections that are given in Arkansas law and is conveyed in this bill, even if the funds are not available.
Ingram [01:11:52] So what’s the use of the bill then if there, if there is no funding?
B Johnson [01:11:56] It gives protections for the employee to be considered.
Ingram [01:12:01] So the funding mechanism is, is– you didn’t research the funding mechanism that this is a use of the moneys that is approved by the federal government?
B Johnson [01:12:14] That was BLR’s drafting. I requested that and, and that’s what they put in here, and–
Ingram [01:12:21] Well, these funds are not eligible for this use.
B Johnson [01:12:24] And I have– I’m not on that committee and I have not seen the Treasury’s guidelines. And I didn’t even know they were guidelines actually set as of today, until somebody said that.
Ingram [01:12:38] There are guidelines, I assure you. Thank you very much.
Sturch [01:12:42] Further questions? Senator Garner, were you raised to ask a question?
Garner [01:12:45] Yes, sir, if I could make–
Sturch [01:12:45] You’re recognized.
Garner [01:12:45] My understanding of the American Rescue Plan is that it included the PUA, which the unemployment program within it, so it already did address some unemployment issues. But I thought that the general concept behind the American Rescue Plan was Covid related issues that money can be used for. And so far, I’ve not seen any challenges in courts or otherwise for those funds being used to pay salaries, used in an expansive amount of different ways. So would it be your opinion that this would be a legitimate use of the American Rescue Plan since it is a COVID 19 related issue and that we would fall into the preview of the guidelines and issues put out by the Treasury?
B Johnson [01:13:23] [01:13:23]Well, I do, because there’s been multiple things that this money is going towards and billions of dollars. And I think it would be a good thing for that money to go towards displaced employees because of COVID.
Sturch [01:13:38] Senator Tucker, you have a question?
Tucker [01:13:41] Yes, thank you, Mr. Chair. Senator Johnson, I understand perhaps no members of the public were signed up to testify for or against. For the benefit of the body, I was wondering if you could clarify how much notice there was to the public, how much opportunity they had to read this legislation and, and to drive to the state Capitol to offer their opinion and testimony before the committee. I mean, we were in here all day yesterday morning deciding whether we were going to even hear these bills or not. So how much notice was there to the public for them to drive to their state Capitol and make their opinions known?
B Johnson [01:14:10] I think, I think rules were suspended and there was 30 minutes prior to the committee meeting, but you would have to talk with the committee.
Tucker [01:14:24] Thank you.
Sturch [01:14:25] Senator Rapert.
Rapert [01:14:27] Thank you, Mr. Chair. As it relates to the funding, Senator Johnson, is it not true that we saw some of the funding given away in the form of prizes to people attempting to coerce them to actually take vaccines?
B Johnson [01:14:42] Yes.
Rapert [01:14:43] Is that true? And something related to even lottery tickets and free licenses. And I’m hearing even schools were trying to pay students to coerce them to do that. Is that not true?
B Johnson [01:14:54] What I’ve heard.
Rapert [01:14:55] It seems to me that just about anything under the sun, if somebody actually suddenly wants to do it seems to find a way to get approved these days, doesn’t it?
B Johnson [01:15:05] It does.
Rapert [01:15:05] Thank you,
Sturch [01:15:07] Senator Clark, question.
Clark [01:15:09] Yes, Senator Johnson, you’ve been asked at least a couple of questions about the hearing on your bill. Are you on that committee?
B Johnson [01:15:16] No, sir.
Clark [01:15:17] Did you set the timing for that committee meeting?
B Johnson [01:15:19] No, sir.
Clark [01:15:20] Or do you chair that committee?
B Johnson [01:15:21] No, sir.
Clark [01:15:22] So you had nothing to do with the timing or any or how it was done?
B Johnson [01:15:28] No, sir.
Clark [01:15:29] Thank you.
Sturch [01:15:30] Senator Hendren, do you have a question?
Hendren [01:15:32] Thank you, Mr. Chairman. So I, I got two questions, really. The first one has to do with Senator Ingram and I think other people’s point. And I mean, we, we can say we’re happy or unhappy about how the funds have been spent in the past, but the fact is they’re federal dollars and if the federal government says you cannot spend them on that, which, according to Senator Hickey, that’s what they say and have said. So let’s just assume for, for a moment, that’s true because I don’t think Senator Hickey would be untruthful about it, that that is the case. And you have a bill here that says these funds will be paid by the American Rescue Plan. We have a state law that says we will do something that the federal government says we cannot do. How does that resolve itself?
B Johnson [01:16:17] I hadn’t seen a letter from the Treasury with that opinion.
Hendren [01:16:21] But if it is– I guess what I’m saying is because we’ve been told it’s true, and I trust Senator Hickey that he’s telling us what, what the facts are. If that is the case and you have a law that says that we will do something that the federal government says, no, you won’t. What happens, what happens? How do we resolve that? What does the state– what does DFA do or the Commerce Department with these unemployment payments? People say, well, the law says you have to pay for them from these funds. The program says, I don’t care what your law says. How does that resolve it?
B Johnson [01:16:49] I have not seen a letter from the Treasury with that opinion.
Hendren [01:16:54] OK, the second question is as you know, Arkansas is an at will state. And you’re basically changing that here to saying that if you’re terminated because of failure to follow the policy set forth by the company, you’re automatically eligible for these unemployment insurance benefits. A change to our typical at will type of approach in Arkansas. And particularly when you say in line 17 and 18, it doesn’t just say religious beliefs. And you’ve said, you know, that someone’s displaced because of COVID. Nobody is displaced because of COVID. They’re displaced in– under what you’re talking about here because they refuse to follow the, the, the guidelines set forth in a private company. And they make that choice, and the company says these are policies that we are adopting for a work safe place, a safe workplace, and then they, all they have to do to say, No, I’m not going to do it is say I have a philosophical belief. I have a, not religious, a philosophical problem with that. I don’t have to do what you tell me to do. Am I reading that correctly?
B Johnson [01:17:53] Philosophical beliefs has been part of Arkansas law in children in education for a long time. And I have never heard you complain about that.
Hendren [01:18:04] I’m just trying to understand as an employer. We’re not talking about children or education. We’re talking about as an employer, I have lots of policies in my plant. I have policies about drug testing. If somebody– because it is important for me to have a workplace that’s free of people under the influence of drugs. If somebody comes in and says, I have a philosophical problem with submitting to a drug test, are we going to take that same approach with those type of decisions? Or is it just with regard to whether or not the person is asked to get a vaccine?
B Johnson [01:18:34] This bill is related to COVID 19 vaccines that were developed in the emergency order. That’s how they were developed within one year. The typical vaccine is developed over a 10 year period with double blind studies. The original double blind studies are not in place even after the first year. Those people. So there is good question to question how these were developed. I have been immunized. That was my choice. But I have no problem protecting the citizens of Arkansas and what they believe because of how this was developed and the unknowns. And they– this same thing is being translated into pregnant women with a year study. And how that’s going to handle the next generation that are being carried is unknown. And I have no problem protecting the citizens of Arkansas and their choice. In history, it has never been forced. A vaccine has never been forced on the citizens. There is no mandate. It is– it has always been the choice. Mandated by the private or public has not been a part of government or business. When history, when vaccines were developed, it was because you saw your neighbor die. The morbidity and mortality of this disease is not to that level, but the infectiousness of this disease is. So it is driven by numbers, not by how many people are dying that has it. It’s by the number of people that the infection goes to and, and it’s a very low rate of death among those who get it. So there, there is a public distrust generally of government. And, and whenever those– whenever this has been so politicized– I support the people and we’re at a 60-something percent vaccination rate, the last thing I heard in Arkansas. And whenever we first started this, 60 percent was the number that gives you herd immunity. And it went from 60 to 65 to 70 to 75. And I think they want 100 percent vaccination. It’s a changing bar, and I cannot imagine why the people would not be reluctant.
Hendren [01:21:33] OK, and, and again, I agree that you have the right to make that choice and make that decision. But what you’re doing– and you would agree that obviously people are coming to different decisions. Some people are deciding they want to do it. Other people are deciding they’re not wanting to do it. Agree? But what we’re doing with this law is we’re saying, even though a private business may come to a different decision, you’re going to take my philosophy and implement it on your workforce. And I want to make– I want to ask one question here. You keep saying forced vaccinations. Nobody is forced to get the shot under even the executive orders. It is, it is required as a condition of employment, just like many other things are required. But a person still has the choice. They don’t have to take the shot. And as you said, we’ve got open jobs all over the place and many of them don’t require vaccination, so they’re still a choice. And nobody is being forced to get vaccinated, correct?
B Johnson [01:22:32] And my bill does not impose upon those private businesses. It– they can fire. They can give whatever consideration that they choose. But if it’s punitive, then the, the funding mechanism. If it’s not– if the funding mechanism is there– is not there– you still are protected with your philosophical beliefs like Arkansas law has now along with religious and your medical.
Sturch [01:23:10] Any further questions for Senator Johnson? Senator Clark.
Clark [01:23:14] Senator Johnson, the president has ordered government ordered vaccine mandates and our governor, our attorney general, several others have come out against government ordered vaccine mandates, correct?
B Johnson [01:23:32] Yes.
Clark [01:23:34] And I assume that you would be against that, and many in this body would say that they were. The– are you aware– it– did it seem like quite a coincidence to you that many large employers all at one time began to have these vaccine mandates? That didn’t seem like a coincidence to you? Are you aware that there was a big Chamber of Commerce meeting and one of the main presenters was the colonel who heads the COVID task force?
B Johnson [01:24:07] Did not know that.
Sturch [01:24:08] Let’s keep it to the bill, please.
Clark [01:24:10] What?
Sturch [01:24:10] Let’s keep it germane to the bill.
Clark [01:24:12] It, it is germane to the philosophical part of this, Mr. Chair. But the– are you, you aware that as part of that presentation that he talked about how the vaccines had rolled, out, how the elderly and those most in danger got the vaccine first and then how it had stalled out. And now that they needed help. And so in listening to that meeting, it appeared that we had government asking business to do what government couldn’t do, just like the Biden administration is ordering it to be done. That creates a philosophical problem that’s not just business choice, doesn’t it?
B Johnson [01:25:01] Yes.
Clark [01:25:02] Thank you, Senator.
Sturch [01:25:03] Further questions for Senator Johnson. Senator Pitsch.
Pitsch [01:25:07] Senator– thank you, Mr. Chairman. Senator Johnson, I’ve read your bill and I’ve read Senator Hammer’s bill, and there’s a lot of overlap and a lot of similarities. I have just got confirmation we’re going to hear Senator Hammer’s bill as well today. Have you two tried to find the slight differences? As I look at them, it’s probably the unemployment insurance and maybe one other small thing. Have you two worked together trying to get to one bill that we as a body can either vote for or not vote for?
B Johnson [01:25:38] I have not. I have not been– no one has came to me–
Pitsch [01:25:45] You understand my question is that it’s kind of for me which one is– I– well, I’ll just go there. I’d like you to explain to me one more time. I know several people have asked about the unemployment insurance coming from an entity that’s the federal government. And this law, basically, if you vote for it, I agree, we’re telling the federal government that we’re not going to adhere to what I think is an illegal executive order, but it’s the federal government. I’m not sure the federal government is going to give us funding to do this for unemployment insurance. And maybe that’s the question I should ask of you. That’s– I see so much similarities, I’d rather vote for, one that doesn’t deal with the unemployment insurance with something that’s an unknown. You want to weigh in and try to sell us your bill?
B Johnson [01:26:34] My bill does not deal with unemployment insurance. You’re given equal compensation to the unemployment benefit.
Pitsch [01:26:46] I’m– follow up.? I’m specifically talking about Line 24 and 25, the definition of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. That to me is– I’m not certain that exists and I don’t want a citizen to believe that that exists because that’s federal dollars, not something we’d have our hands on right now. And that’s the only real difference I see between years and his. And so I kind of want to make sure I flesh that out before we start casting votes for two very similar bills, in my opinion.
B Johnson [01:27:18] Understood.
Sturch [01:27:20] Any further questions for Senator Johnson? Senator Irvin, you have a– Sen. Caldwell, for what purpose?
Irvin [01:27:26] Just quickly in reference to that, I think, I think– is it, is it– my interpretation is that you included that section 23– lines 23 and 24 and 25, an employee who seeks lost wages under this section shall be reimbursed comparable to unemployment benefits to the state through the ARPA funds. Did you include that to, to– so that it would be germane to the resolution or, or is your intention that that be directed, and if it can’t be directed that way, then would this law if passed require us as a state to use state dollars to do that if these funds aren’t available? In other words, would that shall be changed to a may to alleviate that question?
B Johnson [01:28:19] Well, if it was may, then you could use state dollars. If it’s shall, then those funds are what you would use. And if you can’t use those funds, that mechanism would not be available.
Irvin [01:28:29] OK, so then–.
B Johnson [01:28:30] But the protect– those considerations for, for the belief and religious freedom and, and your medical is all there in place.
Irvin [01:28:44] OK, so you’re, so you’re saying that if those funds are not available to be for that use, then this employee would not be able to seek any lost wages from any, any type of government funding.
B Johnson [01:28:56] They could still apply for unemployment. And this, this mechanism– that unemployment is half of your regular salary. This mechanism would, would have done the other half and made that person whole until they can find another job. And it’s not in conflict with the right to work. So they would be made whole and that’s being done through unemployment and by the federal government.
Irvin [01:29:22] And did you– you stated, and I just want to repeat. You stated that you wrote this based on federal law, HIPAA, FERPA and then what’s existing state law.
B Johnson [01:29:35] And state law, yes. Those exemptions.
Sturch [01:29:37] Sen. Beckham. I’m sorry, I missed– I overlooked you. Did you have a question?
Beckham [01:29:41] I do. Thank you, Chair. Senator, are you– there seems to be a lot of concern about the adhering to federal law regarding– or federal guidance regarding the funding mechanism that you have here. That’s the vast majority of questions that have been answered. Are you aware of any other federal laws that the state of Arkansas willingly violates, such as medical marijuana, things like that?
B Johnson [01:30:09] Yes.
Beckham [01:30:11] Do you find it odd that we’re, we’re splitting hairs before we can make a decision on whether or not we’re going to violate federal law or federal guidance?
B Johnson [01:30:21] It’s pretty regular.
Beckham [01:30:24] Thank you.
Sturch [01:30:25] Senator Caldwell.
Caldwell [01:30:27] Thank you, Mr. President. I want to make a point to follow up on Senator Ingram. I stepped out and called Secretary Walters, who is chairman of the ARPA committee. And Sen. Ingram was correct. This money cannot be used in the manner that bill is written. Secretary Walters is watching live, and so I just wanted to make that point up from that– so everyone would know that Secretary Walters says it does not meet the guidance as the way the bill’s written. Thank you.
Sturch [01:31:01] Any further questions for Senator Johnson? Senator Mark Johnson.
M Johnson [01:31:09] Thank you, Mr. President. Senator Johnson, based on what Senator Caldwell just said, would you presume that if Secretary Walters is correct on September 30th, 2021, then could indeed Congress or maybe even the courts– we’ve talked a lot about the courts this morning– theoretically, of course, could they change that criteria should they desire? Either Congress or possibly even the agencies through rule?
B Johnson [01:31:44] Absolutely.
M Johnson [01:31:46] Thank you, sir.
Sturch [01:31:47] Question, Senator Hendren? Question, Sen Hendren.
Hendren [01:31:51] Yeah. Just one follow up. So you mentioned that it’s going to be paid– even if it could be paid for with the federal dollars, there’s still going to be a cost to private companies, correct?
B Johnson [01:32:01] How?
Hendren [01:32:02] Because the, the modifier that you get that your unemployment insurance rate is based on is based on the number of people who receive claims throughout your year, and that’s reported every quarter. So if a company has dozens of people because of their policy that receive these funds, their rate will go up next year for unemployment insurance.
B Johnson [01:32:23] This does not fund our unemployment. This gives equal compensation to what is available through unemployment through those ARPA funds. This is not a mechanism where that money goes into unemployment. They are– in this, it is equal compensation to what they would receive in unemployment through the ARPA fund. But so, but, but, but there– that, that’s a policy of that private business. If they make this policy and they lose employees, if those employees apply for unemployment, and it changes their rate, that’s their own fault. Not not any fault of this bill.
Hendren [01:33:09] Again, so I think we’ve just– you’ve just validated what I said, which is if a company chooses to have a policy that requires people to say, I’m not going to work, I’m, I’m going to go quit and get unemployment insurance and these benefits. That policy, you’re right, they, they chose the policy, but the employee made the decision. But the net effect is going to be an increase for employers, correct?
B Johnson [01:33:32] Through their policy, not through this legislation.
Hendren [01:33:35] This legislation is what’s making that change occur. So, there will be a price to employers.
B Johnson [01:33:42] No, their policy if they lose employees, it’s, it’s that decision that has, if they lose employees has increased their rate if that employee seeks unemployment. Not this bill. This is not an unemployment mechanism. This is compensation that would have made that employee whole if they were granted unemployment also.
Sturch [01:34:08] Any further questions for Senator Johnson? Senator Ingram.
Ingram [01:34:12] Senator, did I understand you to say earlier that there are no mandated vaccines?
B Johnson [01:34:20] There are no mandated vaccines by who?
Ingram [01:34:23] [01:34:23]Well, I think you said earlier– you were talking about that a mandate, that there were no mandated requirements for vaccines.
B Johnson [01:34:31] [01:34:31]In history? In history?
Ingram [01:34:34] [01:34:34]History, today, you know, yes.
B Johnson [01:34:38] [01:34:38]I don’t know of a mandated vaccine in history.
Ingram [01:34:41] [01:34:41]OK, well, we require vaccines to go to school of schoolchildren and we require vaccines–
B Johnson [01:34:50] [01:34:50]And these are considered whenever that, that happens. These, these, these protections are considered in, in Arkansas in our school setting.
Ingram [01:35:02] [01:35:02]But I thought you said there were no mandated vaccines, but we do mandate vaccines. I guess that’s my point.
B Johnson [01:35:08] [01:35:08]In a pandemic?
Ingram [01:35:10] [01:35:10]We mandate vaccines whether it’s a pandemic or not, correct?
B Johnson [01:35:15] [01:35:15]In a pandemic situation, that’s correct.
Ingram [01:35:19] [01:35:19]No, no. But I mean, in a non-pandemic situation, we mandate vaccines, correct?
B Johnson [01:35:26] [01:35:26]And these protections are given.
Ingram [01:35:30] [01:35:30]OK, thank you.
Sturch [01:35:33] Any further questions? Seeing no further questions. Anyone wish to speak for or against the bill? Senator Dismang wishes to speak against the bill.
Dismang [01:35:44] Thank you, Senator. I’m going to read a quote to, to y’all think. I think it applies today pretty well. “It’s going to be very, very exciting. Congress has to pass the bill so you can find out what’s in it.” Now, I got a lot of phone calls last night, and I tried to take every single one of them, talking about what we did yesterday. What I told them was I wasn’t a Pelosi Democrat. None of us in this room, minus the few that were privileged enough to be a part of the drafting process, had seen any of the bills that we considered yesterday in Public Health. In addition to that– no slight to the chair, to the rest of the members in that room, this is just the way it happened. We’ve been talking about process. Senator Johnson likes to talk about process a lot. I’m not proud of that process. 30 minutes notice, if I understood testimony correctly, we sat down, we read the bill numbers and we batch vote them out. The general public had 30 minutes notice, had no chance to read the bills, and we think that that’s OK. This is controversial. Like it or not, we’ve been debating just whether or not we’re going to debate these bills for a while. Yesterday, when I presented the motion so that we could delay to have time to read the bills, you know, the comments all over this chamber by the folks that were opposed to that said, we’ll do that in committee. What happened in committee? We didn’t do that. And somehow that’s OK. Somehow it’s OK that we exclude the public altogether from the process and we contain ourselves here. What’s happening? We’re getting information that we would have found out in committee about this bill. We would have had the comments from those at DFA and others, and we would have been able to have an exchange with knowledgeable people about how you can use these federal funds. But instead, none of us have an expertise and we’re debating amongst ourselves whether or not you can or cannot. Again, I’m not down here because I wholly disagree even with what Senator Johnson is trying to do. I’m down here because this is a terrible process. If any point that you think it’s fine to wholeheartedly excuse– let me back up one second. At the conclusion of the last special session, the phone calls I got were, It’s your job to stay and debate these issues. The irony that I see, the same phone calls I got last night from the exact same people are saying, I can’t believe you’d slow that down. If that’s not irony. Members, again, this is controversial. Again, controversial enough, we should probably allow the public to be involved. Controversial enough that we all should have the ability to read the bills. I’m a member of this chamber and I had no idea that we had 30 minutes notice and we were going to run all these things. I tuned in. I went home because I got tax work to do, sit down on the computer– office, rather– sit down on the computer, pulled up my tax returns, started working. Thought I got a split screen, I’ll watch what’s happening in Public Health and it was over. That’s not right. What we’re doing is not right. I’ll be happy to take questions.
Sturch [01:39:20] Senator Garner.
Garner [01:39:22] Sir Dismang, I know that it was open to public comment, but I agree with you the truncated timeline to have that was issue– caused some issues. That’s why, partly why I pulled my bills down not to be heard. And all my bills weren’t heard yesterday or put in a batch. But today, trying to do the right thing and trying to be transparent, trying to have a public meeting that I’ll take fire under, I’m trying to have another Public Health meeting and was told that will not happen. So how am I supposed to be transparent and open with the public whenever that process is being truncated here by the games being played in the Senate.
Dismang [01:39:56] Well, I’m not a– I’m not the chair of the committee. Probably a question for the chair or other members of that committee. All I can do is talk about what happened yesterday.
Sturch [01:40:05] Senator Mark Johnson.
M Johnson [01:40:10] I believe others are in the queue ahead of me.
Sturch [01:40:14] Senator Irvin–.
M Johnson [01:40:14] I know Senator Clark was.
Irvin [01:40:16] Mr. Chair, I’d like to make a motion that we batch Senate Bill 719, 731, 732, 736, 737, 738, 739, and 740 and send them back to Public Health committee for the purpose of public testimony. It’s a motion to re refer all of these bills back to Public Health for the purpose of public input and adequate public notice because the public was denied the opportunity to weigh in on any of these bills. That’s a proper motion.
Sturch [01:40:52] Senator Irvin, it’s not a proper motion while Senator Dismang is in the well. It will be a proper motion when he exits the well. I’ll take questions to Senator Dismang. We’re still in proper procedure. We’re still going to observe proper procedure. Senator Clark, do you have a question for Senator Dismang about Senate Bill 732?
Clark [01:41:12] I have a question on what his– what he had to say in the well.
Sturch [01:41:20] OK. Proceed, please.
Clark [01:41:22] The– because I, I think you know, we agree on procedure. The– and I don’t like the procedure any more than you like the procedure. But my question is because I would rather have the bills heard in committee, but are we doing this to keep the bill from being heard?
Dismang [01:41:44] I said that yesterday. I’ll say it again today. This has nothing to do with the bills being heard. And all the Facebook and all the social media and all the rest of that garbage to try to say that’s the case, shame on them.
Clark [01:41:56] I don’t know anything about Facebook or social media. All I know about what’s going on here is that we had a health committee meeting 30 minutes after we adjourned here. There was no time for anybody to go there. I didn’t even show up and my bills are here, you know, and–.
Dismang [01:42:10] Fair enough.
Clark [01:42:12] –and and I’m hearing that that Senator Garner has asked for a committee meeting and has been told by the chairman there’s not going to be one. And so, you know, the last time we were here, we adjourned with just we’re leaving. So, you know, if, if we’re going to do this, I prefer to do it right. But are we going to do that? You know, if, if Senator Irvin introduces her motion and we do that, are we going to have that meeting and then are we going to come back and hear these bills? Or is this just a circus to keep from hearing the bills? That’s my question.
Dismang [01:42:50] I responded to that a minute ago when I told you my intent has nothing to do with creating a circus. I’m going to tell you I didn’t like the circus as a kid, and I don’t like the circus in this room right now.
Clark [01:43:01] And my, and my question is not so much intended toward you as others in this body. Thank you.
Sturch [01:43:07] Senator Johnson, do you have a question for Senator Dismang?
M Johnson [01:43:10] Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Mr. Chairman or Mr. President. Sen. Dismang, we had a motion yesterday to suspend the rule to allow an expedited meeting of the committee on these bills. Did you vote for that motion?
Dismang [01:43:28] I did. No understanding of what was going to happen, that there would be no public input and the Public Health committee wouldn’t debate the bills. Had I known that, would I have voted differently? Absolutely. I even thought about coming to this well to make a motion to undo that.
M Johnson [01:43:43] Would– and again, I’m, I’m philosophically and almost always in favor of what you have stated here today. However, I also recognize that there’s been an undercurrent even before the session started here of, we got to get through in three days. We have all this pressure to do it and whether it’s to get ready for a special session on taxes or deer season or Thanksgiving or God knows what. I, I– that pressure is there. And I like you voted for that motion for the same reasons that I understood. And I’m not against what you’re saying per se, but it’s almost a starry decisis thing. We did that. We turned it over to the eight members of Public Health and they ruled. And I’m, I’m just– difficult for me, again, notwithstanding what Senator Irvin says she may put forward–
Dismang [01:44:36] OK. All right. Yeah, I mean, yeah. Sure.
M Johnson [01:44:38] But thank you for your answer. Thank you, Mr. President.
Sturch [01:44:46] Sen. Irvin, I’ll recognize you for your motion. Say again?
Irvin [01:45:06] Can I make a motion? There is nobody at the well. May I make a motion?
Sturch [01:45:11] Senator Irvin.
Irvin [01:45:15] Thank you, Mr. Chair. I‘m going to repeat my motion based on what Senator Dismang just said. The committee process is there to debate issues and work things out. That is what a committee does. It is also allows the public to weigh in on an issue. And let me be very specific here. This has nothing to do– my motion and I will state it– but this has nothing to do with the issue at hand. I do not believe– I do not believe people need to be forced to take a shot or have anything. I don’t believe that. But I will tell you that if a late term abortion bill got filed to allow for late term abortion to be filed at 9:56 a.m. and then read the first time, rules suspended, and second time, and referred to Public Health at 12:25 and then 30 minutes later, a Public Health committee meeting met and all those bills to allow late term abortions were batched and sent to the Senate floor, I would be opposed to that because the public had no way of being able to weigh in on that. And if we cannot– you have, you have all these bills that deal with the same issue. What happens if we all pass all of them out? That’s what the committee process is for, to do the work, to rectify and figure out if these bills are compatible or not, work out the differences. That’s not what this body is supposed to do. That’s what the committees are supposed to do. So I’m going to repeat my motion because I want the public to understand that it’s important for the public to have the ability to give their input on any piece of legislation, whether I agree with the legislation or not. So that public input was denied. Nobody was there to sign up to speak. They were given 30 minutes notice. I’m sorry, but my people from Mountain View can’t drive down here and be here in 30 minutes to sign up to speak for or against a bill. And that is the truth. And this is not a delay tactic. Why are we going to just push things through because we like them? But oh, if we don’t like them, we’re going to stop them. That is wrong. That is wrong. That is absolutely wrong to do that to the public. And so I am making a motion to batch Senate Bill 719, 731, 732, 736, 737, 738, 739, and 740 and re-refer them to the Public Health Committee, where I hope there will actually be a Public Health committee meeting and there will actually be the opportunity for the public to drive here to sign up to testify for or against these bills and for the committee to do the work of the committee, which is to rectify the differences in these bills and send out the bills that are legitimately able for us to consider and to be able to hear from the people and DFA and the people that are for these bills and the people that are against these bills. Be responsible and do the work. That is my motion.
Griffin [01:48:47] Ok. Questions? Hang on one second. Security yesterday said that only press can be standing by the rail. So you’re up– OK, you’re up there. I’ll leave that to you. This– let me just recap this. So this is a debatable motion. It only requires 18 votes. She’s batching basically everything on the, on the calendar under the Senate bills and re-referring it back to committee.
Irvin [01:49:20] Correct.
Griffin [01:49:21] OK, so we’re going to– hang on, hang on, hang on. We’re, we’re going to be– we’re going to set the example for the rest of the country, you hear me. OK, we’re going to take questions. And then we’ll have debate. That’s what the rules say. We can’t just be law and order when it suits us. OK. Who has a question? Senator Sample has a question for Senator Irvin.
Sample [01:49:55] In your motion, are you suggesting that we give the public a 48 hour notice before the bills are debated in committee?
Irvin [01:50:09] So I voted no against Senator Hickey’s motion to suspend the Senate rule, which requires 24 hour notice of the of the public.
Sample [01:50:20] Okay, but you are giving at least a minimum of 24 hour notice before these bills are debated before the committee. Is that correct?
Irvin [01:50:29] Actually, that’s not part of my motion. I am asking for the chair and the committee to have a reasonable time where they can meet about these bills. And we’ve suspended that rule and that’s not part of my motion. If somebody wants to make a motion to suspend the– to change that, that’s fine. But an adequate time is not 30 minutes.
Griffin [01:50:51] The motion before us right now does not have that in it.
Irvin [01:50:54] Correct.
Sample [01:50:54] Okay. That was my question.
Griffin [01:50:55] The motion is to batch and re-refer.
Irvin [01:50:56] It’s batch to– batch and re-refer.
Griffin [01:50:59] OK. I know a lot of people have questions. I’m going to get every one of them. Senator.
Stubblefield [01:51:07] Thank you, Mr. Chair. I think it’s only reasonable to determine that we know– [Gavel] whether the chair of Public Health is going to hear these bills before we vote on whether or not we want them heard. If they’re not going to go before Public Health, why are we even voting on them?
Irvin [01:51:21] I can’t answer that question. I’m not the chair of Public Health.
Stubblefield [01:51:24] Well, that’s exactly what I’m saying. I think we need to hear from the chair of Public Health as to whether or not she is willing to hear these bills before we vote to send those bills to Public Health.
Griffin [01:51:40] Sen. Irvin, would you like the chair of Public Health to speak on this?
Irvin [01:51:43] If the chair of Public Health would like to speak on it, that’s fine. I can’t– I can’t answer the question for him.
Griffin [01:51:49] OK, so but, but stay, stay please near the well, Sen. Irvin, because we got other questions.
Bledsoe [01:51:55] All right. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. If there’s any confusion or any blame, it rests on my shoulders. But we did not have notice that there would be 12 bills going to Public Health. We walked in here, we did our business, and then we found out there’d be 12 bills. This was to be a three day session. Out of respect for your time, trying to limit it to three days, knowing that most of these bills would pass anyway, we could have spent days on debating these bills, but eventually they would pass. I know my committee and that is why we decided– I decided at, at– when, when it was decided, it was my decision that we would, we would take these bills, we would send them to committee and then we would batch them. Because what we were going to do in Public Health is what we’re doing today. And remember, it was a three day meeting. And ladies and gentlemen, I’m fine with going back. I hope that those who want to debate these bills will be there and I will be there and so will the committee. Thank you.
Griffin [01:53:06] Senator, senator Stubblefield, did that answer your question?
Stubblefield [01:53:09] Yes, it did. Thank you, governor.
Griffin [01:53:10] Okay, thank you, senator Bledsoe. Senator Hammer, you have a question for Senator Irvin?
Hammer [01:53:16] No, I have a question for–.
Griffin [01:53:17] OK, she’s right there. Or you– you want everybody to hear it? Alright. She’ll come back down. Senator Bledsoe, would you take a question from Senator Hammer?
Bledsoe [01:53:27] I’d be glad to.
Hammer [01:53:29] Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you for coming back to the well to answer the question. Because this is being debated the way it is, I would like to give you an opportunity to share what you think is going to be a reasonable time frame if this passes for Public Health to assemble, for Public Health to assemble, so as to make sure that whatever you decide is going to be based on the the best interests of the public and you as chair.
Bledsoe [01:53:55] I will– thank you for that question, Senator Hammer. I would think that we would need another day. If we’re talking about allowing all the public to come and speak on this, then there’d be people who would want to come from Northwest Arkansas. That’s three and a half hours. From Mountain Home. From all over the state. If we’re opening it up for everyone to be able to speak on it, I think we need to add another day.
Hammer [01:54:21] Would, would you be supportive– [Gavel] follow-up, Mr. Chair?
Griffin [01:54:24] Sure, go ahead. That was for Sen. Gilmore and Garner.
Hammer [01:54:27] Would you be supportive as chair if we were to go back and reverse the rule to remove the 24 hour rule and reestablish it to make sure that you, as chair, have coverage by the body?
Bledsoe [01:54:42] I’m sorry, I didn’t hear all of that.
Hammer [01:54:44] I’m asking, would you support us reversing what we decided to remove the 24 hour rule, put it back in place, so it would cover you as a chair, and it would not be left up to an arbitrary decision.
Bledsoe [01:55:00] I would.
Hammer [01:55:01] Thank you.
Griffin [01:55:04] OK. Back to Senator Irvin on the motion. Any other questions for Senator Irvin on the motion? Senator Clark has a question for Sen. Irvin. Back on the motion to batch and re-refer.
Clark [01:55:18] Senator Irvin, I have no doubt about your sincerity, but I have been fighting this battle for weeks to get, get one of these bills heard, to hammer out something that perhaps 18 of us would support, and not just in the last two days and overcoming each one of these objections. And so, I one, wanted to hear that the committee is going to meet. But the other thing I want to hear from leadership is that then we’re going to meet here on the floor. And then that the House is still going to be here because I know all the tricks that we play. So I want to know that, you know, that we’ve– after we’ve overcome every other objection that we’re not going to lose based on all of those things, that– so again, you can’t answer that. But, but those are the things that I need to know in order to vote for this, although I appreciate what you want to do.
Irvin [01:56:18] Thank you. I understand, and I can’t answer that. All I would say is there are so many questions that have come up based on the language of the policy that we are considering. These are questions somebody that is from DFA or somebody who’s from the other side of things, Family– whoever– they can’t answer these questions for us that we have. And I don’t think that’s right, and I don’t think that’s fair. I care about the policy at the end of the day. I care about policy, OK? I know that the committee process is where policy has to be molded, edited, refined, debated. That’s what we do. That’s what we’re supposed to do. My motion is based on that, and we have a lot of people in the public that don’t understand that. And I’m trying to make it very clear to the public that I want the public to have 24 hours notice. I want them to be able to come and give their input on any issue, especially when issues are this controversial. And I would be screaming and throwing a fit if this were happening on a bill that I completely opposed. And I can’t do that. I can’t sit here and be silent like that because that would be hypocritical for me. So therefore, I’m at this well and I am making this motion. I’m speaking to the motion. And so that’s why I’m bringing it forward. We have to allow the committee process to work. And if we don’t let it work, then I think we’ve just lost our complete way as a body of the Senate who is supposed to deliberate in a process and in a manner that ensures public accountability and public transparency. And that’s why I’m here advocating for it. So I can’t answer your question on the others.
Griffin [01:58:22] Sen. Irvin, would you let Senator Hickey try to answer that question? OK.
Hickey [01:58:27] OK, to answer Senator Clark’s question as far as what leadership would do, I can only talk for the Senate. And I heard you say games. I don’t play games. I hope everybody here knows that. If you, if you want to know something or the way it was, then I’ll tell you. I at least hope you all will give me that respect to say that I do that. So that being said here, you know, from my standpoint– and it’s obvious that I only believe that congressional redistricting should be heard and that was what I thought was going to happen. I understand that there’s been a lot of talk out here about doing this. I thought whenever I got down here and we had the committee of the whole, which I decided that night before the session and explained the whole thing that everybody would say, well, from a business standpoint, the risk is greater than the reward to try that, and we would wait till the tax session where we do have a legal path. So let me, let me say that. So from my standpoint, I asked Senator Hammer non jokingly a couple of days ago– I said, Senator Hammer, I said if this stuff was to get allowed to happen, which I don’t want, I said, I want us to stay in the Senate until we finished every day. And I said, If you don’t mind, I said, Do you have an associate pastor at your church that could take care of it? Because if we’re here on Sunday, which I want to be, if that’s what it takes, would you have a little service at 8 o’clock in the morning so that we can immediately start our business at 9? So that is what I’ve already said. But now the House, I don’t know where they’re going to be. If– so, the rule was suspended based upon the congressional redistricting, hoping you all would not think this stuff was germane. Now you’ve changed it in midstream. So it’s, it’s an apple orange deal. But from my standpoint, we’ll stay, we’ll stay from 8 in the morning– I’ve got staff or we have, excuse me, we have staff to think about here in the bureau. But if we, as the legislators need to stay late at night in the committee rooms, then that’s what we’ll do. So you have my promise on that. I also want to speak on this motion at the proper time, and I don’t know if that’s now or not.
Griffin [02:00:54] Let’s, let’s see if there– we’ve got a few more questions and then we’ll get into the substantive debate. Senator Irvin, will you take some more questions? OK. Senator Hester– oK, let me write these down. Senator Hester. Then Senator Chesterfield, Senator Beckham, Senator Hammer, OK. Senator Hester.
Hester [02:01:19] Senator Irvin, would you consider removing from your batch SB 739? As a member of Public Health, I’m comfortable sending some bills back to debate. SB 739 I would like to leave here on the floor and we can debate as a whole. I’d ask for your consideration on that.
Irvin [02:01:35] I appreciate that. However, I want to maintain my, my motion. Thank you.
Griffin [02:01:42] Senator Chesterfield.
Chesterfield [02:01:46] Thank you, Mr. Chair. Senator Irvin, the committee process did not work the way you wanted it to. But the committee has made a decision and has sent these bills to the floor. That is the committee’s prerogative. Would you agree?
Irvin [02:02:02] Yes. And I disagree with it so I’m making my motion.
Chesterfield [02:02:06] That’s the committee’s prerogative.
Irvin [02:02:09] And it’s my prerogative to bring a motion to re-refer them back to the committee.
Chesterfield [02:02:12] I am not questioning that, ma’am, at all. But the statement continues to be made that the committee process did not work. The committee process is to send bills, and the committee then refers them back to this chamber. We’re in the process of debating a bill that came legitimately out of committee. I would ask the chair, is that not the property of the body at this time? And is it appropriate to re-refer it after it has been debated here?
Griffin [02:02:45] You’re asking the chair of the committee or me?
Chesterfield [02:02:46] You.
Griffin [02:02:47] You, you can, you can re-refer–
Chesterfield [02:02:49] Even if it’s been debated on the floor, it’s no longer the property of this body. Once it begins–
Griffin [02:02:54] Well, this body can ultimately do what this body sees fit a whole.
Chesterfield [02:02:57] So you’re saying that it is in order then? That’s what I needed to know.
Griffin [02:02:59] The motion is in order.
Chesterfield [02:03:00] Thank you, sir.
Griffin [02:03:02] Senator Beckham and then Senator Hammer.
Hammer [02:03:05] Yeah, sorry. Sorry.
Griffin [02:03:07] Sorry.
Beckham [02:03:08] Thank you. When you were chair of Public Health, did you batch bills and send them to the floor?
Irvin [02:03:16] Not that I can recall.
Beckham [02:03:17] OK, thank you.
Griffin [02:03:19] Senator Hammer.
Hammer [02:03:22] Thank you, Mr. Chair. Can you think of a time because you’ve been down here on this end longer than I have that bills have been batched out of any committee that have been sent to the floor without the public debate? First question.
Irvin [02:03:41] Senator Hammer, the bill– these bills were– one of– the bill that we’re talking about right now was filed– and I realize that we suspended the rule. I understand that. I have the right to make a motion to re-refer based on the testimony that’s happening right now on this bill and other bills that pertain to the exact same issue. There’s a lot of discrepancies here. And if you actually care about policy and you actually are for this policy, then I would think that you would want to get this right because this is a policy, if you care about the policy, about people not being forced to get a vaccine. Then wouldn’t you want the policy to be as solid and as good as you possibly can, possibly can get it? And don’t you use the committee process to do that because I know in my workings that’s what we’ve done in the past. And so if you actually care about this policy, then why wouldn’t you try to rectify and have this discussion amongst the members of the committee that chose to be on that committee to work out all those details? So I believe that this policy is important and I think it needs to be done right, handled correctly. I think the public needs the opportunity to weigh in on it for or against. And I think all these details could be fleshed out because, as you know, during that process, many times the members of the committee will say, You know, I see where you’re going with this. Have you thought about amending it to change that one word from a may to a shall? Or have you thought through this? Could you rework it to amend it, to improve the policy? You know that that happens. We all know that that happens. This was not the issue with these bills or with this policy, and that’s what I’m requesting for it to happen because I want the public to know that’s how I like to operate. That’s how I believe it’s the best way to get to the best policy as a elected senator.
Hammer [02:05:48] Follow up, Mr. Chair?
Griffin [02:05:49] Sen. Hammer.
Hammer [02:05:49] Thank you. I guess the point I want to make is it is not unprecedented that committees have–
Griffin [02:05:56] Sen. Hammer, will you suspend? [Gavel] Everybody wants to hear you. Go right ahead.
Hammer [02:06:03] I don’t know about that, but thank you for the compliment. But it is not unprecedented that committees have batched bills out before and sent them straight to the Senate floor, whether you agree– you know what– I understand the debate but–
Irvin [02:06:18] Of course we do that.
Hammer [02:06:20] Your point that you’re trying to make is that given the sensitivity of the bills that that would– that was not a good decision and that’s what you’re arguing. Because I want to make sure because we have batched bills out before.
Irvin [02:06:35] Yes.
Hammer [02:06:35] And I just want to make that distinction.
Irvin [02:06:37] Yes. We batch appropriation bills.
Hammer [02:06:40] All right. Thank you.
Irvin [02:06:40] But there’s not controversial like these. And you have all these bills that deal with the same issue that could possibly all be in conflict with one another.
Hammer [02:06:49] All right. Thank you.
Irvin [02:06:50] And you have the public, who now anticipates that we’re going to make votes on all these bills and are going to get mad if you don’t vote on a bill. So let’s make– let’s go– let’s do the, let’s do the work of the committee.
Griffin [02:07:02] OK, we’re now going to move into the debate. Who would like to speak against the motion? On it. Against it, against it. Go ahead on it and then we’ll go for it with Senator Hendren.
Hickey [02:07:18] I hope all of you are going to listen to this. I think, although it’s come across in a somewhat different way, you know, there is probably a basis because of what I told you all that I had just learned, and I do have it in writing that we have got additional information since these were referred to Public Health. And I’m going to read this. And what this is is a DFA document that was generated to the, to the executive branch or to the executive. And what they had done is they had made contact with the American Rescue Funds consultant. And it’s my understanding that they are the ones who actually decide if, if this is an appropriate use of funds. So this is on the motion because– now this one includes Senate Bill 732, but I’m also saying that it probably includes all of them. So I’m going to read, read the language, it said, despite the language of this bill. And again, this one is for the 7:32 bill. It says, The payment of American Rescue Plan– they said pan; they misspelled plan– funding to employees who suffer economic losses due to failure, either a) comply with a request by an employer to take COVID 19 vaccine or b) to engage in weekly testing. Both employer programs to protect the workforce and ensure an interrupted continuity of business operations is not an eligible use of American Rescue Plan Act funding. And it goes into this a little more. It says American Rescue Act covers the cost of responding directly to the COVID 19 Public Health emergency. It covers the cost of vaccines. It covers the cost of publicizing measures to reduce the spread of the virus, such as vaccines and Public Health messages related to Public Health, Public Health safety measures, including masks, other PPP and even and including vaccines. It also covers the cost of vaccine incentives. There is no language in the American Rescue Plan Act that identifies the economic losses suffered by employees who lose employment due to failure to comply with employer job requirements related to vaccines or any other employer job requirements as an eligible expenditure of American Rescue Plan Act funding.” So there is probably a basis to refer all of these bills back based on this further information that the Public Health Committee did not have. Thank you.
Griffin [02:10:04] OK. Senator Hendren for the motion.
Hendren [02:10:12] Yeah, I just, I just think it’s time we acknowledge a couple of things here. The first thing I want us to do is– I’ve already said, I think this entire process, all these 12 bills, this entire stuff of getting outside of our line is unconstitutional and we shouldn’t be doing it. However, I guess I would say if we’re going to be unconstitutional, let’s at least, let’s at least do it right. And Senator Dismang is correct. Senator Irvin is correct that if we’re going to hear these bills, then we need to go through the process. But I also want to make clear, I think there’s been some kind of jabs at the chair of Public Health. And I don’t think anybody’s known Senator Bledsoe longer than I have, and there is nobody more above reproach in the way they can conduct and chair a meeting than Senator Bledsoe. She was under the assumption, like many of us were, that we were coming down here and doing what we have done in the past or with the exception of as Senator Hickey said dealing with the redistricting. All of us had the expectation that this would be similar to a special session where we would get out at Thursday, at midnight tonight or certainly on Friday. We suspended the rules to that point to try to allow for expedited committee hearings. And to act like this is some unchartered territory or dirty trick by the chair, I think is kind of really skewing what we all know to be the case here. We’ve had committee hearings with 30 minutes notice all the time. We’ve batched lots of bills. This was– and again, I guess what I would think is we need to realize is we’ve got a session right now. I don’t think we should. I disagree with it, but we’ve got a session with committees and we’re going to have to follow the process and do it right and do it fair. And the chair has agreed that she’s going to do that. So I think we need to pass the motion and send it back and realize that if you had plans next week, we’re probably going to be here.
Griffin [02:11:56] Senator– ok. You want to speak against it?
[02:12:02] On it.
Griffin [02:12:03] Okay. Let me take– let me just see what– Sen. Garner.
Garner [02:12:07] Yes, sir. At the proper time, I have a substitute motion and I can explain that motion in its entirety at the well if it’s, if it’s proper.
Griffin [02:12:14] Ok, you have a motion to substitute Senator Irvin’s motion. Please come to the well. That will be debatable and 18 votes.
Garner [02:12:31] Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’ll explain my motion first, then I’ll kind of give a brief recourse to it and we can vote it quickly. I think what I want to do is batch all the bills except for SB 731 and SB 739. Here’s the thought process. I think we’re caught between a rock and a hard place between making sure we have something on our calendar that is a good bill that has been vetted versus problems and things that we may want to have public discussion in committee. I’m not inferring anybody did anything wrong yesterday. It was a dynamic situation. But there are certain bills that do need more explaining, I think, and could have problems. What the substitute motion will allow is for those two bills to be heard today because they have been vetted through a longer process from both being original bills Senator Ballinger filed during the special session to having a debate since then. The rest of the bills will go back to the committee process to be read it from the public at large. I think that’s a good compromise where we can reach a more committee process while at the same time allowing that to be done. And that’s my motion.
Griffin [02:13:30] Just to give everybody a reset, so this is a substitute motion to Senator Irvin’s motion. Senator Irvin’s motion was made in the middle of debate on Senator Johnson’s bill. Just to make sure everybody’s tracking where we are. OK, so questions first. Senator Hickey has a question for Senator Garner, then Senator Hill.
Hickey [02:13:51] Yes, Senator Garner. Of course, you just heard what I read about the information we’ve received about the COVID 19 funding. Those bills have the COVID 19 funding to come out of the American Rescue Act within them, do they not?
Garner [02:14:05] I’ve read the bills, but I can’t speak to specific about each one of them. I know one is the establish the vaccine status, which adds protections, and I know Sen. Hammer’s has the unemployment benefits as well.
Hickey [02:14:17] I know, I know for a fact that the last one does. I’m like you, I can’t– I read them last night. The other one may not. However, considering that fact, I think that what I’ve stated should be, should be included in that motion that with Senator Irvin, that those all should be sent back. Because with this new information that we have that we’ve got from the consultant who we’ve been using as someone who said through ALC or the executive branch for them to bring that through ALC, I mean, I think that needs to be a consideration.
Garner [02:14:52] I think it’s a legitimate concern. I made the motion and I based my conversations on that motion, so I don’t feel comfortable changing the motion. But I understand your concern. I think it’s a compromise. It’s never going to be the exact thing we want. But that’s, that’s what I think is a good compromise on both sides.
Hickey [02:15:05] Thank you, Senator Garner, sir.
Griffin [02:15:06] We’re still on the questions. Before we go to debate. Sen. Ballinger is indicating he wants to be part of the debate. We’re just– we’re asking questions. Senator Hill.
Hill [02:15:16] Senator Garner, on SB 739, you said it’s had plenty of time to be vetted.
Garner [02:15:21] That’s what I understand. I know there’s been conversations about that one longer than some of the other ones.
Hill [02:15:24] Well, it was actually filed on 9/29, which, if I’m not mistaken, was yesterday at 10:51 a.m.
Garner [02:15:31] The draft copy was out before that. I know sometimes we don’t get to–
Hill [02:15:34] I’m not asking about a draft. I’m asking about the actual filing. So we all in this committee, or in this body as a whole, along with the public having access to it. I think that one needs to be vetted some more. I’m not saying it’s a bad bill. I’m just saying it needs to be vetted.
Garner [02:15:47] I can agree with some of your concerns, Senator Hill. I know I made discussion beforehand that I would include that in my motion, and I don’t feel comfortable pulling that out this time.
Hill [02:15:58] Thank you, sir.
Griffin [02:15:59] Any more questions before we go to debate? OK, now we’re going to go to debate. Or you have a question?
Davis [02:16:06] On the– I’d like to speak on the motion.
Griffin [02:16:07] You’d like to speak on his motion.
Davis [02:16:09] Yes.
Griffin [02:16:10] Senator, please speak. And then we’ll go to Sen. Ballinger, who will be for.
Davis [02:16:19] Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you. As the person that made the motion to batch in Public Health yesterday, we’ve had several senators in the well speak to what happened in Public Health that were not actually in Public Health. So I’d like to take a moment to clarify as to what happened in that committee meeting yesterday. We know that there have been news stories and statewide news articles for several weeks now about session and the fact that we’d be dealing with not only redistricting but also vaccine mandate bills. That’s been widely, widely distributed and talked about across the entire state. Most of these bills were filed before yesterday morning. They’ve been filed for the past several days. There’s been opportunity for public to go online and read most of those bills. Also, state agencies know how sessions work. So when we’re called in, it was on the calendar that at the call of the chair, we would call a Public Health meeting. We would call a state agencies meeting. If there were state agency– if there were secretaries– DFA, Department of Health, whoever that wanted to come speak, they understand how we operate in a time of a special session or in a strange session, extended session like we are now. No one showed up to speak. Not a member of the public was signed up, although they had time to read the bills online ahead of time and knew that we would be debating vaccine mandate bills. No one showed up or signed up to speak on those bills. No secretary, no one from any state agency came and signed up to speak on any of these bills. So we thought out of respect for members’ time that we would batch the bills and send them to the floor so we could have a proper debate at this– at that time because there was no one there to provide outside information on any of those bills. We did not disregard the public. We did not shut the public out. We did our due diligence to make sure that there was no one there signed up to speak before we did that. So I want to clarify that. I think that’s important because I keep hearing it said that we were cutting the public out and that is absolutely not the case. The last thing I want to clarify is that we did not pass any late term abortion bills out of Public Health yesterday. In case anyone misunderstood, I want to make sure that there’s no misunderstanding on that. We did not pass any late term abortion bills out of committee yesterday. Thank you.
Griffin [02:18:35] Thank you, Senator. We’re still dealing with Senator Garner’s substitute motion. We’ve handled the questions. We’re now on the debate. Senator Ballinger will speak in favor of Senator Garner’s substitute motion. We will dispose of this before we return to Senator Irvin’s.
Ballinger [02:18:51] Just, just real quick, the two bills that are being left, neither one of them have anything to do with, with unemployment and funding from COVID. And, and in fact, there, there is an amendment on one of the bills that takes the whole issue of unemployment out of the bill, which, which Senator Hammer will get to when he gets the, gets the opportunity to do it. But it actually– neither one of them have that. And, and I also will say on 731, my intent is to pass over it today. So if you guys have concerns, public, feel free to talk about it. But I don’t want it going back to committee where there’s no, no certainty as to what’s going to happen with it. So I’d prefer to have it on the floor where, where we as a body have some control over what’s going to happen with it here. And so that’s my intent. But thank you so much.
Griffin [02:19:33] Senator Ballinger, will you take questions?
Ballinger [02:19:35] Sure.
Griffin [02:19:35] Sen. Tucker.
Tucker [02:19:36] Is the amendment– what’s the status of that?
Ballinger [02:19:40] No, so, and actually, I’m glad you asked that because something I wanted to point out is like for the bill that Senator Hammer is going to bring, bring up was debated for like two and a half hours yesterday. So there was, there was– and passed out of the House Public Health. So all of the, the people have had a chance to look at it, go over it. And actually from that, that’s where these amendments are coming from is there was some people that had some concerns with different things, and Senator Hammer has addressed that through his amendments and those are coming up. And that– you’ll have the opportunity to consider momentarily. But there was a lot of debate on that bill in particular, and it’s been around for a while and it’s been circulating, you know, and that’s the thing. I understand there’s a lot of bills that did come out. Those bills didn’t surprise anybody. They didn’t sneak up on anyone.
Griffin [02:20:24] Sen– Sen. Pitsch. Oh, Sen. Pitsch, then Senator Hill. Sen. Pitsch.
Tucker [02:20:28] May I follow up, Mr. Chair?
Griffin [02:20:30] Oh, I’m sorry. Yes. Please keep your mic on. I couldn’t hear you earlier. Go ahead, Sen. Tucker.
Tucker [02:20:34] Thank you. So I hear your answer, but I didn’t hear the specific answer to the question I asked. Will that amendment be proposed in the House or was it adopted in committee?
Ballinger [02:20:44] Yeah, no, it was not. So the, the amendment– I don’t know if they were actually– it wasn’t proposed. It wasn’t introduced. It was after, after it passed out of committee, House Committee yesterday that they got together with the House sponsor and Senator Hammer to work that out. And I’m sure he’ll be happy to explain all that to you.
Tucker [02:20:59] But the amendment is not proposed for the bill that’s on our calendar today?
Ballinger [02:21:03] Yes, it is. It will be when, when he has the opportunity.
Tucker [02:21:08] The bill is on the calendar, but the amendments not attached to the bill?
Ballinger [02:21:10] No, that’s right. So that’ll be something we’ll have to add that– we’ll have that discussion momentarily.
Tucker [02:21:14] Thank you.
Griffin [02:21:15] Sen. Ballinger, these are the questions. I’ve got Pitsch, Hill. Senator Pitsch. Senator Hill. Senator Hendren. Senator Hammer. Senator Pitsch. Sen. Pitsch.
Pitsch [02:21:26] Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have heard, and I know how this works. You’ve had a bill that’s been debated among us. But the official filing date on the two bills in question with the substitute motion are 9/28 at 3:30, your bill. As far as I know, that was the night before yesterday and the other one was filed at 10 whatever on the 29th. At some level, I hear that maybe those two have had a lot of discussion, but clearly haven’t had a lot of time on public scrutiny. So that’s why I’m very lenient on this substitute motion. If you’re, if you’re going to be for giving more time for people, I think two bills that were filed the night before and the morning of probably need more time too.
Ballinger [02:22:14] OK, so Senator Pitsch, one of them is exactly the bill that was filed two months ago that that everybody– in fact, my guess is your constituents may have asked you to take a look at that bill sometime before now. The only change in is that it includes more language dealing with the American Rescue Plan. And so then the other bill is, is, is a bill that has been circulated and talked about in our caucus and was debated for hours yesterday. And honestly, one of the reasons why I think this motion is a good motion is you can prove that you are concerned about sending bills back to committee, but it’s really not about killing this bill, right? If really what you’re– if you’re concerned about the procedure and everything that’s going on and that the people have plenty of time to look at all these bills and all that stuff, but you don’t want to kill the, the, the vaccine mandate bill that we’re working on, you can vote for this motion. It sends the other ones back to committee. The one that has been hotly debated and everybody’s been paying attention to, we have the chance to discuss here and, and work on it. We’ve been, you know, we’ve, we’ve been working now for how many hours and and I think we could probably talk through the issues.
Griffin [02:23:17] Will you allow Senator Hickey a quick question?
Hickey [02:23:24] Sen– Senator Ballinger, I heard you say, well, the only thing, the only thing that’s been changed or amended was the American Rescue Funds. And that’s huge. Because the reason that was amended, if, if– I’ll ask that as a question, the reason it was amended was to make an attempt to try to say that the thing was germane to this, to this extended recess session.
Ballinger [02:23:48] Yeah, I–.
Hickey [02:23:48] Would that be correct?
Ballinger [02:23:49] No, it wouldn’t. So it’s make it where it’s clear that it’s more germane. By the ruling of the, of the chair, which was upheld, it would be germane if it had nothing to do with funding.
Hickey [02:24:00] Okay, well, I don’t– I don’t know about germane, more germane pregnant, more pregnant, but–
Ballinger [02:24:04] Well, I mean, we have had that debate and it was ruled, but–
Hickey [02:24:07] How– excuse me, sir, I probably shouldn’t have said that. My apologies on that. However, in light of what we just found out, in light of what we just found out that there’s a possibility through our consultant that they have said that these funds are not going to be available, then that, that’s a whole new aspect whenever we’re looking at a statute or legislation that’s going to go on the books of Arkansas.
Ballinger [02:24:30] Yeah, neither one of these bills deal with unemployment, funding of unemployment from the American Rescue Plan.
Hickey [02:24:34] No, sir. But they, but they deal with the funding from the, from the AARP funds, correct?
Ballinger [02:24:40] Yes.
Hickey [02:24:41] OK. And that, that is what is at question.
Ballinger [02:24:45] Yeah. I don’t– I mean, you know, I think each one of those things would– we could have discussion on. Like I said, the– I don’t intend to run 731. We can talk about, talk about that. But I mean, one of them, the only funding is for testing, which we know specifically that the fund is provided for testing.
Hickey [02:25:01] Thank you, Sen. Ballinger.
Griffin [02:25:02] Sen. Pitsch. You got any more questions? Senator Hill. And then we’ll go to Senator Hendren. Sen. Hill.
Hill [02:25:09] Senator Ballinger, I do agree. I am actually kind of glad today to be able to see the number SB 731 because I’ve always heard it referred to as the Ballinger bill. I do appreciate being able to see the number anyway. But back on SB 739, I do know there has been some discussion out here, but you alluded to it had two and a half hours worth of debate?
Ballinger [02:25:28] Yeah, or I don’t, I don’t know how long, but it was a long time.
Hill [02:25:31] [02:25:31]Evidently a long time, correct? Was that in this body?
Ballinger [02:25:34] [02:25:34]No, it was not.
Hill [02:25:34] [02:25:34]Thank you, sir.
Ballinger [02:25:35] [02:25:35]Nope.
Griffin [02:25:36] Senator Hendren.
Hendren [02:25:38] Well, Senator Hill answered one of the questions. I don’t think we’ve ever said that we’re going to accept the debate on the House end as a substitute for debate in a Senate committee, which is basically what you’re asking this body to do.
Ballinger [02:25:49] No, I’m not.
Hendren [02:25:50] I mean, it is. You’re asking us not to go back to committee. And I think every bill, every member who’s got a bill that just got sent back to committee or is going to get sent back to committee, would say, yeah, I’d prefer not to have to go back to committee. But let me ask my question. I guess my question is this, what can happen in committee that cannot happen here on this floor? And as Senator Hickey said, this is a big bill and it affects rescue funds. It’s one that you said– but, but people got access to it actually a day or so ago. But we all know what cannot happen on this floor that can happen in committee, right?
Ballinger [02:26:22] There are there are definitely procedural hurdles and, and roadblocks that can be put in place by frankly meeting, like adjourning. And honestly, I think, like you said, Senator Bledsoe is one of the most honorable people here. I think her passing the motion out was honorable. The intent was that we can have this broad debate that we’re having, but maybe we should do it a little more on the substance. And so that was what it was. I think that there is no reason why that we should put it back unless there really is some nefarious intent to try to kill it. And if that’s what you want to do, the best way to do it is to vote against this motion or for the other motion and then you can kill it. But I don’t think that’s really what we want to do.
Hendren [02:27:03] But when you say broad debate, the only place broad debate involving anybody more than the members of the Senate– in other words, involving the people who are affected by these laws and they can come speak, is in committee. They can’t come– unless we go to committee the whole, they can’t come down here and speak when we present it on the floor.
Ballinger [02:27:19] Oh yeah, and I understand, I understand. And that’s the thing is that if, if you, if you have not gotten, had those communications about these bills that we knew was, we were going to deal with before now, then, then you don’t have that information unless you get a text like Senator Hickey has.
Hendren [02:27:34] Yes, but you’re saying that you, you don’t think your bill– although the rest of them, you support going back to committee– you don’t think your bill needs that public input function. We should just, because it’s been out there in the press, we should just vote it on the floor and the public can just deal with it.
Ballinger [02:27:48] I’m supporting a compromise that will help people establish that, that they’re OK with, with that process, but not an attempt to kill these bills.
Griffin [02:27:58] Senator Clark.
Clark [02:27:59] Thank you, governor. Senator Ballinger, the– as we’ve overcome each objection to those who don’t want to vote for some of these bills, one way or the other, on some of these bills, funding on these programs often changes, doesn’t it?
Ballinger [02:28:22] It does.
Clark [02:28:23] So what’s in place today is not necessarily what’s in place next week or the week after. We’ve seen that already with Covid funds, haven’t we?
Ballinger [02:28:30] We have. And, and there’s nothing that is clear as far as within the rules that either one of these bills is not something that is provided from the funding.
Clark [02:28:40] And we, on the one hand, we, we’re having this whole discussion because, again, folks who don’t want to vote on the floor said we didn’t have enough time, we didn’t have the committee process, and then they came back and rightly so defended how honorable the chair is. But it’s kind of a catch 22, isn’t it? You know, that, that they didn’t do it right, but, but she always does it right. So I mean, I’m kind of like, which is it? Or so you have to come back and say, What is it we’re trying to do, don’t you?
Ballinger [02:29:24] I think that’s a very valid question for a person to wonder.
Clark [02:29:27] Thank you, Sen. Ballinger.
Griffin [02:29:32] Sen. Rapert.
Rapert [02:29:32] Yes, Senator Ballinger. My question is and of course, we’ve had some disturbances over this in the past few years about bills being signed out of committee, and mainly when it’s done outside of the knowledge of a chair. But you know this today, wouldn’t you say that this may be the longest debate we’ve ever had over this particular issue? I know it has to do somewhat with the substance, but we have often during session where bills are signed out of committee, which is essentially basically what they’ve done by an act of committee. And again, Senator Chesterfield has valid point a while ago. And we get to agree every now, and then and it’s that the committee made a decision. And so I just want to make sure personally that the public does get an opportunity to speak and to be heard. But what I also want to do is to see that the integrity of this body, that we’re not just seeing procedural motions. Are you concerned about that?
Ballinger [02:30:33] Yeah, I mean, but, but honestly, like, like I mean, people do play games. None of– games don’t surprise me. The question is whether or not in the end, you know, we’ll, we’ll ever get the opportunity to sit here and debate the merit. And that’s, you know, if, if we get this– if, if this motion passes and the other bills get moved back to committee– and I’m, I’m perfectly OK with them staying here, but then we’ll have the opportunity to once Senator Johnson is done, we’ll have the opportunity to hear and debate actually some of the merit under Senator Hammer’s bill. And that’s really what– that’s why I’m down here is I like that policy stuff.
Griffin [02:31:10] Sen. Irvin has a question.
Irvin [02:31:14] Senator Ballinger, if, if your bill needs to be amended, oftentimes senators will refer the bill back to the committee in order to amend the bill, because that’s actually a faster, quicker process to getting the bill back to the Senate floor to just, to actually debate the bill and get it passed. Yeah, is that not correct?
Ballinger [02:31:35] Yeah, unless we’re really at the end of session. Then what we’ll do is we’ll amend the bill, send it to engrossing, put it back on the calendar. And that’s where we’re, that’s where we’re at right now is the question.
Irvin [02:31:44] Again, there’s all kinds of options, to suspend rules–
Ballinger [02:31:46] Yeah, there’s people–
Irvin [02:31:46] –to send it to engrossing. There’s all kinds of those options. But again, this is not– we are not, we are not playing games here. We are trying to respect the process. And it’s quite– it could quite be that you– these bills, if they need to be amended, would actually speed up the process if they were all referred back to the committee and dealt with and brought back to the floor would actually speed up the process for your bill to pass.
Ballinger [02:32:17] And it’s not my bill, it’s Senator Hammer’s bill. But this is like, like you helped draft this bill, Senator Irvin, at one point. Your– some of your language is in this bill. Like at one point we thought you were kind of like engaged, like, You’ve read it. You know this bill.
Irvin [02:32:30] So I’ll respond to that because, again, that’s exactly why I’m making my motion on process. Because you know what? Other people in this body have not reviewed language. Have they? Has the public reviewed language? Has the public sat in on our caucus meetings? Has the public been able to read a bill and decide what it’s about or hear any testimony for or against? Have I been able to do that? We’ve all been able to give suggestions on language, but we get new information all the time that changes the way that we proceed and how we write things.That’s what real policymakers do.
Ballinger [02:33:09] You’ve had hours that you could have been reading it.
Griffin [02:33:12] Sen. Hill has a question for Sen. Ballinger.
Irvin [02:33:14] Well, at least he admits I read them.
Hill [02:33:15] Senate– Senator Ballinger, I agree with you. This bill has been processed some. A lot of thoughts has gone into this. I was actually at the committee meeting where this one first came up that you were not at. I want to actually make sure everyone knows that. So I was actually ahead of you at one time on this bill. And evidently, there was some work done behind the scenes that I didn’t even know about, and I was involved with this so-called committee that took place. And I saw this bill yesterday for my first time. So I feel like y’all blindsided me and I helped start it. So thank you for doing that and now you’re going to try to make me look bad saying I didn’t know anything about it. We’ve got the press up here and they’re all going to say, Oh, Hill is a rhino because he wasn’t involved in it. = Let’s go one step further. I was involved with this, and so my question is, why are we looking at now? Thank you.
Griffin [02:34:08] I guess Sen. Ballinger’s not going to take anymore questions. Okay, let’s just recap for everybody. So we’re still on the substitute motion that’s a substitute for Senator Irvin’s motion. Hang on one second. You’re not recognized, Sen. Garner. Senator Ballinger was speaking in favor of it, but there’s someone that I’m recognizing who would like to speak against it. Correct?
Hammer [02:34:33] Yes.
Griffin [02:34:34] Please speak. The senator is recognized.
Hammer [02:34:39] Thank you. =I’d like my bill sent back to Public Health because if we’re having this kind of debate in here, I don’t want a shadow over it when the bill comes out because it’s a good bill. I’ve worked hard with a lot of people to get it to where it is. It will come out of committee. I have full confidence it will come out of committee. And if it doesn’t, that’s the process. I’d rather my bill come out clean where nobody could walk away and say– because there’s lot stuff being said in here– I want it to come out clean to where nobody can say that I did anything because my name’s on that bill. I don’t want anybody to say anything that I even gave the appearance of trying to do anything that would not have given it a good, fair hearing. I think the bill will come out of committee, so I’m going to vote against it unless something else happens after I walk out of here.
Griffin [02:35:35] Okay, Senator Clark. Senator Clark has a question for Senator Hammer.
Clark [02:35:44] Senator Hammer, the problem I have with that is what we have not heard and what I would like to have is a recess. Because what we have not heard is what the House is going to do. I agree with you, but we haven’t heard that the House is going to be here to hear your bill.
Hammer [02:36:05] That’s a valid point. That is, that is a valid point. That’s all I can say about that. I just want to make sure that there’s not a cloud over my bill and everybody will just have to be accountable for themselves. That’s a valid point.
Griffin [02:36:21] OK. Back to– OK. Anyone else want to speak for or against his, Senator Garner’s motion? Senator Garner is recognized.
Garner [02:36:30] Yes, sir. Senator–
Griffin [02:36:32] Substitute motion.
Garner [02:36:32] Senator Hammer walked away and things are changing. Whenever I discussed it before I made the motion, Senator Hamer wanted that included. I respect his wishes and I’ve heard the debate and we’ve heard Senator Hammer. So is it– this is more a point of clarification, Mr. Chair. Can my substitute motion exclude 739 and just be on 731 now? Would that it be allowable since I haven’t voted on the motion?
Griffin [02:36:59] [02:36:59]That, that’s a completely new motion.
Garner [02:37:00] [02:37:00]OK? Can I substitute my substitute?
Garner [02:37:04] Well, so you have a–
Cook [02:37:07] It’s the last one.
Griffin [02:37:08] Right. You–
Garner [02:37:10] Last one. Okay.
Griffin [02:37:10] So you have a motion now and it’s the same as your other motion, except that it’s only going to exclude one bill.
Garner [02:37:19] SB 731, the rest will be batched and sent back to Public Health. That is my motion, and I am stepping away from the well.
Griffin [02:37:26] And he’s sticking to it. Any questions on this new substitute? Senator Chesterfield, I understand you– do you want to take a question? OK. All right. Any questions? OK. Senator Hendren.
Hendren [02:37:42] So I just want to be clear because we’re getting ready to vote on a substitute motion to another motion that this motion would basically exclude Senator Ballinger’s Bill 731 from going back to the committee. Everything else, including Senator Hammer’s bill, would go back to committee. And if that motion fails, then the original motion would send them all back to committee.
Griffin [02:38:01] If this motion fails, we go back to where we were with Senator Irvin and continue the debate on that because his substitute motion interrupted debate.
Hendren [02:38:11] Gotcha.
Griffin [02:38:12] OK, Senator Clark.
Clark [02:38:16] Do we not go back down the line? Do–
Griffin [02:38:21]We’re on track– I’m going to, I’m going to– before you vote, I’m going to make– so we’re going to deal with the substitute. If it passes, it substitutes. If it does not pass, then we move back to Senator Irvin and proceed.
Clark [02:38:33] No, there’s a substitute in between.
Griffin [02:38:35] No, no. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But, but, but, but we’re not going to have a vote on his– we don’t have to have a vote on him substituting his own motion. Okay. I’ll lay it out. I’ll lay it out.
Clark [02:38:49] [02:38:49]Okay, because I want to be sure because, because if I–
Griffin [02:38:51] [02:38:51]No, we’re sure.
Clark [02:38:52] [02:38:52]If I had substituted for his substitute, we would go back to his substitute.
Griffin [02:38:56] [02:38:56]Right, but it’s like pulling down a bill. If people say, Pass over my bill. You can’t just willy nilly pass over someone else’s bill. Right? That’s your prerogative. It’s your bill. OK, so we’re tracking on that? Senator Chesterfield.
Chesterfield [02:39:11] Mr. Chair, would you please read the title of 731?
Griffin [02:39:16] Let me get my glasses. Look, Madam secretary– is that OK? Madam Secretary, will you please read the title of SB 731? Senator Ballinger’s bill and it does have an emergency clause. Go ahead.
Cornwell [02:39:33] Senate Bill– Senate Bill 731 by Senator Ballinger to establish a right of privacy concerning COVID 19 vaccination status, to establish a grant program from COVID 19 relief funds or American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 funds, and to declare an emergency.
Griffin [02:40:08] OK. I’m afraid to ask– Senator Johnson. I just don’t want to lose track of where we are. Sen. Johnson.
B Johnson [02:40:21] Don’t ever be first.
Griffin [02:40:26] The first shall be last.
B Johnson [02:40:33] We changed the process because of the time frame. The committee went through the process. I’ve sat through over two hours, been interrupted twice, never got to close. And just because people don’t like something. The, the funding possibility in my bill doesn’t change the germaneness of it because it had that in there. And just because it can’t be used doesn’t change the germaneness. It says shall use those funds. And if you can’t use those funds, you can’t use those funds. But those protections are still in there for the citizens.
Griffin [02:41:33] [02:41:33]Senator, I’m just going to ask you to let us get through this motion.
B Johnson [02:41:37] [02:41:37]Yeah, we’ve been, we’ve been doing motion since I’ve been sitting here for, for two hours.
Griffin [02:41:40] [02:41:40]We’re going to be– we’re going to keep doing them until you all decide as a body to do something else. I mean, just let us get through these motions. It’s not– when we get back to your– heck, go to lunch or we’ll call you. But, but, but, but we got to get through these motions.
B Johnson [02:41:54] [02:41:54]Y’all, y’all call me when it’s time for me to close or go home.
Griffin [02:41:58] Okay, okay. All right. So, so let’s just get through the motion. OK, so we’re on the substitute motion, and it doesn’t really matter to my ears because I can’t tell the difference. But this is a majority of those voting, not 18. OK, and this is on Senator Garner’s substitute motion to–
Cornwell [02:42:21] Substitute to a substitute.
Griffin [02:42:24] Substitute to a substitute to exclude Senator Ballinger’s bill, the title of which was read by the Clerk. Is that clear? OK, so if you say aye, you’re for Senator Garner substituting. Senator.
Hickey [02:42:39] Just, just further clarification. So if this is voted down, we’re then going to go to Senator Irvin’s motion. Is that correct?
Griffin [02:42:48] We’re just continuing on.
Hickey [02:42:50] If it’s voted up, then what are we going to do?
Griffin [02:42:53] It substitutes. Hers is– it’s a substitute for hers.
Hickey [02:42:58] OK, so his, his will not– or this particular bill will not go back, but all the others will.
Griffin [02:43:04] If it passes, that’s correct. OK. We clear? All those in favor say aye. Opposed. Let’s do it again. All those in favor say aye. All those opposed no. The no’s have it. Five hands– one, two, OK. We have five hands. Please–.
Cornwell [02:43:30] This is of the ones voting?
Griffin [02:43:32] What’s that?
Cornwell [02:43:36] This is a majority of the ones voting. Make sure you know that.
Griffin [02:43:36] Yeah. Majority of the ones voting, correct. This is not 18, correct.
Cornwell [02:43:42] You’ll have to know who all’s voting. Ballinger, no. Beckham, yes. Beckham, yes. [Gavel]
Griffin [02:43:57] If you’re voting yes, you’re voting for Senator Garner’s substitute motion. I thank Senator Ballinger, do you– OK? We’ll come.– We’re going to do like we normally do. Does anyone wish to vote or change the vote? We’ll do that. OK, so if you made the wrong vote, just stay tuned. Please proceed, Madam Secretary. This is a regular old vote. It’ll be the majority of those voting, not 18.
Cornwell [02:44:25] Bledsoe, no. Caldwell, no. Chesterfield, no. Clark, Clark, Clark. Davis, Davis, yes. Dismang, no. Elliott, no. English, no. Flippo, yes. Flowers, Flowers. Garner, yes. Gilmore, yes. Hammer. Hammer. Hendren, no. Hester, yes. Hickey, no. Hill, no. Ingram, no. Irvin, no. Blake Johnson, Blake Johnson. Mark Johnson, yes. Leding, no. Pitsch, no. Rapert, yes. Rice, yes. Sample, no. Stubblefield, yes. Sturch, no. Sullivan, yes. Teague, Teague, no. Oh, no. Sorry. Tucker. no. Wallace, yes.
Griffin [02:45:48] OK. Anyone wish to vote or change their vote? Senator Ballinger is aye. Senator Clark is aye. Anyone else? Senator Hammer, present. Sen. Davis? Sen. Davis?
Cornwell [02:46:08] She’s aye.
Griffin [02:46:08] You’re good, you’re good as you are? OK, cast up the ballot. 14 yeas, 18 nays. The motion fails. OK. We’re right back where we were. Sen. Irvin. Sen. Chesterfield.
Chesterfield [02:46:23] I move immediate consideration.
Griffin [02:46:25] OK, you’ve heard the motion. It is not debatable. All those in favor say aye.
[02:46:35] [unintelligible] immediate consideration?
Griffin [02:46:37] Of Sen. Irvin’s motion.
[02:46:40] That’s what I’m [unintelligible]
Griffin [02:46:45] Of Senator Irvin’s motion. OK, OK, OK. Hang on. Senator Garner’s motion is now gone. Senator Chesterfield, for clarification, has made a motion for immediate consideration. She has clarified, as I thought she was, she’s talking about Senator Irvin’s motion. Why? Because that’s what’s on the floor right now. We’re not dealing with the bill. We’re right back to Senator Irvin’s motion. OK. Any, any question on that? Okay. Senator Hendren.
Hendren [02:47:17] Yeah. So to be clear, this just sends them all back to committee.
Griffin [02:47:21] This, you know, this is immediate consideration–
Hendren [02:47:25] To vote on that.
Griffin [02:47:26] — so we don’t continue the debate. And then that, that’s right. So if we have immediate consideration, then we’ll, we’ll vote on that. OK. This is the motion for immediate consideration. All those in favor say aye. Opposed. Ayes have it. Now we’re going to vote on Senator Irvin’s motion. Any questions? You want me to restate her motion?
Griffin [02:47:50] Okay. Senator Irvin’s motion would take all of the bills that are under Senate bills for third reading and passage with no exceptions and return them, re-refer them to committee. Correct?
Chesterfield [02:48:09] Mr. Chair.
Griffin [02:48:09] Sen. Chesterfield.
Chesterfield [02:48:10] It is a majority of the 35 or majority of those present and voting?
Griffin [02:48:16] This is the 18. Right. The substitute– when you’re dealing with my ears, there’s not much difference between 18 and majority of those voting. When you get to the roll call there is. But that’s a good question. So this is 18. OK. This is– a for is for Senator Irvin’s motion to send them all back, re-refer. OK. All those in favor say aye. Opposed. The no’s have it. OK, we have five hands. Madam secretary, please call the roll.
Cornwell [02:48:53] Ballinger, No. Beckham, no. Bledsoe, yes. Caldwell, yes. Chesterfield, yes. Clark, no. Davis, no. Dismang, yes. Eads, yes. Elliott, yes. English, yes. Flippo, no. Flowers, Flowers. Garner, no. Gilmore, no. Hammer, yes. Hendren, yes. Hester, no. Hickey, yes. Hill, yes. Ingram, yes. Irvin, yes. Blake Johnson, Blake Johnson. Mark Johnson, no. Leding, yes. Pitsch, yes. Rapert, no. Rice, no. Sample, yes. Stubblefield, no. Sturch, yes. Sullivan, no. Teague, yes. Tucker, yes. Wallace, no.
Griffin [02:50:17] Would anyone like to vote or change their vote? Cast up the ballot. 19 yeas, 14 nays, Senator Irvin’s motion passes. It carries all of the bills on the calendar. Except for the two resolutions at the bottom, all the bills are re-referred to Public Health. Sen. Ingram.
Ingram [02:50:35] We have done such outstanding work today, I make a motion we adjourn.
Griffin [02:50:41] Non-debatable motion. Motion to adjourn. It’s non-debatable. You talking about today or permanently? Yeah, he’s got a motion on the floor. All those in favor say aye. Opposed. The ayes have it. The Senate’s adjourned. Five hands. We got five hands. Five hands. Madam Secretary, please call the roll on the motion to adjourn. Majority of those voting. Majority of those voting. We’ve got our little– we’ve got our little book right here. We’re not making it up. Okay.
Cornwell [02:51:45] Ballinger, no. Beckham, no. Bledsoe, no. Caldwell. Caldwell. Chesterfield, yes. Clark, no. Davis, Davis. Dismang, no. Eads, no. Elliott, Elliott, aye. English. English. Flippo, no. Flowers. Flowers. Garner, no. Gilmore, no. Hammer, no. Hendren, aye. Hester, no. Hickey, no. Hill, yes. Ingram, yes. Irvin, Irvin. Blake Johnson. Blake Johnson. Mark Johnson, no. Leding, yes. Pitsch, no. Rapert Rapert. Rice, no. Sample, no. Stubblefield, no. Sturch, no. Sullivan, no. Teague, no. Tucker, yes. Wallace, no.
Griffin [02:53:28] Does anyone wish to vote or change your vote? Sen. Davis. No. Senator Hill of Cabot, no. Senator Caldwell, no. Anybody else? Senator English, no. Senator Rapert, no. Cast up the ballot. Senator– too late. Sorry. Six yeas, 26 nays, the motion fails. Senator Garner, we got two resolutions. Senator Garner.
Cornwell [02:54:04] Senate resolution 30 by Senator Garner.
Griffin [02:54:07] We need to call– one second, please. Senator Johnson, does he know–.
Cornwell [02:54:11] He’s not here.
Griffin [02:54:12] Ok.
Cornwell [02:54:12] He left.
Griffin [02:54:13] Oh, he left, OK. Sen. Garner.
Cornwell [02:54:18] Senate Resolution 30 by Senator Garner to condemn President Joe Biden’s poor execution of the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Garner [02:54:27] Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Griffin [02:54:29] Sen. Garner.
Garner [02:54:30] Sacrifice is a word gets thrown around a lot in our society.
Griffin [02:54:34] One second, Sen. Garner. [Bangs gavel]
Garner [02:54:38] Thank you. We hear about some overpaid athlete giving up a little bit less more money and say they sacrifice. We hear about some politician having to spend time in Washington, D.C., and we talk about sacrifice. Let me tell you about when I learned what real sacrifice was. On a hot North Carolina day, I sat there in uniform as the sun beamed down on me. In front of me were families of men I had served with that last tour. And what we were doing that day was a flag ceremony. We gave their families a flag to represent their service and their sacrifice to this nation. I’ll never forget it. I look in these people’s eyes who had lost their husbands, their sons, their daddies. And I remember the look on their face. It was sadness. They were upset, of course. But there was this look of pride as that flag was handed to him of what they had did for this country. And I remember that look, and I just couldn’t process it what it meant and why they did it for us and answer hit me like a brick. They did it for us. They did it for what this country stands for and believes in. And unfortunately, that wasn’t the last sacrifice I’ve seen in my time in the military. I remember the Afghan National Army soldiers stepping on a toe popper in his leg being blown up at the knee down. I remember one of our interpreters couldn’t go home because of threats to his family if he did. I remember one of our Afghan security forces being kidnaped and tortured and decapitated from our time there. It wasn’t just men and women here. It’s men and women there as well. And all that sacrifice, all that pain and suffering, all that we went through was disregarded by the very men and women in Washington that were supposed to hold it sacred. The Afghan withdrawal by the Biden administration has been the worst foreign policy disaster in modern history. Make no doubt. Strategically we gave up key element points like airports and bases, allowing chaos to overtake the battlefield. We left billions of dollars of equipment behind for the Taliban and other forces to take over. My tax dollars now go so that a Taliban fighter can have a brand new M4 or sole. Public relations, we see nations condemn us, from our allies in NATO to the British MPs condemning our actions. Humanitarian crisis, we’ve had thousands try to make it to the airport to try to get out. We’ve had chaos on that ground and we saw men and women die trying to do that. Thirteen brave service members lost their lives. Now war, lives are lost. That happens. We all know it. It was part of the game– or part of the gig we sign up for. But whenever those lives are lost due to incompetence, creating chaos on the ground because your withdrawal plan is so feebly and incompetently handled, that’s a problem. So we sit here today as the Arkansas Senate and we condemn the actions of the Biden administration on the withdrawal from Afghanistan. We remember the 20 plus years of men and women sacrificing both here and there. And we thank God we live in a country where you have men and women like that. And with that, I would ask for a good vote.
Griffin [02:58:40] Questions? Okay, you have a question, Sen. Ingram? OK. OK, so Sen. Chesterfield is recognized. Anybody want to speak for it after that? OK, Sen. Chesterfield and Sen. Ingram. Sen. Chesterfield.
Chesterfield [02:58:57] Thank you, Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen of the Senate. The withdrawal from Afghanistan could have been better, could have been better handled. We wish it had ended much better, but it is best that it has indeed ended. It’s been almost 20 years since George W. Bush sent troops to Afghanistan that Joe Biden ended. He ended our longest war. This war received immeasurably less attention from Congress, and I daresay the American people, than Vietnam, probably because Vietnam was the last war that required rich and poor to serve in the military. I’m reminded of Lincoln at Gettysburg: The world will little note, not long remember what we say here, but it is my hope that they will never forget what those men and women did there. But let’s look at the war in Afghanistan by the numbers. The percentage of the U.S. population born since the 2001 attacks is one out of every four Americans. American service members killed in Afghanistan through April of this year, 2,448. Contractors, 3,846. Afghan national military and police, 66,000. Other Allied Service members, including from other NATO member nations, 1,144. Afghan civilians, 47,245. Taliban and other opposition fighters, 51,191. Aid workers, 444. Journalists, 72. The date Congress authorized U.S. forces to go after culprits in the Sept. 11 attacks, Sept. 18, 2001. Into Afghanistan, into Iraq, but never into Saudi Arabia, which is where most of those who attacked us on September 11 came from. The number of times U.S. lawmakers have voted to declare war in Afghanistan, 0. The number of times lawmakers on Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee addressed the cost of the Vietnam War during that conflict, 52. Today, that committee is called the Senate Finance Committee. They have mentioned the cost of Afghanistan and the Iraqi war since September 11, 2001, through mid-summer of 2021, exactly once. The amount Harry Truman temporarily raised top tax rates to pay for the Korean War, 92 percent. The amount President Lyndon Johnson raised the top tax rates to pay for the Vietnam War, 77 percent. The amount George W. Bush cut tax rates for the wealthiest rather than raise them at the outset of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, at least 8 percent. And why do I mention Afghanistan and Iraq? Because at some point we had military members of the United States serving in both wars. The estimated amount of direct Afghanistan and Iraq war cost that the United States has debt financed as of 2020 was $2 trillion. The estimated interest cost by 2050 up to 6.5 trillion. The amount and estimated cost the United States has committed to pay in health care, disability, burial and other costs for roughly 4 million Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans, more than 2 trillion. Information on both the Iraq and Afghanistan war overlap because between 2003 and 11, the wars were fought simultaneously and many American troops fought in both. And they were both started by George W. Bush. Let me say this, we need to lift up the gold families in prayer for they have made the ultimate sacrifice. They have given of their loved ones to the service of this country, and the politicization of that, I think is unseemly. With that, Mr. Chair, thank you very much for allowing me my comments.
Griffin [03:03:18] OK, the Senator is recognized, then I’ll go to you, Senator Ingram. Ok. Sen. Wallace. Sen. Wallace, then Sen. Ingram. He’s speaking for. Senator Ingram is going to speak on.
Wallace [03:03:34] I don’t know that I’ve ever come down to speak on a resolution, but I’m going to. I’m an old man, but I know a little bit about war. And some of you, especially the young, in the future, may be our congressmen, may be our governor, may be our president. This war started when those bastards flew those airplanes into those towers. That’s when this war started. I want to be very clear about that. After World War Two, we left troops in Germany and even in Japan. Fifty years, maybe even more, I’m not adding– probably more than that. In Korea, which the armistice was signed at 54, there are still troops there. And because of that, there’s been peace in Europe. Because of that, there’s been peace in Korea. We could have left 2,000, 3,000, 5,000 troops in Afghanistan. We had a base in the middle of no where that we could have heavily defended and that would have given the backbone for that country to still stand. And I want to tell you, the cost of this war, we don’t know yet because of what we have done and because of the disgraceful way we left this country when we tucked our tails and ran. And we did. Down the road, we’re going to pay the price in our homeland. So I am in support of this resolution. Thank you.
Griffin [03:05:42] Senator Ingram. Sen. Ingram is recognized.
Ingram [03:05:53] Thank you very much, Governor. To those who serve our country, we owe the greatest debt, one we’ll never repay. But what I think we need to remember here is one thing we work very, very hard about is trying not to nationalize this body. I think that each and every one of you here, if you were asked, Do we want to operate like Washington? We would agree, no, that’s not what we want to do because we want to get things done. I don’t think we have to look back further than just the private option. When Senator Dismang, Senator Sanders, young Republicans, went to a Democratic governor, we worked together, and we produced one of the great pieces of legislation that will come from this body, one that is– we’d like to be emulated across the country. But we worked together to do that. Now, certainly in the past, the past four years, there were many opportunities for Democrats to come down here with resolutions regarding the conduct of the president of the United States. But we chose not to do that simply because it would, number one, divide this body. And, number two, what purpose does it really serve? Does it make any Arkansan healthier? Does it make any Arkansan have a greater opportunity to get a job? No, resolutions like this are simply set up to pander to a base. They are set up for elections. And they’re set up to divide a great body. Certainly, there’s a lot of blame to go around over 20 years for all the administrations that were served. But again, if I had wanted to bring resolutions to this body on the previous president, I could have brought– I could have brought enough that were so high a prize show dog couldn’t jump over. But I chose not to. We chose not to because we want to work together, not divide.
Griffin [03:08:17] Sen. Hill.
Hill [03:08:22] Thank you, Governor. I want to say a special thanks to Senator Garner for bringing this, this resolution to us today. And the reason I’m going to say that, I’m going to tell you, I’ve had as much, if not more, of a vested interest in this resolution, what’s going on, what happened in Afghanistan than anyone else in this body. My son was sitting in the Arabian Sea, whenever all this took place. He’s a naval aviator. He’s been on that ship since March, the USS Ronald Reagan that left Japan headed to that area to relieve another carrier. So as a parent with no communication with your child during this time, only what you see on the news and what you hear, that it was a disaster and an embarrassment to the United States of America what took place over there. To have my son sitting on a ship, hearing about his fellow soldiers dying in an unnecessary act that took place because of the way this administration handled it. I, as a– I am embarrassed by the way this administration handled it, but I am proud of my son and the United States military. Thank you.
Griffin [03:09:39] Senator Johnson. In favor, for, correct? OK, one second. Anyone want to speak on it before I go to Sen. Johnson? Okay. Sen. Johnson for. It’s important that I mention that, so that we get it on the record, what you’re speaking.
M Johnson [03:09:55] Thank you, Mr. President. And I’ll be very brief. When I see heroes like Senator Wallace, Senator Garner talk about their experiences in war, I tear up when I hear a father like Senator Hill talk about the fear as his son, still does. I tear up when I see the images of the Afghans that wanted their freedom from a heinous regime. I mean, we like to go back 75 years, talk about how bad the Nazis were. Here in our own lifetime, we’ve seen just horrid things come out of that country, and you don’t have to be a geopolitician to know that Afghanistan is a place with a lot of problems. But we didn’t have to just literally pull the rug out from under those people. And this is a different situation than just, you know, how we execute something. And when you see those images of those poor people literally trying to climb on an airplane on the outside of it just to protect themselves. And I hear Senator Garner talk about the retributions that are coming, not about what we see, what are coming to those people who just cooperated, the Americans that were trying to do the right thing over there. I cry for those people. It’s the most emotional thing I have experienced in years. So to even say this is just another partisan resolution is, is beyond the pale to me. This is the right thing for us to say. I hope fifty states and territories and District of Columbia all pass similar resolutions. We need to say never more, we’re not going to abandon the people that helped us. We’re not going to feed and arm evil, which is exactly what was done. So I implore you to support the resolution. Thank you, Mr. President.
Griffin [03:11:58] Anyone else wish to speak on the resolution? For the resolution? Senator Elliott, for the resolution? On the resolution? On the resolution, Sabrina. Senator Elliott.
Elliott [03:12:11] Thank you, governor. We can at any time, I think, take something that pulls at our hearts as much as the issue of our servicemen and women– it really is an easy way, to take something that most of us have never thought about dividing ourselves over and then turn around and talk about it as if there are some of us in here who don’t support the men and women in the military. It’s so easy to do that just by making assumptions, just by using particular words. And every single one of us in here knows that you cannot point to any one of us in here and say that we don’t support our military. That does not exist. But in this country, this country that they have fought for to make sure we have the ability to disagree with one another and to be civil with one another without casting aspersions that we don’t support the military dishonors them. It dishonors what they have fought for. If you think Joe Biden’s messed this up, that’s fine. But there really is no need for us to have to make this something that’s about each one of us personally. But you got to know that’s what this does. It creates a picture that somehow some people support the military and others do not. We should never do this. We should never put ourselves in a position that it seems as if some people care and others do not. I have my feelings about this, but I can tell you another feeling, I have for sure. I have no judgment of anybody who thinks Joe Biden might have missed this up. That does not translate to anything about whether or not I think you support the military. And to conflate the two things to me is something that should never happen. It’s kind of like Senator Ingram said, we could have had all kind of resolutions about President Trump. But it was just simply unworthy for us to do it. Simply unworthy. So I will ask this of the public, and I will ask this of each of you, take this for what it is, but judge not a single person in this body as not supporting the military. Not a single person. I don’t care what your party is. I don’t care if you don’t have a party. It’s wrong to go any further than this is nothing more than a resolution to state somebody’s thoughts about the way something is handled. It is not about us.
Griffin [03:16:02] Anyone else wish to speak? All those in favor say aye. Opposed. Ayes have it. Resolution’s adopted. Senator Ballinger, SR 31.
[03:16:17] Senate Resolution 31 by Senator Ballinger to honor coach Tom Harrell as the longest tenured active high school football coach in the state of Arkansas.
Ballinger [03:16:27] I had– thank you. I had no idea that we’d have a day like today we run this resolution. Coach Harrell is a great guy. The superintendent said that he’s not a coach of boys, he’s a coach of men. Good man, been around for a long time at one school. He’s in his 32nd year at Mountainburg, one school all that time. Longest tenured coach. He’s retiring this year, so I’d like to be able to present him with this resolution. I appreciate a good vote.
Griffin [03:16:55] You’ve heard the resolution. All those in favor say aye. Opposed. Ayes have it. The resolution’s adopted. Tomorrow, Public Health will meet at 8:30 in 272 and the Senate will convene at 11 o’clock. The Senate’s adjourned.