House floor

Feb. 23, 2022

 

Staff I invite the members, staff, press, and guests in the galleries to stand and be led in prayer by Representative Wing and to remain standing for the Pledge of Allegiance to be led by Representative Lane Jean. 

 

Wing Our dear heavenly Father, we are grateful to thee for the blessings of this day. We are grateful to be together. We are grateful for the opportunity to represent our friends and neighbors and constituents, and we pray for thy spirit to bless us and be with us in the work that we do here in service of our fellow man. We are grateful for the lives that we lead and for the country in which we live and the freedoms that we enjoy. We pray that that will ever continue. We ask thee to bless these proceedings. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.  

 

[Pledge of Allegiance]

 

Shepherd Members, please indicate your presence by pushing your yellow present button. Prepare the machine, Mr. Clerk. Cast up the ballot, Mr. Clerk. With 95 members present, the chair sees a quorum. Are there any requests for leave? Representative Maddox, for what purpose? 

 

Maddox Leave for Representative Johnson. 

 

Shepherd Is leave granted for Representative Johnson? Representative Milligan, for what purpose? 

 

Milligan Leave. 

 

Shepherd Is leave granted for Rep. Brandt Smith? So noted. Representative Kenneth Ferguson, for what purpose? 

 

K Ferguson Leave. 

 

Shepherd You’re recognized. 

 

K Ferguson Leave for Representative David Whitaker. 

 

Shepherd Is leave granted for Representative Whitaker? So noted. Representative Speaks, for what purpose? 

 

Speaks Leave for Representative Payton. 

 

Shepherd Is leave granted for Representative Payton? So noted. Representative Frederick Love moves we dispense with the reading of the previous day’s journal. Without objection, so ordered. Are there reports from select committees? Read the reports, Mr. Clerk. 

 

Clerk Mr. Speaker, we you Committee on Joint Budget, to whom was referred House Bill 1096 beg leave to report that we have had the same under consideration and herewith return the same with the recommendation that do pass. Respectfully submitted, Lane Jean, Chair. 

 

Shepherd Are there any reports from standing committees? Is there any unfinished business? Are there any executive communications? Read the letter from the governor. 

 

Clerk February 17, 2022, to the Speaker of the House. Dear Mr. Speaker, this is to inform you that on February 17, 2022, I reviewed and approved the following measure from the fiscal session of the 93rd General Assembly: House Bill 1113 as Act 1. Sincerely, Asa Hutchinson. 

 

Shepherd Members, we have a few guests with us today. First, we have our United States senator, Senator Tom Cotton. Members, I believe in the North gallery, we have Miss Lisa Bennett, Mr. Brian Miller. Miss Bennett is the director of nursing at DeWitt Hospital. And Mr. Miller is the CEO of DeWitt Hospital. They’re the guests of Representative Hillman. Mr. Clerk, please read House resolution 1028. 

 

Clerk House Resolution 1028 by Representative Hillman to recognize the contributions of the DeWitt Hospital staff to the state of Arkansas. 

 

Speaker 5 Rep. Hillman, you’re recognized to explain the resolution. 

 

Hillman Thank you, Mr. Speaker. All of us have been affected in one way or another by this COVID pandemic. Some more than others. A number, any number of us in this building, in this room today, have had it themselves. But no one has been more affected than our health care workers in Arkansas. Back in the middle of January, I got a call one morning from the DeWitt City Hospital. Lisa told me, she said, David, we’ve got patients in the hall that need ventilators. We’ve got patients in the ICU rooms. We’ve called every hospital in the state of Arkansas. None of them can take them. These people are going to die. We’ve also called outside to state. If we don’t do something, they’re going to, they’re going to die. I went to the governor’s office and talked to him in there and immediately, as soon as I talked to Bill Gossage, his eyes got big. And he said, We’re on it. That was about 11:30 that morning. By 3 o’clock that afternoon. They had patients transferred out of the hospital to other hospitals, and they had three more ventilators there. It was because of their caring for the lives of the people in DeWitt Arkansas that we have people alive there today.  And I think that they deserve this resolution that I prepared for them today. 

 

Shepherd Representative Hillman has explained the resolution. Would anyone like to speak against the resolution? Would anyone like to speak for the resolution? Rep. Hillman, would you like to close for the resolution? 

 

Hillman I’m closed. 

 

Shepherd Mr. Clerk, read the resolution. 

 

Clerk Whereas on January 26, 2020, the DeWitt Hospital faced a challenging emergency. And whereas the hospital had three patients who needed ventilators, however, there were no additional ventilators available on site. And whereas additionally, after checking with all the hospitals in the state of Arkansas and the surrounding states, no beds were found for the patients. And whereas in the midst of the emergency, the DeWitt Hospital staff was determined to find the proper medical care for the three patients and did not stop working until the beds were found and the transfers took place. And whereas the DeWitt Hospital staff worked tirelessly to help the three patients when there were no beds or ventilators available. And whereas without any options, the DeWitt Hospital staff decided to have their director of nursing, Lisa Bennett, contact someone in the government who might be of assistance. And whereas by that afternoon, the staff and the Office of the Governor had located three ventilators for DeWitt Hospital and assisted in the transfer of these three patients to other hospitals. And whereas because of the DeWitt Hospital staff’s quick thinking and actions, lives were saved on January 26, 2020, making the DeWitt Hospital staff true heroes for the DeWitt area and the entire state of Arkansas. Now, therefore, be it resolved by the House of Representatives of the 93rd General Assembly of the State of Arkansas that the House of Representatives recognize the contributions of the DeWitt Hospital staff to the state of Arkansas. 

 

Shepherd Would anyone like to speak against the resolution? For the resolution? I guess, Representative Hillman, I’ve already said he’s closed for the resolution. The question before the House is the adoption of House resolution 1028. All in favor say aye. Any opposed. The resolution is adopted. Members, we have one other guest with us today. We have Suzanne Hultin from NCSL. She’s our NCSL liaison to the Arkansas General Assembly. Mr. Clerk, please read House Resolution 1030. 

 

Clerk House Resolution 1030 by Representative Tosh to congratulate the Marked Tree School district on its many successes during the past year. 

 

Shepherd Rep. Tosh, you’re recognized to explain the resolution. 

 

Tosh Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Colleagues, it’s good to stand before you again today and recognize another outstanding school in my area. There were several Representatives here earlier from the Marked Tree High School. Obviously, they had to leave and try to make their way back home, but I wanted to go ahead and stand here today and read this resolution and honor them for their academic accomplishments. Recently, the Marked Tree Elementary School was recognized by the U.S. News and World Report as one of the best elementary schools in Arkansas. And this is the first time that the U.S. News and World Report has ever recognized an elementary school here in Arkansas for that accomplishment. On the other hand, the Marked Tree High School has received this honor as being one of the best high schools in the state by U.S. News and World Report 15 of the last 17 years. There were several of the educators that were here, as I said earlier. Obviously, they’re not here now. But I would still like to recognize them by name to let them know how much we appreciate what they’ve accomplished there at the Marked Tree school. They are the superintendent who was here, like I said, a great guy, my friend, Superintendent Matt Wright, Elementary Principal Lisa Grady, district leadership team member Kelly Pierce, Marked Tree High School principal Luke Guenrich, and High School Team member and district leader Octavus Mitchell. If you would, colleagues, I know they’re not here, but let’s let them know how much we appreciate them leading the way for our kids and these accomplishments that they’ve been able to receive for the Marked Tree school. I think it deserves a big round of applause. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Mr. Speaker, if you would, have the Clerk read the resolution in its entirety. Thank you. 

 

Shepherd Representative Tosh has explained the resolution. Would anyone like to speak against the resolution? Would anyone like to speak for the resolution? Representative Tosh is closed for the resolution. Mr. Clerk, please read the resolution in its entirety. 

 

Clerk Whereas the Marked Tree School District has had many successes over the past year, and whereas Marked Tree High School and Marked Tree Elementary School have both received highly effective schools accreditation from Solution Tree, which recognizes schools and districts committed to achieving and maintaining the highest levels of educational quality. And whereas Marked Tree’s Elementary School was recognized by the U.S. News and World Report as one of the best elementary schools in Arkansas in 2021, which was the first time the U.S. News and World Report has included elementary schools in its rankings. And whereas Marked Tree High School was recognized by the U.S. News and World Report as one of the best high schools in Arkansas in 2021, and Marked Tree High School has obtained that recognition in 15 of the last 17 years. And whereas Marked Tree Elementary School is well led by its principal, Lisa Gray, its elementary school, its elementary school teacher and district leadership team, Kelly Pierce, and a number of other educators. And whereas Marked Tree High School is well led by its principal Luke Guenrich and high school teacher and district leadership team members Octavius Mitchell, and by a number of other educators. Now, therefore, be it resolved by the House of Representatives of the 93rd General Assembly of the State of Arkansas, that the House of Representatives will congratulate the Marked Tree School District on its many successes over the past year. 

 

Shepherd The question before the House is the adoption of House resolution 1030. All in favor say aye. Any opposed. The resolution is adopted. Members, we’re going to pass over House resolution 1032. Morning hour is ended. Mr. Clerk, please read Senate Bill 87. 

 

Clerk Senate Bill 87 by Representative Dotson to establish coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of morbid obesity under the state and public school life and health insurance program and to declare an emergency. 

 

Shepherd Rep. Dotson, you’re recognized to explain the bill. 

 

Dotson Thank you, Mr. Speaker, members. Wow, it’s a hot mic today. So this is the first of the four Senate bills that are part of the Employee Health Benefits Division package that we’ve been working on. This one in particular deals with morbid obesity and allowing for an expansion of the availability of services for folks that need things like bariatric surgery and that type of thing. The study from the consultant that we hired to study all of these things said the cap that we put on these was one in which we would save a lot more money if there was more availability. Folks who actually have these types of treatments actually end up costing the insurance plan less money over the long haul, so putting an arbitrary cap on there would not be– it would be better and more cost savings for the overall program if we remove that cap and had more specific targeted rules in place and allowed more flexibility for the plan design by the administrators of the plan. So all those rules will come before Legislative Council for approval once they have all those things written and can be flexible throughout the entire plan year to year to year so that as as tweaks need to happen, they can be, they can be done. More than happy to try to answer any questions. Seeing none, appreciate a good vote.

 

Shepherd Rep. Dotson has explained the bill. Would anyone like to speak against the bill? Would anyone like to speak for the bill? Representative Dotson is closed for the bill. The question before the House is the passage of Senate Bill 87. Prepare the machine, Mr. Clerk. Has everyone voted? Has everyone voted? Cast up the ballot, Mr. Clerk. The bill and the emergency clause have passed by a vote of 91 yeas, 2 nays, and 0 present. Mr. Clerk, please read Senate Bill 86. 

 

Clerk Senate Bill 86 by Representative Wardlaw to establish a funding mechanism to ensure solvency of the state and public school life and health insurance program and to declare an emergency. 

 

Shepherd Rep. Wardlaw, you’re recognized to explain the bill. 

 

Wardlaw Thank you, Mr. Speaker. So this is the bill that establishes the funding triggers on the, on the reserves. So if you remember, I explained that the other day, where we go from 12 on the bottom to 16 on the top and our optimum reserves are 14. So for any questions, and this bill has nothing to do with the Medicare Advantage plan. I’ll say that again too. Appreciate a good vote. 

 

Shepherd Rep. Wardlaw has explained the bill. Would anyone like to speak against the bill? Would anyone like to speak for the bill? Rep. Wardlaw is closed for the bill. The question before the House is the passage of Senate Bill 86. Prepare the machine, Mr. Clerk. You’re voting on the bill and the emergency clause. Has everyone voted? Has everyone voted? Cast up the ballot, Mr. Clerk. By a vote of 95 yea, 0 nay, and 0 present, the bill and emergency clause have passed. Mr. Clerk, please read Senate Bill 85. 

 

Clerk Senate Bill 85 by Representative Evans to clarify the definition of eligible inactive retiree, to modify eligibility of retirees to participate in the state and local school life and health insurance program, and to declare an emergency. 

 

Shepherd Representative Evans, you’re recognized to explain the bill. 

 

Evans Thank you, Mr. Speaker, members. Bill three of the EBD package, although longer in content, what this bill does is simply one thing. It establishes the eligible inactive retiree parameters, which is 5 cumulative years within the program. And just to clarify, in case you get asking me questions back home because I think it’s very important to point out in the bill, if you look at section 3, Page 8, it states that it does not apply to employees that are employed on the effective date of the Act. So once we pass this bill and it becomes law, anyone that is employed at that time will not be affected by this. We appreciate a good vote. 

 

Shepherd Rep. Evans has explained the bill. Would anyone like to speak against the bill? Would anyone like to speak for the bill? Representative Evans is closed to the bill. The question before the House is the passage of Senate Bill 85. Prepare the machine, Mr. Clerk. Has everyone voted? You’re voting on the bill and the emergency clause. Has everyone voted? Cast up the ballot, Mr. Clerk. By a vote of 95 yeas, 0 nay, and 0 present, the bill and emergency clause are passed. Mr. Clerk, please read Senate bill 88. 

 

Clerk Senate Bill 88 by Representative Mark Berry to modify the state contribution to the state and public school life and health insurance program and to declare an emergency. 

 

Shepherd Representative Berry, you’re recognized to explain the bill. 

 

Berry Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Hello, friends. I just had to say that. The only thing standing between you and the ice outside is me, so I hope for a good vote on this. It’s fairly simple. All it does is lift the state cap of $550 on the state employee health benefits. That won’t be raised right now. If it does get raised, it will go before ALC for approval. That’s all it does. And I appreciate a good vote. 

 

Shepherd Rep. Berry has explained the bill. Would anyone like to speak against the bill? Would anyone like to speak for the bill? Representative Berry is closed for the bill. The question before the House is the passage of Senate bill 88. Prepare the machine, Mr. Clerk. Has everyone voted? You’re voting on the bill and the emergency clause. Has everyone voted? Cast up the ballot, Mr. Clerk. By a vote of 95 yea, 0 nay, and 0 present, the bill and emergency clause are passed. Members, we’re going to move to the Yellow Supplemental Budget Calendar. Representative Jean moves that we re-refer House Bill 1067 to committee. That’s a proper motion. Representative Jean, you’re recognized to explain the motion. 

 

Jean Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Colleagues, this needs to be sent back to do a little more work from staff. Any questions? Appreciate a good vote. 

 

Shepherd Representative Jean has explained the motion. Would anyone like to speak against the motion? Would anyone like to speak for the motion? Representative Jean is closed for the motion. The question before the House is the re-referral of House Bill 1067 to committee. All in favor say aye. Any opposed. The motion is adopted. Rep. Jean, you’re recognized. 

 

Jean Being the fact that the weather is getting bad, and I know you want to go home if you can. And we will not– we will pass over House Bill 1031. I had a special member here that was going to speak for today, but he’s gone so. But I will, if– look at it. I’m going to batch the whole thing except 1031. The appropriations or the property tax of the Department of Treasurer, which is not general revenue. Your refunds for local tax is not, is not general revenue. House Bill 1037, State turn back. That’s what we do every year, our cities and counties. And then the state library. But the rest of them are supplemental. They have additional funding that they need the appropriation to spend this year, whether it be federal funds or we’ve increased state turn back for the year for cities and counties. I’ll let you look at it. If not, we’re going to batch this whole bunch without objection. So members, we’re going to batch House Bill 1027, 1033, 1037. We’ll do that. OK. We’re going to, we’re going to batch the first part first because they do not have an emergency clause, which would be House Bill 1027, House Bill 1033, House Bill 1037, House Bill 1068. Do I need to pull any of these out of the batch for any reason? Your one vote is for the bill. Mr. Speaker, have the Clerk read the bill a third time. 

 

Shepherd Mr. Clerk, please read the bills for the third time. 

 

Clerk House Bill 1027, House Bill 1033, House Bill 1037, House Bill 1068. 

 

Shepherd Prepare the machine. Has everyone voted? Has everyone voted? Cast up the ballot, Mr. Clerk. By a vote of 91 yeas, 1 nay, and 0 present, the bills have passed. Representative Jean, you’re recognized. 

 

Jean Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We’re going to  pick up at House Bill 1101. These are all supplemental, which means they’re appropriations from now to June 30th of this year. And we’re going down to House Bill 1116. Do I need to pull any of these from the batch for any reason? Your one vote is for the bill and the emergency clause. Mr. Speaker, have the Clerk read the bill a third time. 

 

Shepherd Mr. Clerk, please read the bills for the third time. 

 

Clerk House Bill 1101, House Bill 1102,  House Bill 1103, House Bill 1104, House Bill 1105, House Bill 1106, House Bill 1107, House Bill 1108, House Bill 1109, House Bill 1110, House Bill 1111, House Bill 1112, House Bill 1113, House Bill 1114, House Bill 1115, House Bill 1116. 

 

Clerk Prepare the machine. You’re voting on the bill and the emergency clause. Has everyone voted? Has everyone voted? Cast up the ballot, Mr. Clerk. By a vote of 91 yea, 0 nay, 0 present, the bills and emergency clauses have passed. Members, before I recognize Representative Meeks, in, in consultation with the Senate leadership, we’re going to– we’re not going to meet tomorrow. I know everybody’s here, but there’s other considerations just in terms of staff and our support services getting everybody here. So we’re going to go ahead and we’ll end today. I think there’s two committees that briefly need to meet right afterwards, and we’ll hear from those. And then the plan will be to come back Monday at noon. And then we’ll pick up with, I think, Special Language is going to meet upon adjournment of the House and Senate on Monday. So I hope everybody stays safe. Apologize that we couldn’t make, make things happen a little quicker. But you know, we’re trying to, trying to do the best we can understanding that we, in a fiscal session, we have a limited time frame to get our work done. Representative Meeks, you’re recognized. 

 

Meeks So noon, not 1? 

 

Shepherd Noon. 

 

Meeks OK. After the announcements, reading of the bills, transferring the bills, placing the calendars on the desk, members amending their own bills with their own amendments, members withdrawing their own bills, finalizing resolutions, reading communications, and any remaining committee reports, I move that we adjourn until noon on Monday. 

 

Shepherd That’s a proper motion. It’s not debatable. All in favor say Aye. Any opposed. Motion is adopted. Any announcements? Representative Wing, for what purpose? 

 

Wing Announcement. 

 

Shepherd You’re recognized. 

 

Wing House Management will meet immediately upon adjournment. Let’s get over to Mac B as quickly as possible, because then we’ve got another one. No, we’re changing that? Oh, 138. OK, now, now in room 138. Even closer. 

 

Shepherd Representative Beck, for what purpose? 

 

Beck Announcement. 

 

Shepherd You’re recognized. 

 

Beck There’s going to be an informal meeting with Summit in Energy, which is CenterPoint Energy. If a lot of you guys are seeing some concerns from your constituents concerning their gas bills, they’re going to talk to us and answer some of those questions and answer any questions you might have immediately upon adjournment. 149. 

 

Shepherd Rep. Vaught, for what purpose? 

 

Vaught Announcement. 

 

Shepherd You’re recognized. 

 

Vaught I know several of you had signed up to go to the prayer breakfast tomorrow at the governor’s mansion. That has been canceled. It will now be on March the 3rd. Your ticket is still good. It will just be March 3rd instead of in the morning. Also, we’ll have Ag, Forestry, economic development upon adjournment. Thank you. 

 

Shepherd Any other announcements? Like I said, members, we’ll come back in Monday at noon. And then I believe Special Language will meet upon adjournment. And then we anticipate Budget meeting Tuesday morning. In terms of when we’re going to get out of here, we’re, we’re hopeful that next week we can finish up all of our work in the Budget Committee. Honestly, the thing that probably slows us down the most right now are the number of holds that we have on various budget bills. And so if you do have a hold on a bill, please try and use the next several days to work through that and see if you can come to some resolution because honestly, that’s the biggest thing that probably stands between us and being able to wrap this up. OK. All right. If there’s no other announcements, the desk will remain open as needed for the reading of the bills and upon completion of the items named in the adjourn resolution, the House will be adjourned until Monday at noon.