House of Representatives

Jan. 12, 2023


Rep Shepherd: The House will come to order. I invite the members, staff, press, and guests in the galleries to stand and be led in prayer by Representative Mike Holcomb and to remain standing for the Pledge of Allegiance to be led by Representative Bruce Cozart.


Rep Holcomb: Let’s pray with me, please. Heavenly Father, we thank you for your goodness. We thank you for the grace. Dear God, with all the problems we have, but we’re thankful that we’re born in a good old U S of A. We’re thankful for those that have fought for that freedom for us, dear God, and we enjoy the freedom that we have today. We thank you for your goodness. We thank you for your grace. We thank you for the ability to be here today and to work for the state of Arkansas. It’s really just an honor. We thank you for that again. Please guide and direct us and all that we do. Let us do whatever we do that’s would be not only pleasing to those who we serve but that would be pleasing to you. We honor you and we praise you. In your holy name we pray. Amen.


Rep Shepherd: Members, please indicate your presence by pushing your yellow present button. Prepare the machine, Madam Clerk. Cast up the ballot, Madam Clerk. With 97 members present, the chair sees a quorum. Are there any requests for leave? Representative Whitaker for what purpose?


Rep Whitaker: Leave.


Rep Shepherd: You’re recognized.


Rep Whitaker: Mr. Speaker, request leave for Representative Lane Jean.


Rep Shepherd: Is leave granted for Representative Jean?


audience: Leave.


Rep Shepherd: So noted. Representative Puryear, for what purpose?


Rep Puryear: Request leave.


Rep Shepherd: You’re recognized.


Rep Puryear: Request leave for Representative Mayberry.


Rep Shepherd: Is leave granted for Representative Mayberry?


audience: Leave.


Rep Shepherd: So noted. Representative Scott, for what purpose?


Rep Scott: I don’t know what the correct call would be, but she says she just got out of committee meeting. And I didn’t know. Vivian, Representative Flowers.


Rep Shepherd: We will record her as present–


Rep Scott: Okay. Thank you.


Rep Shepherd: –when she gets here. Representative Wooten, for what purpose?


Rep Wooten: Leave.


Rep Shepherd: You’re recognized.


Rep Wooten: For Representative Cameron Cooper.


Rep Shepherd: Is leave granted for Representative Cameron Cooper?


audience: Leave.


Rep Shepherd: So noted. Representative Jeff Wardlaw moves we dispense the reading of the previous day’s journal. Without objection, so ordered. Are there reports from select committees? Are there reports from standing committees? Is there any unfinished business? Are there any executive communications? Members, our Arkansas state troopers that have been with us this week and are with us today are Trooper Kevin Grounds, Troop G in Magnolia, Trooper Ross Allen, Troop F in Crossett, and also Trooper Greg Dykus is who’s with the highway patrol administrative office here in Little Rock. [applause] In the west gallery, the guests of Representative Stetson Painter, we have Mountain Home City Council members Bob Van Heron and Nick Reed. And then we also have with us the mayor of Cave City, Mayor Jonas Anderson, a guest of Representative Bart Schultz. Madam Clerk, please read House Concurrent Resolution 1005.


Madam Clerk: House Concurrent Resolution 1005 by Representative Bentley to proclaim Religious Freedom Day.


Rep Shepherd: Representative Bentley, you’re recognized to explain the resolution.


House Bill 1005

Rep Bentley: Good morning, colleagues. What fun to be back here at the well to start another session. I’m really excited to see all your smiling faces. Nearly 250 years ago, on January 16, 1786, Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia statute for religious freedom was enacted. This statute was a forerunner to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which protects the rights of individuals to express freely, interact peacefully on their religious beliefs, and also protects individuals from being coerced to profess or act to beliefs to which they do not adhere. Jefferson said that no provision in our Constitution had to be dearer to men than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprise of our civil authority. It was Jefferson who wrote in the Declaration of Independence that we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights that include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So some of you may ask me why should we set aside a day to honor our religious freedoms in this nation? And I would respond if we don’t understand the source and origin of our God-given rights, we will be unable to preserve them. If we cannot maintain religious liberty, we will not secure civil liberty. We need only to look to China, Iran, or North Korea to see that this is true. Believers in these nations cannot openly serve God or express to Christian beliefs without facing jail time, persecution, and at times even death. If religious liberty is lost in our nation, our liberty will be lost with it. I’d like to read a quote to you from Mr. Jedidiah Morse, a leading educator from the founding era who was active in the political scene throughout the revolution and held government positions afterwards. He reminded the citizens of his time, “To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoys. In proportion as the genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation, in the same proportion will the people of that nation recede from the blessings of genuine freedom and approximate the miseries of complete despotism. I hold this to be truth confirmed by experience. If so, it follows that all efforts made to destroy the foundations of our holy religion ultimately tend to be the subversion also of our political freedom and our happiness. Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall we overthrown, our present Republican forms of government and all the blessings that flow from them must fall with them.” In February 1961, the year that I was born, John F. Kennedy gave a speech in which he stated, “This country was founded by men and women who were dedicated or came to be dedicated to two propositions. First, a strong religious conviction, and secondly, a recognition that this conviction could flourish only under a system of freedom. I think it’s appropriate that we pay tribute to these great constitutional principles, which is enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution, the principle of religious independence, of religious liberty, of religious freedom. But I also think it’s also important that we pay tribute and acknowledge another great principle. And that is a principle of religious conviction. Religious freedom has no significance unless it is accompanied by conviction. And therefore, the Puritans and the pilgrims of my own section of New England, the Quakers of Pennsylvania and the Catholics of Maryland, the Presbyterians of North Carolina, the Methodists, and the Baptists who came later, all share these two great traditions, which like silver threads have run through the warp and the woft of American history. No man who enters the office to which I succeed can fail to recognize how every president of the United States has paid special reliance upon his faith in God. Every president has taken comfort and courage when told that the Lord will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Fear not, neither be thou dismayed. While they came from a wide variety of religious backgrounds and held a wide variety of religious beliefs, each of our presidents in his own way has placed a special trust in God. Those who are strongest intellectually were also strongest spiritually. The guiding principle and prayer of this nation has been and is now and shall ever be, In God we trust.” So colleagues, Mr. Speaker, I would contest if we want our children and our grandchildren to enjoy the freedoms that we now enjoy in this nation, we must stand up and push back against the woke agenda that is trying to rewrite our nation’s history. We cannot let ourselves be silenced. We must stand up for the religious freedoms and the religious convictions that have made this nation great and preserved it. We are God-fearing Americans, proud of our nation’s history because even with her faults and her failures, she is still the greatest nation on earth. With that, I would ask for a good vote and join me in honoring Religious Freedom Day and living with Godly conviction. Thank you.


Rep Shepherd: Representative Bentley has explained the resolution. Would anyone like to speak against the resolution? Would anyone like to speak for the resolution? Representative Bentley is closed for the resolution. The question before the House is the adoption or passage of House Concurrent Resolution 1005. All in favor say aye.


audience: Aye.


Rep Shepherd: Any opposed? The resolution passes. Members, we have a few more guests with us today. We have Mayor Bo James, Mayor Rodney Robertson, Mayor Eddie Dunnigan, Chief of Police Shannon Kelems, all who are guests of Representative Jon Milligan. And they are in the west gallery. [applause] Also, with us from the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District and a city councilman in Harrison is Jeremy Ragland, a guest of Representative Ron McNair, and the director Joe Willis, the guest of Representative Steven Walker. [applause] The morning hour has ended.


Rep Ladyman: Madam Clerk, read resolution HR 1001.


Madam Clerk: House Resolution 1001, to adopt the rules of the House of Representatives of the 94th General Assembly.


Rep Ladyman: Mr. Speaker, you’re recognized to explain the resolution.


House rules for the 94th General Assembly

Rep Shepherd: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Members, I bring to you today House Resolution 1001, which are the proposed rules for the House of Representatives for the 94th General Assembly. This is the traditional custom and practice to bring the rules at the beginning of session. By rule, we’re to take them up on the House floor by vote, I believe by the third day of session. And so here we are today. You’ll recall we adopted the temporary rules on Monday. And so I filed these rules last week and they ran in House Rules Committee yesterday. So I’m going to point out the differences between the rules of the 93rd. And basically the practice and custom here has been from one session to the next, essentially, to keep the same rules, to look for what changes should be made. There’s always some tweaks that maybe the Parliamentarian recommends, but by and large, adopt or propose essentially the same rules from the previous session. And that’s occurred session after session for– we’d have to ask Buddy, but a long time. So today, in light of that perspective, I wanted to just hit the differences between the rules from the 93rd and the 94th. And so we’ll work through that. First, the rules add language throughout that incorporate bill filing deadlines and fiscal impact statement requirements related to legislation affecting state-sponsored health benefits and higher education scholarships. We’re doing this because in the 93rd General Assembly, we essentially enacted these provisions in state law back in 2021 and 2022. For those that were here during the 93rd, you’ll recall that employee benefits for the state became a huge issue. The funding of employee benefits was a tremendous issue. And the legislature working with the Executive branch, but the legislature really took the lead in reviewing how we handle our employee benefit plans. And Senator Hickey, Representative Wardlaw, and numerous other folks from both the House and the Senate worked on that. And if you were here in the 93rd, you recall that I believe executive subcommittee of ALC took the lead on that, but that the members of ALC, the members of the General Assembly were encouraged repeatedly to be a part of those discussions. And out of that, legislation was passed that set in place these bill filing deadlines and fiscal impact requirements. And similarly, on higher education scholarships, similarly, those requirements were put in place. And the reason that, as I recall, at the time, we did this, put these in place, was because what we found is over time, legislation affecting employee benefits– you run a bill, it seems not to do much, but we don’t have the fiscal impact. Over time as you enact legislation upon legislation that builds up, and eventually leads us to a point where we’re having to completely look at how our benefit plans are being handled, or otherwise we’re going to have to infuse millions and millions of dollars, and still may have to do that, but at least gives us the opportunity to have perspective on how we handle those. So the point here is those changes were adopted by state law. And to be consistent with state law, we’re proposing to put them in the rules. Second point, throughout there are style elements that have been edited, kind of grammar that may have been corrected, terms that were used to try to bring some consistency, those were all by the recommendation of either BLR or the Parliamentarian. And so you may see some minor changes that have been taking place. Those are intended not to be substantive, very minor in nature. Third point, the Parliamentarian recommended that we eliminate the 4:30 PM deadline for distribution of members own calendars each day. The deadline, as the Parliamentarian said, served no obvious purpose and sometimes prevented members from adding amendments later in the day. And I’ll look to the Parliamentarian. The members own calendar will still have to come out the day before, but we will not be held to the 4:30 deadline. And this can become an issue if you have committee meetings later in the day, or if we’re in session till later in the day, and maybe you don’t get your amendment over here, this gives us some additional flexibility so that hopefully– members own is what occurs in the morning when you send an amendment over. It can be brought up in the morning and generally no one’s here. But if somebody wants to show up, they can, but this is really kind of pro forma. And so this is just trying to aid you as representatives to be able to efficiently amend your bills and hopefully help you to be ready to run those in committee in the near future. A fourth change recommended by the Parliamentarian was to change the word that’s utilized for circumstances in which a member might leave office and create a committee vacancy, and that’s rule 54A5. It replaces the word ‘impeachment’ with ‘expulsion.’ The recommendation was made because the term ‘expulsion’ is, the parliamentarian’s opinion, is the proper term and brings consistency between our rules and other provisions of law. The fifth change is to update the list of House districts that compose each of the four House caucus districts. You’ll recall that we had to redo those caucus districts because of redistricting. We’re required to have 25 House districts in each of the caucus districts and so every 10 years, we have to update that list. And so this just simply amends rule 82 or provides for provisions in rule 82 that are consistent with the caucus districts for which each of you selected committees back in December. And then finally, and probably the most significant change other than what was already enacted by Arkansas law on the EBD and higher education scholarships would be the committee agenda process.

Committee agenda changes

Prior to 2021, if you filed a bill– when you filed a bill, it’s read across the desk. I assign it, the Speaker assigns it to a committee. It goes to the committee, and then it is placed on the agenda. So every bill that’s been assigned to that committee initially shows up on the agenda. And then the committee meets twice a week or once a week depending on the circumstances, and your bill is listed there. Because of COVID, we had made a change. Because when your bill is filed, it will go to the agenda. And the practice is, practically, is to talk to the chair and to talk about when your bill could run, talk about when you would want your bill to run. Sometimes members file bills at the beginning of the session but they are not ready to run them until later. And generally, the chair will work with you and say, “Okay, we’ll just let it sit there.” Well, the issue we ran into in thinking about how to safely operate during COVID was the fact that when a bill is filed– as everybody probably now knows if you filed a bill. If your bill does much of anything, you’re going to start getting calls about it for and against. And so what can happen is you can file a bill, and then it’s on the agenda, and it’s on the agenda every single time the committee meets.


Rep Shepherd: Well, folks that are either for or against it, they may not know– they may not know that you don’t intend to run it until a month from now, but they’re coming to the Capitol every time the committee meets and they’re sitting there. And so the thought was that during COVID, we didn’t need to have everybody just sitting here. We needed to make space for the bills that are actually being run and would run. And so the thought was just to try to bring that, what is essentially the practice, and make that then part of the process. But now that we’re beyond COVID, my proposal is to go back to the way we handled things previously. And I guess I didn’t really specify– during COVID, when you filed a bill, it did not go on the agenda immediately. You would talk to the chair about getting it scheduled and then place it on the calendar. So instead of having 50 bills on an agenda, you might have 5 for that meeting. But nonetheless, now that we’re beyond COVID, and after talking with a number of members, some members talked to me about going back to the old way. And so I’m proposing that we go back to the way the rule was. So this is House Committee Rules Addendum Section 19. Go back to the way the rules were prior to COVID. And so when you file it, it goes on the agenda.


Rep Shepherd: Now, again, and I want to say this, and it’s not really directly related to the rule, but it’s just a matter of practice and how the House has operated for all these many years. When you file a bill, I would recommend reaching out to the chair of that committee and talking with them about what the schedule is looking like. Under the rule as proposed and the way it had always been prior to 2021, if the chair calls your bill and you’re not there and it’s passed over, it goes to the bottom of the agenda. And if it’s passed over three times, then it will move to the deferred agenda. So it’s important to have communication. And if you’re not going to be there, then generally the chair will not call your bill up, and so that won’t necessarily count against you. But again, it’s important to communicate on that. And obviously, I will be encouraging all of the chairs to communicate with their members. And if there’s any issues along those lines, you can certainly let me know.


Rep Shepherd: So I believe those are all of the significant and even somewhat insignificant changes that are being made. But, again, I wanted to fully explain those. I’ll be glad to answer any questions you may have. If not, I would appreciate a good vote.


Rep Ladyman: Speaker Shepherd has explained the resolution. Would anyone like to speak against the bill– or the resolution, excuse me. Would anyone like to speak for the resolution? Speaker Shepherd, do you wish to close for your bill? Speaker Shepherd has closed for the bill. The question for the House is the passage of Resolution HR 1001. Prepare the machine, Madam Clerk. Cast up the ballots. Has everyone voted? Cast up the ballot, Madam Clerk. With 87 yeas, 1 nay, and 7 present, the resolution has passed.


Rep Shepherd: Representative Meeks, for what purpose?


Rep Meeks: Motion, please.


Rep Shepherd: Let’s hear your motion.


Rep Meeks: After the announcements, reading of the bills, transferring of the bills, placing the calendars on their desk, members submitting 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 next Tuesday at 1:30.


Rep Shepherd: That is a proper motion. It’s not debatable. All in favor say aye. Any opposed? The motion is adopted. Members, before we go to announcements, just in thinking about next week, again, we will reconvene Tuesday. We’re convening on the House floor at 1:30, but remember there would be potentially, what, A committees meeting that morning, so just keep that in mind. Again, I continue to remind you, watch your emails, continue to check the ArkLeg website. Any questions, feel free to reach out to me or Roy or Amber or Buddy or any of the committee chairs. So any questions along the way, let us know. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to try to get into our more usual routine, and so there may be different meetings that pop up along the way. And so it’s important to continue to monitor your emails as we ramp up session. All right? Any other announcements? Representative Cavenaugh, for what purpose?


Rep Cavenaugh: Announcement.


Rep Shepherd: You’re recognized.


Rep Cavenaugh: Joint Budget will meet Tuesday morning at 9 AM in Big Mac A.


Rep Shepherd: Okay. Representative Stan Berry, for what purpose?


Rep S Berry: Announcement.


Rep Shepherd: You’re recognized.


Rep S Berry: Judiciary will meet in Room 149 next Tuesday at 10 AM.


Rep Shepherd: Representative Cavenaugh, did you say Tuesday? Okay. So just here at the beginning of the session, now Budget’s at 9, A committees will be at 10 on Tuesday, and then House floor at 1:30. I just want to reiterate that since this is our first weekend, just to make sure everybody’s on the same page. All right. Representative Wardlaw, for what purpose?


Rep Wardlaw: Annoucement.


Rep Shepherd: You’re recognized.


Rep Wardlaw: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. House floor, we’re getting ready to kick off Sportsman Caucus for the 94th General Assembly. If anybody would not like to be on the roster, let me know. Otherwise, we will communicate everyone’s name to the national level. January 25th will be our fish fry that we have every session, and it will be at night this time. So it’ll be at 6 o’clock at the Association of Counties on the 25th. So just let me know if you don’t want to be on the roster. Thank you.


Rep Shepherd: Representative Holcomb, for what purpose?


Rep Holcomb: Announcement.


Rep Shepherd: You’re recognized.


Rep Holcomb: Public Transportation will meet Tuesday morning, Mac B at 10 o’clock.


Rep Shepherd: Representative Wing, for what purpose?


Rep Wing: Announcement.


Rep Shepherd: You’re recognized.


Rep Wing: For those members who have not been able to find their offices, I will stay here at my desk and we will form a search party and we will identify everybody’s offices. I am grateful for the understanding of those who understand that we are operating under a temporary, limited real estate and that we just have very few offices. If you are not going to use yours or if you would like to enter yours into the transfer portal, please let me know and we can make everybody happy.


Rep Shepherd: Representative Vaught , for what purpose?


Rep Vaught: Announcement.


Rep Shepherd: You’re recognized.


Rep Vaught: Next Wednesday morning– I’ve had several of y’all ask when we will start Prayer Caucus. Next Wednesday morning, 7 AM, Old Supreme Courtroom will be our first Prayer Caucus meeting.


Rep Shepherd: Representative Johnson, for what purpose?


Rep L Johnson: Announcement.


Rep Shepherd: You’re recognized.


Rep L Johnson: Public Health Committee will meet at 10 o’clock Tuesday in Room 130. Thank you.


Rep Shepherd: Representative Evans, for what purpose?


Rep Evans: Announcement.


Rep Shepherd: You’re recognized.


Rep Evans: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. House Education Committee members, as stated in our organizational meeting, we have a few bills that are pending fiscal impact. Those may come back today or tomorrow, so please monitor your emails. If we get fiscal impacts back today or tomorrow, then we will have a House Education meeting 10 AM Tuesday morning in Room 138.


Rep Shepherd: All right. Any other announcements? Members, I just want to say thank you for your work this week. Thank you for your cooperation, and hopefully, it was a memorable week. It’s a big week. It’s a busy week. If you’re like me, you’re probably exhausted and ready to get home or go back to your other job, but look forward to having everyone back next week. If there’s anything that comes up that you have questions about over the weekend, do not hesitate to call or text me at any time. All right? If nothing else– oh, I do have one other thing. If I could, if the chairs of the A and B Committees could come to my office just for a quick minute, I just wanted to touch base with y’all before the weekend. So we’ll do that right upon adjournment. If nothing else, the desk will remain open as needed for the reading of the bills, and upon completion of the items named in the adjourned resolution, the House will be adjourned until 1:30 PM Tuesday.