House State Agencies

January 11, 2023


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Rep Tosh: Committee members, we’re going to do that by seniority. So your name tags are up here at the front of the table. So when I call your name, just pick up your name tag and go to whatever seat you choose. So the member with the most seniority is Representative Stephen Meeks. You got your name tag, Stephen? You’re good to go, okay? Representative Lane Jean.


Rep Jean: Right here.


Rep Tosh: Tom, would you hand him his name tag? Representative Jeff Wardlaw. Not here? Yeah, just go ahead and put him right there for me. Representative Josh Miller, and Josh is not going to be here today, but we’ll put him in the third seat. Yeah, that’ll be fine right there. Thank you. Representative Richard Womack. Okay. Just find a place down through there for me, please, staff, and just wherever on this side over here. Representative Mary Bentley. Just find the name tag and put it down on this side over here. Representative Justin Gonzales. Okay? Representative Rick Beck.  Okay? Representative Marcus Richmond. Okay? Representative Jimmy Gazaway. Here, just put him on the side, the other side of Rick Beck. Representative Cindy Crawford. Okay? Representative Jamie Scott. Representative Nicole Clowney. Representative Jon Milligan. Representative John Carr. John, you already got yours? Representative Kendon Underwood. Representative Mark Berry. And Representative Jeremiah Moore.


Rep Tosh: Okay, committee members, that’ll be your assigned seats for the 94th General Assembly. So I appreciate you being a member of this committee. At this time, if everybody has their seats, it looks like we’re about all here, so let’s just quickly– we’ll go around the room. And Representative Meeks, I’ll start with you. Just kind of introduce yourself and a little bit of your background and your district and kind of make people a little more familiar with who you are.


Rep Meeks: Okay, good morning. Representative Stephen Meeks. I represent the new District 42, which is the Greenbrier up to Fairfield Bay area. I’m currently chair of Technology, and a lot of the things I work on are broadband and technology and energy related. I’m looking forward to working with y’all this session.


Rep Tosh: Representative Jean?


Rep Jean: Lane Jean. I’m in District 99, which covers parts of Columbia, Lafayette, and Miller County. I’m in my seventh term, and this is my second term being on State Agencies.


Rep Tosh: Representative Gonzales?


Rep Gonzales: Representative Justin Gonzales, District 89, I believe it is. Clark County, Pike County, Nevada County, parts of Hot Spring and Garland County.


Rep Tosh: Representative Berry?


Rep M Berry: Thank you, Mr Chairman. Mark Berry, District 26. Franklin, Madison, portion of Carroll County. And it’s my first term on– I’ve only been here– this is my second term. But this is my first term on this committee. Thank you, Mr Chairman.


Rep Tosh: Thank you. We are glad to have all the new members on here. I know we’ve got a lot of returning members from State Agencies. Glad to have you back, but thanks for the new ones. Congratulations for being on this committee. Representative Richmond, or who’s up? Yeah, Marcus?


Rep Richmond: Yeah, thank you, Mr Chair. Representative Marcus Richmond, District 52. About two thirds of Yell County, all of Scott County, and southern Sebastian County. And this is my second time on this committee. Glad to be here.


Rep Tosh: Representative Clowney?


Rep Clowney: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Nicole Clowney, District 21, which is Fayetteville. Wooo Pig.


Rep Tosh: Thank you. Representative Crawford?


Rep Crawford: Cindy Crawford. Thank you, Mr. Chair. I am from District 51, which is Fort Smith. It is south and east. I also cover the great and upcoming Chaffee Crossing. If you haven’t been there, you need to come see what is going on. It is amazing. This is my first time to be on the State Agencies and third term.


Rep Tosh: Okay. Representative Underwood?


Rep Underwood: Kendon Underwood. I represent District 16, which is in portions of Benton County. This is my second term in the House and my first term on Stage Agencies. So thank you, Mr. Chair.


Rep Tosh: Thank you. Representative Jeremiah Moore?


Rep Moore: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Jeremiah Moore. I represent District 61. It covers the southeast third of Jackson County, all the Woodruff County, eastern third of Prairie County, a little over half of Monroe County, and most of Arkansas County. This is my first term and therefore my first time on State Agencies. Happy to be here.


Rep Tosh: Yeah, thank you. Representative Womack?


Rep Womack: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Richard Womack. I live in Arkadelphia, and I have a very small part of Clark County, what Justin Gonzales does not represent, a big chunk of Hot Spring County now, and just a little bit of Garland County.


Rep Tosh: Thank you. Representative Bentley?


Rep Bentley: Thank you, Chairman. It’s an honor to be on this committee. This is my fifth term in the House, my first term on State Agencies. I just live a short distance from here in central Arkansas, 40 miles from the Capitol steps to mine. I cover all of Perry County, good portion of Faulkner County, the woods of Saline County, and a part of Yell County as well. But it’s an honor to be here with this prestigious committee, and thank you.


Rep Tosh: Oh, we’re glad to have you. Thank you. Representative Beck?


Rep Beck: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Rick Beck. This is my second term on this committee. I represent District 6– excuse me, not 65 anymore, District 43, which is Conway County and a large portion of Van Buren County. And I’m just happy to be back on the committee.


Rep Tosh: Glad to have you back. Representative Gazaway?


Rep Gazaway: I’m Jimmy Gazaway. I represent what’s now District 31, which is just the corporate city limits of the city of Paragould, which is a part of Greene County. This is my fourth term to serve in the House. I served on State Agencies committee in 2019, so this is my second time on the committee. It’s a great committee to serve on. A lot of important issues come through here, and I look forward to the work that we’re going to do.


Rep Tosh: Thank you. Representative Scott?


Rep Scott: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I’m Representative Jamie Scott. I represent House District now 72, which is north Little Rock, Argenta, Levy, Amboy, all those great parts of the state. This is my third term and my second time serving on State Agencies. And I think it’s a great committee, and thank you for your leadership.


Rep Tosh: Glad to have you back. Thank you. Representative Milligan?


Rep Milligan: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I’m Jon Milligan. I represent District 33, which is in northeast Arkansas, part of Craighead and part of Mississippi County. My first time on this committee, and I look forward to serving with each of you all and with the chair in the last year.


Rep Tosh: Glad to have you. Representative Carr?


Rep Carr: Yes. I’m Representative John Carr. I represent the great people in House District 15, which is central Rogers. It’s my second term, my first term on this committee. I look forward to doing great things for the people of Arkansas.


Rep Tosh: Thank you, sir. At this time, I’d like to introduce our vice chair, and that’s Representative Mark McElroy. Mark?


Rep McElroy: Thank you so much, Mr. Chair. I’m the Representative for District 62, which is part of Desha County, Arkansas County, portions of Monroe County, all of Phillips County, all of Lee County, part of St Francis County, and Bolivar County, Mississippi. [laughter] I have a district as big as a congressional district, but I look forward to serving on this committee with my chair, Representative Tosh. I’ve heard good things about this committee. And I’m like Minnie Pearl, just glad to be here.


Rep Tosh: Well, I’m Representative Dwight Tosh. And I’m chair of the committee, and I’ve been on State Agencies– this will be my fifth term on State Agencies. I’ve been the chair of this committee for the last two terms, and this will be three terms. And I appreciate the Speaker entrusted me with this responsibility. This is a great committee, and I look forward to chairing this committee once again. I represent the southern part of Craighead County, a big portion of Poinsette County, and also part of Jackson County. And a little bit about my background. I’m a former member of the Arkansas State Police. I retired from that agency as a troop commander, where I was a captain over Troop B. And it’s a great honor for me to serve as the chair of this agency and I welcome all of you to this, to this committee. And as some of you have said, it is a great committee. We will have a lot of legislation to come through here. And we have an extremely important responsibility to do the right thing, and that’s take care of business. And if it’s a good bill, then we need to get it out of here. And if it’s a bad one, then this is where we need to stop it. So I’ll be depending on this committee to be able to do just that. At this time, I think we’ve got a great staff, and I’d like to introduce them. And we’re going to rely on them a lot, as we always do. And immediately to my right is my analyst, Karlie Cooper. Karlie, we’re glad to have you. Glad to have you back. She was with us last year, did a fabulous job. Also April Somon. Where you at, April? There’s April. We appreciate you. And our committee attorney is Michelle Davenport, and I don’t think Michelle is here today.


Rep Tosh: So those of you that’s been on the committee before, you know that every chair is different. And I know you understand that. I run a really structured committee. I just try to keep things moving, try to keep things in order. And if you feel like you need to visit with another committee member, then I’d appreciate it if you’d go behind this partition over here or take that conversation outside. Also, I want to welcome all of you that are in attendance here today. And if you’re if you’re representing an agency here today like DF&A or DHS or who or whatever it might be, if you’d like to stand up and introduce yourself, well, we’d be glad to just recognize you for being in attendance today if you feel comfortable doing that.


Rep Tosh: Okay, seeing none, and I understand that as well, but I wanted to give you that opportunity. There is a sign up sheet just out the door, so anytime we have a bill on the agenda and you’re here and you’d like to testify for or against that bill, you need to sign up. And like I said, it’s right outside the door. Just sign up and then the staff will pick that up. They’ll get it to me, and when that bill is being heard, I’ll make sure that you have the opportunity to speak for or against the bill.


Committee procedures

Rep Tosh: Also, for those of you in attendance, there is one thing that I don’t allow as the chair of this committee. And that is, while this committee is in progress and these committee members are seated at the table and we’re taking care of the state’s business, I don’t allow people in the audience to come up and have any kind of conversation with these committee members. If you feel like you need to talk to one of them, then you need to do that before this committee starts or after it’s over with, but not while the committee is in progress. So I appreciate you respecting that.


Rep Tosh: Also, committee members, you know that when I run a committee, when we have debate on anything, I’ll always ask if you have any questions. And what I would like for you to do, and I know every committee chairman is different, but this is the way I like to do it. If you have a question, I’ll acknowledge you. You will ask that question. If you need a follow-up, then you’ll ask permission for that follow-up. And what that allows not to happen is someone to take the mic and get into a dialogue with someone at the end of the table and start making a speech. If you have a question, ask the question. If you have a follow-up, ask for a follow-up. I’ll allow another follow up. Then if you ask for another follow-up, I’ll look at how many people are waiting with additional questions. And if there’s not any, then I’ll allow the next one, but I think everybody should have that opportunity. If you would respect that, that would mean a lot to me, and I would extremely appreciate it, you following those guidelines.


Rep Tosh: Also, in front of you is a handout. It has some important session deadlines on it. If you’d just look at it and kind of go over those, some of them have already expired, but some of them are coming up in the near future. Just please note that on Wednesday, February 8, is the deadline to file the Constitutional amendments. And so that’s one of the important dates I want to make sure you realize. Also this committee, State Agencies, we meet every Wednesday and Friday at 10 AM right here in this committee room, 151. And obviously, early on in the session, we’ll not be meeting on Fridays if we’re not in session. So we’re going to have quite a bit of workload because we’re going to have one day a week. We’ve got to take care of business. And that’s going to be Wednesday for a while. So it’s just extremely important. I know there’s a lot going on. But you signed up for this committee, you chose this committee, and I would really appreciate it when we meet that if you could be in attendance and be on time, it would greatly be appreciated. Representative Jean, you have a question?


Rep Jean: I noticed last year, stuff was backing up after we came in on Monday afternoons after session. We could possibly have some meetings on Monday afternoon after we get out of the house floor.


Rep Tosh: Exactly, and that’s a great question. And of course, anytime we have a committee meeting, as many of you in this room know– you’re chairs of other committees, and you know the call of the chair. And I’ll assure you, before I let that backlog happen, if we’re still not meeting on Fridays for whatever reason, then we will start meeting on Monday afternoons. But that’ll be at the call of the chair. And I won’t hesitate to make that. I appreciate you bringing that up.


Rep Tosh: So look over that handout. Look at some of those important dates. As all of you know or should know, agendas are prepared in accordance with the House rules, and the agendas are prepared two days in advance. Sponsor notification will be sent out to members who have bills on the agenda two days before the committee meets. And I would just encourage anybody that places a bill on this committee– I really would appreciate it if it’s all possible, and I know sometimes it’s not always possible. Things happen. But if it’s on the agenda, the public sees that on the agenda, and they may want to come down here and speak for or against a bill, and we encourage that. But to have them drive all the way down here, and then the sponsor of the bill decides at the last minute they don’t want to run the bill, that really places an inconvenience. And I realize that that happens occasionally, but if we can avoid that happening, minimize that, I think it would be something we need to do, especially out of respect for people around this state that are travelling a great distance to be here to participate in this process, so.


Rep Tosh: Let’s see. We’re fixing to hand out– Karlie’s going to hand out a clip– I would just appreciate if you put your cell phone number on there, and I’ll set up a group text for committee members to kind of be able to notify you if there is a call for a committee, as Representative Jean pointed out, and also for me to be able to keep you posted in a group text. So just fill that out. And while that’s going around the room, he made a pretty good speech. I don’t know how you could add to that. Do you have any other comments you want to make at time, Representative?


Rep McElroy: No, sir, I’m scared. [laughter]


Rep Tosh: Well, that last speech you made scared me. [laughter] Anyway, we’re glad to have you. Mark’s been around a while. He does great job. I’m glad to have him this past year. Committee members, we have five bills that have been assigned to today’s agenda, and Representative Fortner, he’s in another committee meeting. He’s going to try to get down here in just a few moments, and we’ll try to hang on for him, let him present his bill today. But also on the agenda today– and for those of you in the audience that may have been here to hear any of these bills, I’ll go ahead and inform you at this time that Representative Rye, House Bill 1039 concerning the daylight savings time, he contacted me right before committee started and said that he was not going to be able to run that bill today and apologized for that. So anyways, I hope none of you had to travel any great distance to be here for that bill, but I do apologize for that, but he just informed me shortly before we started the committee meeting. So House Bill 1039 will be placed back on the agenda for next Wednesday. Also, House Bill 1025, and HCR 1001, that’s Representative Ray, and I have not heard from him. So I’m not sure that those bills are going to be heard today or not, but without any objection from the committee, moving the agenda around a little bit, we do have in our presence Representative Eubanks to present HCR 1002. Representative Eubanks? Representative Eubanks, you’re recognized to present your Bill.


HCR 1002: Lt. Ridge Alkonis

Rep Eubanks: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Representative Jon Eubanks, District 46. Today, I’m presenting a House concurrent resolution dealing with the plight of a navy officer who is currently in jail in Japan. I want to give you a little bit of background on what took place and what’s taken place over the last year and a half and actually try to explain my part in this. On May 29th of 2021, Navy Lieutenant Ridge Alkonis, his wife Brittany, and his three children went up on Mount Fuji– he’s stationed in Japan– for a day outing. When he was coming down, he blacked out mid-sentence, talking to his daughter and there was an accident and tragically two Japanese nationals died because of the result of that accident. Lieutenant Alkonis was arrested, and eventually charged with negligence. He was held in solitary confinement for 26 days. He was denied medical treatment after the exam. He was not examined at the scene of the accident. He was denied legal counsel. The Department of Defense officials have acknowledged in private correspondence that there were SOFA, which is Status of Forces Agreement, violations but have continued to mislead Congress and tell them that there were not any. Now, I know Representatives Berry and Richmond are familiar with Status of Forces Agreements that we have, the United States has with various countries around world. He was finally able to make bail, get bail, and he was released. Was not allowed to leave the country. Received legal counsel, both from the Navy and an attorney that’s familiar with the Japanese law and culture. It is normally an accepted practice that restitution be made in a case like this. And that’s what took place. Normally, if restitution is made, the family will ask the judge for leniency. That did not happen. Restitution was made to the amount of $1.6 million, of which $800,000 was from the insurance. In fact, they did the exact opposite and asked for the harshest sentence allowed. And so he was sentenced to three years in prison, which he started serving this past August. Then compound that, the Navy was going to cut off all pay and benefits to his family. Senator Lee from Utah had an amendment put on the Omnibus Bill at the end of the year and the Senate passed that unanimously forcing the Department of Defense to continue the pay and the benefits for the family. Senator Lee sent a letter along with 19 other U.S. Senators including Boozman and Cotton from Arkansas to the prime minister of Japan requesting that they take a hard look at this and resolve the issue and at the very least transfer Lieutenant Alkonis to the United States. The ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, has been also working on this case. California Congressman Mike Levin drafted a letter to President Biden. And I’m happy to say that all four of our congressmen also signed on to that letter asking the president to intervene and get Lieutenant Alkonis returned to the United States. The reason I’m involved in this case is Lieutenant Alkonis graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with my son and it’s his best friend. And he’s been working tirelessly for almost two years now to help get his friend released and returned back to the United States. Lieutenant Alkonis has been to my home. I’ve taken him to a Razorback football game. I’ve known him 12, 13 years now. He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t smoke. And if I could, I’d like to read what his commanding officer has said about him.


Rep Tosh: You’re recognized to read that, we would.


Rep Eubanks: Thank you, the print’s kind of small. Hang on. “My number 1 of 28 highly competitive lieutenants. Best warfare tactics instructor on my staff, already screened for DH Afloat”– which I’m not familiar with. Maybe Representative Richmond could talk about that. He led the development of the Surface ASW manual, which consolidates and updates existing ASW TTF. Provided advanced tactical training underway at the ASW/SUW team leader, aboard U.S.S. Pinckney during and there’s some technical stuff here. His in-depth knowledge of advanced sonar systems improved the tactical proficiency and technical expertise of the ASW team. Deep select this war fighter for lieutenant commander and screened for early command. Ridge is a future DDG commanding officer. He’s got an exemplary record. He has served this country well. I’m afraid that we are not necessarily serving him and his family well. So the purpose of this resolution, if you go ahead and read it, is have this sent to D.C. and to ask all of those that are listed on here from the president on down to investigate, not only this situation, but to also reevaluate the Status of Forces Agreement that we have with Japan. The other reason I’m bringing this forth right now is because the Japanese prime minister is scheduled to be in D.C. this week. And family and friends across the country are going to be gathering at the Japanese embassy in D.C. and the Japanese consulates and various cities around the country. Lieutenant Alkonis’s wife has been interviewed on Fox News, on CNN. If anybody happened to see the editorial that was in the Wall Street journal this past weekend, everybody seems to be in agreement that Lieutenant Alkonis should not be in prison for what was a medical emergency that caused an accident. I do not want to diminish the fact that two people died. But it wasn’t from negligence. It was from a medical situation that caused him to black out after coming off of Mount Fuji. So I’m asking that this committee, and if it gets through this committee, for the House to pass this resolution. Senator Hill is my senate co-sponsor. His involvement is because his son is a Navy helicopter pilot. I talked about Ridge graduating with my son from the Naval Academy. Ridge went to Navy Surface Warfare. My son went Marines Aviation. Senator Hill has a connection here as well. He’s talked to his son about it. And it was sort of a strange situation here a few months ago. I flew up to Washington, D.C., to meet with our congressional delegation and to be involved in one of the demonstrations that was outside the White House. And while I was standing in line to get my rental car, there was a young lady there that I started talking to. She happened to be military police stationed in Okinawa, and she was familiar with it. And a lot of the service people that serve overseas are following this because they’re concerned whether the Navy, the Department of Defense, or our government, is going to protect them in situations such as this. So once again, I would appreciate a good vote and I’m willing to take any questions.


Rep Tosh: Committee members, you heard the presentation, Representative Eubanks. Are there any questions from committee? Representative Richmond, you’re recognize per question.


Rep Richmond: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Representative Eubanks, it’s been 30 years since I’ve been in Okinawa. But when I was there, there was this general attitude of the Japanese officials that SOFA agreement was a suggestion. Did your son ever mention his time there, the general attitude that some of the Japanese seemed to have that we’re still an occupational force and not there as someone as a partner to defend?


Rep Eubanks: Yes, sir. My son has served in Okinawa on two different occasions, and he would agree with that assessment that even though we are allies and that agreement that we have with Japan is extremely important. That the local sentiment is that that they’re not really crazy about the United States military being there.


Rep Richmond: Follow-up, Mr. Chair?


Rep Tosh: You’re recognized.


Rep Richmond: Was there any additional information, outcome, or anything about the blackout as far as any kind of medical examination that would have indicated what possibly happened?


Rep Eubanks: The Navy medical personnel doctor finally was able to examine Lieutenant Alkonis after he was able to get out after the 26 days of solitary confinement. And it was their assessment that it was the change in altitude from coming off Mount Fuji that caused this situation.


Rep Richmond: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you, Representative Eubanks.


Rep Tosh: Representative Berry, you’re recognized for a question.


Rep M Berry: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Representative Eubanks, did you say that the lieutenant’s the pay, benefits, and allowances have been restored to the dependents?


Rep Eubanks: Yes, sir. The amendment was passed, not only in the Senate, but the House concurred. So, yes.


Rep M Berry: Okay, thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chair.


Rep Tosh: We defer the questions from committee members. Seeing none, anyone signed up to speak for or against the bill? I have no one signed up to speak for or against the bill. Representative Meeks.


Rep Meeks: I have a motion.


Rep Tosh: I have a motion. Let me hear your motion.


Rep Meeks: I motion do pass.


Rep Tosh: I have a motion do pass. Any discussion on the motion? I see none. All in favor say, aye.


audience: Aye.


Rep Tosh: All opposed, say no. Congratulations, resolution has passed, Representative Eubanks. Appreciate your presentation and hope all goes well.


Rep Eubanks: Thank you, Mister Chair. Thank you, Committee. I will be notifying the family that the first part of this has passed. So thank you very much.


Rep Tosh: Well, we appreciate you bringing it before us. Thank you. And I thought Representative Fortner might make it in time. Hold on. While we’re checking Representative Fortner, also, committee, members as you know when a bill has been on the agenda, the Sponsor doesn’t show up to present the bill, we’ll move it to the next scheduled committee meeting. After three times as chair of the committee, I’ll move that bill to the deferred list. And once it goes to the deferred list because sponsor wasn’t here to present the bill, then it’s a little bit more difficult to get it off the deferred list and back on the agenda, but there is a process to do that. So, just for information for you all this committee, that’s the way we’ll operate here.


Rep Tosh: Unable to get a hold of Representative Fortner. I know he was going to try to make it when he wrapped up at his committee, and I apologize for that. He’s probably just got tied up there. So Representative McElroy, you got any additional business for this committee today?


Rep McElroy: No, sir.


Rep Tosh: Thank you, sir. You think of anything else I need to cover? All right, committee members, thank you. I thought it was a good first meeting. I appreciate you being here. And we are adjourned.