Jan. 17, 2023
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- HCR 1002: The plight of Lt. Alkonis
- HR 1002: Recognizing the Bryant Hornets football team
- HB 1: Funding the Senate
Speaker Shepherd: I invite the members, staff, press, and guests in the galleries to stand and be led in prayer by Pastor Don Hutchings of the Evangelical Temple Assembly of God, a guest of Representative Ryan Rose, and remain standing for the Pledge of Allegiance to be led by Representative Lane Gene.
Hutchings: Let’s pray together. Our father, we humble ourselves before you and repent of anything we’ve said or done that has offended you. We thank you for this great organization and the wonderful, wonderful guidance from your Holy Spirit. We praise you because you are such a mighty sovereign God. And now we pray that you would give us direction, wisdom; and, Father, help us to do something today to help someone who can not repay us. I pray this in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
Speaker Shepherd: Members, please indicate your presence by pushing your yellow present button. Prepare the machine, Mr. Clerk. Cast up the, Mr. Clerk? With 96 members present, the chair sees a quorum. Are there any requests for leave? Representative Magie, for what purpose?
Rep Magie: Leave for Rep. Ferguson.
Speaker Shepherd: Is leave granted for Representative Deborah Ferguson? So noted. Representative McGrew, for what purpose? Is leave granted for Representative Perry? So noted. Representative Cavenaugh, for what purpose?
Rep Cavenaugh: Leave.
Speaker Shepherd: You’re recognized.
Rep Cavenaugh: Leave for representative Sonya Barker.
Speaker Shepherd: Is leave granted for representative Barker? So noted. Representative Vaught, for what purpose?
Rep Vaught: Leave.
Speaker Shepherd: You’re recognized.
Rep Vaught: Leave for Representative John Maddox.
Speaker Shepherd: Is leave granted for Representative Maddox? So noted. Representative Jeff Wardlaw 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 from the select committees, Mr. Clerk.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, we your committee on Judiciary to whom was referred House Bill 1018 beg leave to report that we have the same under consideration and herewith return the same with the recommendation that it do pass, Respectfully submitted, Carol Dalby, chair. Mr. Speaker, we your committee on Public Transportation to whom was referred House Bill 1086 beg leave to report that we’ve had the same under consideration and herewith return the same with the recommendation that it do pass; respectively submitted, Mike Holcomb, chair.
Speaker Shepherd: Any reports from select committees? Read the reports, Mr. Clerk.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, we your committee on Joint Budget to whom was referred House Bills 1052, 1056, 1057 and 1058 beg leave to report that we’ve had the same under consideration and herewith return the same with the recommendation that it do pass. Respectfully submitted, Lane Jean, chair.
Speaker Shepherd: Is there any unfinished business? Any other reports from standing committees? Are there any executive communications? Members, our doctor the day is Dr. Jennifer Doyle of North Little Rock. And our nurse of the day is Miss Sherry Bernard. Additionally, our Arkansas state troopers with us this week are Lieutenant Craig Teague and Sergeant Ben Hoyt, and both are in the training division of the Arkansas State Police. Mr. Clerk, please read House Concurrent Resolution 1002.
Clerk: House Concurrent Resolution 1002 by Representative Eubanks, to encourage the United States Congress and National Security Council to review the status of the forces agreement between the United States and Japan and to review the investigation and trial of Navy Lieutenant Ridge Alkonis.
Speaker Shepherd: Representative Eubanks, you’re recognized to explain the resolution.
HCR 1002: The plight of Lt. Alkonis
Rep Eubanks: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Members, I didn’t want to take a lot of time to explain this resolution, but there are certain things that I feel that you need to know. State Agencies committee heard it last week. I filed this resolution so that I could hopefully shed some light on the case of Lieutenant Ridge Alkonis, who is currently in prison in Japan. On May 29th of 2021, Navy Lieutenant Ridge Alkonis and his wife Brittany and their three children went up on Mount Fuji for a family outing. When they came down off the mountain, Lieutenant Alkonis blacked out and slumped over. And from what I’ve been told, that happened mid-sentence; he was having a conversation with his daughter. There was an ensuing accident in which two Japanese nationals died as a result of their injuries. Before I go any further, I don’t want anything that I say today to take away from the fact that that was a tragedy for those two individuals and their families, that they are going to deal with that loss and that grief and that sorrow.
Rep Eubanks: But there’s more to the story that I feel like I need to share with you. Lieutenant Alkonis was arrested and charged with negligence. He was held in solitary confinement for 26 days. He was denied medical treatment, even at the scene. He was denied legal counsel. Finally, bail was granted and Lieutenant Alkonis was able to get out of the prison. Of course, he was not allowed to leave the country. It is the custom, from what I’ve been told, in Japan that when a case like this happens, that restitution is made to the families. And it was in the amount of $1.6 million: half from insurance, half from the family. It has been reported that this is, if not the largest, one of the largest type settlements that has ever taken place with regard to a case like this. Also, normally when restitution is made, the family will write a letter to the judge asking for leniency. That did not happen. But I can understand. If I was in that situation, I think I would probably want justice as well, or my view of justice. The sentence was appealed. It went to a three-person appellate court, and the sentence was upheld.
Rep Eubanks: Now, during this whole process, there was not any public criticism of the Japanese culture, the Japanese people, their government, or our government, or the Navy. But after the sentence was upheld, the family really had no other choice but to go public. And we’ve had a lot of help with regard to this with members of Congress. Our own Congressman Westerman, Senators Boozman and Cotton have been involved in this from the very beginning. Senator Mike Lee, of Utah took the lead in the Senate. He wrote a letter to the prime minister of Japan and 19 other US senators signed on to it, including, and I’m proud to say, Senator Boozman and Senator Cotton.
Rep Eubanks: Lieutenant Alkonis is from California. His congressman, Mike Levin, wrote a letter to the president asking him to intervene, and there was 30-plus congressmen signed on to that letter. I’m also proud to say that all four of our congressmen signed on to that letter. The Department of Defense officials have, in private correspondence, said that they were SOFA violations; and SOFA is Status Of Forces Agreement, which is an agreement between allies on how situations you deal with– with regard to our military men and women, and Representative Berry and Richmond could probably speak to that a lot better than I can. But even though they had that private correspondence, the Department of Defense has continued to mislead Congress and say there weren’t any SOFA violations.
Rep Eubanks: Now, you may wonder what brought me to file this resolution. I know Ridge. He’s been to my home. I’ve taken him to a Razorback game. He graduated from the US Naval Academy with my son. Ridge went Navy Surface Warfare, my son went Marines Aviation. He’s my son’s best friend. And he has worked since this took place to get him home, hence my involvement. But I want to thank our congressional delegation for everything that they’ve done. But it’s not enough, because he’s still in prison. He began serving his term last summer. And to add insult to injury, the Navy was going to terminate pay and benefits to the family as of December 31st. Senator Mike Lee filed an amendment to the bill that passed at the end of last year. It passed the Senate unanimously, and the House concurred. So the Navy is compelled to continue the pay and benefits to the family.
Rep Eubanks: I have flown to D.C. on several occasions dealing with this issue, and on one trip, I flew into Reagan, and I was in the line waiting to get a rental car, and there was a lady standing there. And I started a conversation and found out that she was military police stationed in Okinawa. So I started telling this story. She said, “Oh, I know all about it. Everybody knows about it. Anybody in the military knows about it. They can’t believe this is happening.” Senator Ricky Hill, who is the Senate sponsor on this resolution, contacted me last year because he had seen one of my many tweets or retweets and said, “Hey, what’s the deal here?” You see, his son is a Navy helicopter pilot, and my son’s a Marine helicopter pilot. And his son’s stationed in Japan, and his son is well aware of what was taking place. I think our servicemen and women deserve to know that their military and civilian leaders support them and have their back, and that we will all go to the mat for them. So I would hope that you would adopt this resolution and that it will be sent to the proper authorities in DC, and maybe it will maybe encourage somebody to do the right thing. So with that, Mr. Speaker, would you instruct the clerk to read the resolution in its entirety?
Speaker Shepherd: Mr. Clerk, please read the resolution.
Clerk: Whereas there are over 100,000 American service members and dependents stationed in Japan, more than any other place in the world other than the United States; whereas active duty Arkansans are and will continue to be stationed and brought to Japan while serving in the United States armed forces; and whereas Status of Forces Agreements are designed to ensure adequate and fair legal treatment of American service members stationed abroad; and whereas in practice the United States-Japan Status of Forces Agreements does not appear to provide adequate legal protection for American service members, as there are reports that Japan regularly violates the Status of Forces Agreement by detaining American service members without adequate cause or necessity prior to charges; whereas there are reports that Japanese authorities consistently deny legal counsel to service members during police interrogations and fail to provide adequate translation assistance during interrogations and trials, which would violate Department of Defense policy regarding the legal rights of service members overseas, as outlined in Secretary of the Navy instruction 5820.4G and Army regulation 27-50; and whereas the case of the navy Lieutenant Ridge Alkonis embodies the reported issues surrounding the United States-Japan Status Of Forces Agreement, as Lieutenant Alkonis experienced prejudicial treatment during Japanese police detainment and trial; and whereas there are numerous reports of Lieutenant Alkonis receiving extremely suspect legal advice and inadequate support from the United States Navy personnel during legal proceedings; and whereas there is evidence of the United States Navy knowingly misleading members of the United States Congress regarding Lieutenant Alkonis’s case; and whereas there is sufficient evidence to reasonably suspect that Lieutenant Alkonis is wrongfully detained; and whereas the United States Congress to the United States House committee on armed services is responsible for conducting oversight of the United States Navy and ensuring the international agreements are in the best interest of the American people and abided by the parties entered therein; now, therefore, be resolved by the House of Representatives of the 94th General Assembly of the state of Arkansas, the Senate concurring therewithin, that the House of Representatives of the 94th General Assembly, State of Arkansas, conduct a formal review of the Status Of Forces Agreement between the United States and Japan to ensure that the agreement is in the best interest of the United States and adequately protects American service members in accordance with their constitutional rights and the United States Department of Defense policy; conducts an official investigation into the circumstances and dealings surrounding the investigation, trial, and conviction of Navy Lieutenant Ridge Alkonis to ensure that Lieutenant Alkonis was treated fairly by Japan and the United States Navy provided fair and adequate support; and refer Lieutenant Ridge Alkonis’s case to the special presidential envoy to hostage affairs, to be designated as a wrongfully detained case.
Speaker Shepherd: Representative Eubanks has explained the resolution. Would anyone like to speak against the resolution? Would anyone like to speak for the resolution? Representative Eubanks, you’re recognized to close for the resolution.
Rep Eubanks: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I forgot one key element in this: when Lieutenant Alkonis was finally examined by a Navy doctor, they determined that the reason he blacked out was the change in altitude from being up on Mount Fuji. So he’s not guilty of negligence. He’s guilty of nothing other than having a medical episode, which caused an accident. So I’d appreciate a good vote.
Speaker Shepherd: Representative Eubanks has closed for the resolution. The question before the House is the adoption of House Concurrent Resolution 1002. All in favor say aye. Any opposed? The resolution is adopted. Mr. Clerk, please read House Resolution 1002.
Clerk: House Resolution 1002 by Representative Hawk, to recognize the Bryant Hornets football team as a class 7A state champions.
HR 1002: Recognizing the Bryant Hornets football team
Speaker Shepherd: Representative Hawk, you’re recognized to explain your resolution.
Rep Hawk: Thank you, Mr.. Speaker. At this time, I ask the members that represent Saline County come to the well, as well as Bryant High School graduate of 1987, Representative Joey Carr, to the well. Members, today is a special day for me and my colleagues here because as a new member to this House– I came to Arkansas almost 20 years ago and one of my biggest things that I wanted to do when I came to Arkansas was to promote high school athletics in the state. When I moved to Bryant, Bryant was a good football team. They weren’t a great football team. A man by the name of Buck James came to Bryant about six years, seven years ago, and he changed the culture. He changed fan support. He got people engaged with the football team. And I’m proud to say that this year, the Bryant Hornets won their fifth consecutive state championship after beating Bentonville 36 to 7 at War Memorial Stadium. This team has not only won five straight state championship games, but they have not lost to an in-state Arkansas team in the last five years. In Bryant, the team and the community have adopted a hashtag: #B212. A lot of people have asked, what’s that mean? It took me a while to figure it out. I wasn’t a science major. But after talking with Coach James and many of his staff, it’s the boiling point of water. It’s an effort thing. It’s getting each one of these players to give maximum effort. And if you go over 212, you’ve then given maximum effort to the ultimate goal. I can honestly say, watching practice and watching the state championship games, every one of these players, whether they’re a starter, whether a reserve, whether a manager, they give 212.
Rep Hawk: What was really inspirational about that day, this last state championship game, with the hashtag 212– it was also Coach James’s 212th all-time win. I noticed as I came into the House today– I looked at my colleague from Bentonville, and he said, “You know, I was so moved by this championship.” He said, “I really want to do something to support the Hornets.” And so we got him a Bryant Hornet jersey to wear on the House floor. I believe Keith Brooks, who also represented Bryant for some time, had a few words for the Hornets.
Rep Brooks: Thank you, Representative Hawk. And so just wanted to add my congratulations as I guess I had the opportunity to run this resolution last time. So I’m glad someone had a chance to take it over. I think they probably renamed War Memorial Stadium the Shane Broadway Memorial. Or not Memorial, but Shane, he’s probably got his own suite there because he’s there all the time, it seems, supporting Bryant Hornets. So I just want to say, Coach James, Mike, all you guys, it’s just an outstanding job. You have honored us by being here, and you’ve represented your community well. So congratulations to you.
Rep Hawk: With that being said, Mr. Speaker, please have the clerk read the resolution by title only.
Speaker Shepherd: Mr. Clerk, please read the resolution by title only.
Clerk: To recognize the Bryant Hornets football team as the Class 7A state champion.
Speaker Shepherd: Representative Hawk has explained the resolution. Representative Wing, for what purpose? Let’s hear your question.
Rep Wing: Representative Hawk, I know that success on a football field is not a solo act. And I think that the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats should be commemorated for their contributions to your string of state championships. [laughter]
Rep Hawk: And members, not only is Representative Wing very worthy– I appreciate the congratulations, but between North Little Rock as well as Representative Evans, who had Cabot, and Representative Brown, who had Conway, those three teams would not– this would not have been possible without those wins over those teams to this point. I appreciate a good vote. [laughter]
Speaker Shepherd: Representative Hawk has explained the resolution. Would anyone like to speak against the resolution? Would anyone like to speak for the resolution? Representative Andrews, you’re recognized to speak for the resolution.
Rep Andrews: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I’m not from Bryant, but Buck James was at Camden Fairview when I was in high school. I didn’t play football, but his wife, Jennifer, was my ag teacher, and 212 squad upstarted at Camden Fairview. So I will say, “Go, Coach James.” Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker Shepherd: Representative Andrews has spoken for the resolution. Would anyone like to speak against the resolution? Would anyone like to speak for the resolution? Representative Hawk is closed for the resolution. The question before the House is the adoption of House Resolution 1002. All in favor, say aye. Any opposed? The resolution is adopted. [applause] The morning hour has ended. Mr. Clerk, please read Senate Bill 1.
Clerk: Senate Bill 1 by Representative Wing, an act for the expenses of the Arkansas Senate of the 94th General Assembly appropriation for the 2023 fiscal year.
Speaker Shepherd: Representative Wing, you’re recognized to explain the bill.
HB 1: Funding the Senate
Rep Wing: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Colleagues, this is the same version of what the Senate is doing. We passed our House expenses just for the session. We passed that last week. The Senate has passed theirs, and we need to approve it. So it kind of mirrors what we did. It’s just a little bit less cool because it’s a Senate bill. But still appreciate a good vote. [laughter]
Speaker Shepherd: Representative Wing has explained the bill. Would anyone like to speak against the bill? Would anyone like to speak for the bill? Representative Wing is closed for the bill. The question before the House is the passage of Senate Bill 1. Prepare the machine, Mr. Clerk. Voting on the bill and the emergency clause. Has everyone voted? Has everyone voted? Cast up the ballot, Mr. Clerk. With a vote of 92 yeas, 0 nay, and 2 present, the bill and emergency clause are passed. Representative Meeks, for what purpose?
Rep Meeks: Motion, please.
Speaker Shepherd: Let’s hear your motion.
Rep Meeks: 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, finalizing resolutions, reading communications and any remaining committee reports, I move we adjourn until 1:30 tomorrow afternoon.
Speaker Shepherd: That’s a proper motion. That’s not debatable. All in favor, say aye. Any opposed? The motion is adopted. Are there any announcements? Representative Eubanks, for what purpose? You’re recognized.
Rep Eubanks: Just wanted to remind everybody that the Chamber’s Big Tent event is from 4:30 to 6:30, I believe, down at their building today.
Speaker Shepherd: Representative Hawk, for what purpose? You’re recognized.
Rep Hawk: Members, I have been tasked with putting together our legislative basketball team for the charity basketball game. So if you would like to play, we’re going to do this the first week of February, I believe. And so if you’d like to play, please get with me after. Send me an email, and I will put you on the roster. If you don’t email, you won’t be on the roster. So we’re just trying to get a headcount of who wants to play.
Speaker Shepherd: Representative Bentley, for what purpose? You’re recognized.
Rep Bentley: We’ll be celebrating Religious Freedom Day tomorrow in the rotunda at noon. Everyone’s welcome. Hoping that you will join us. Thank you.
Speaker Shepherd: Representative Tosh, for what purpose? You’re recognized.
Rep Tosh: State Agencies will meet room in 151 at 10 AM in the morning.
Speaker Shepherd: Representative Vaught, for what purpose?
Rep Vaught: Announcement. Two announcements.
Speaker Shepherd: You’re recognized.
Rep Vaught: Tomorrow at noon, Rules Committee will meet. And then tomorrow morning at 7 AM will be our first prayer caucus, and everybody’s invited.
Speaker Shepherd: Representative Lanny Fite, for what purpose? You’re recognized.
Rep L Fite: City County Local will meet at 10 AM in MAC B tomorrow morning.
Speaker Shepherd: Representative McKenzie, for what purpose? You’re recognized.
Rep McKenzie: Tomorrow Freshman Caucus will be meeting at the RPA at 11 AM.
Speaker Shepherd: Any other announcements? If not, 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 tomorrow.