House City, County and Local Affairs

Jan. 18, 2023


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Rep L Fite: We’ll call this meeting to order of City, County and Local Affairs. If you would like to speak and give testimony today, down and to my left here I ask you to sign up at this time. Those wishing to speak today, I ask you to speak into your microphone so people can hear you. And we’ve got a pretty large agenda today. So I think we’ll move into this pretty quickly here. At this time, I’d ask Representative Watson– Representative Pilkington has requested to pull his bill down for today. So HB 1014, Representative Watson, would you please identify yourself and you may proceed. And if you have a guest there, I would ask that they identify themselves also.


HB 1014: Allowing online training for coroners

Rep Watson: Thank you, Co-chair Fite. It’s good to be here. Chair Fite, Co-chairs Nicks, I have a guest here. I’m State Representative Danny Watson. Go ahead.


Cleghorn ASCA: Kevin Cleghorn, president of the Arkansas State Coroner’s Association.


Rep L Fite: You may proceed.


Rep Watson: Thank you, Mr. Chair. House Bill 1014 has to do with deputy coroners to make sure they’re trained, they’re able to obtain their– at least obtain their minimum qualifications they have to get done to do their job. Kevin Cleghorn came to me actually over a year ago. He said, Representative, we’re having tremendous problems at keeping our guys certified, qualified, and we want to make sure we get this done. It didn’t seem to be hardly any problem at all with the regular coroners. So many of the coroners, as you all know, may be associated, may be employed with a funeral home, may have their own stand-alone office. But again, this addresses specifically the deputy coroners. We want to make sure with their job they do it right, they do it correctly because this effects to everybody. At this time, I’m going to ask Kevin if he has some more specifics if he could– and if there should be any questions later to go ahead and comment.


Cleghorn ASCA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. What we’re asking to do today is clean up some of the language from a previous bill. We’ve already got the education established, but when COVID hit us, we wound up not being able to educate our deputy coroners and coroners adequately because we couldn’t meet in person. And the way the law was written, we could not obtain online training. And that’s what we are working towards. All the agencies that participate in our education came together, including the Department of Public Safety and found a program the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigation, which is the national standards, has multiple online partners and courses that they have already approved 40-hour courses that fit the criteria that we teach here in the state of Arkansas. And what we are asking the committee and the House to do is approve the wording to allow online training as well as the in-person training so we can accommodate some of our counties, especially our smaller counties who may only have one or two employed in that office and can’t get away for the actual in-person training. So that’s what we’re asking today. And that’s what this bill will do, sir.


Rep L Fite: Are you ready for questions?


Rep Watson: Yes, if there’s any questions, feel free.


Rep L Fite: Okay. Representative– excuse me, Representative Dalby, would you mash your button again? Representative Dalby, you’re recognized.


Rep Dalby: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Representative Watson and your guest, this will show my ignorance. I don’t know much about death– I mean, haven’t been out to investigate a death. Are you assured or feel confident that your online courses are adequate enough for maybe somebody who is a novice to the field can understand what they’re doing or are you planning a mix of in-person and online? I mean, can you kind of outline what you’re foreseeing this to be? Because I would hate for somebody who’s new to this and all they get is an online and there’s no hands-on if that’s what you do. I mean, could you maybe go a little bit more in-depth what your plan is?


Rep Watson: Absolutely. Representative Dalby, if you don’t mind, I’m going to yield to a Kevin on there for those specifics.


Cleghorn ASCA: Thank you. Yes, ma’am. The programs that we are looking at, the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators, which I actually sit on the advisory panel for the ABMDI. I sit on the continuing education panel and one of our roles as the advisory council education committee is to review the criteria, review the curriculum, and then to determine if that meets national standards and then approve them. So the programs that we are looking at have been approved by the national standards. Now, we are also– so it will meet the criteria and meet the educational standards they need. We are also encouraging still the in-person for skills training as far as actually processing crime scenes, actually going with the detectives and our counterparts from ALETA, our instructors from ALETA. We do a phenomenal skills lab in that program. And so we are still encouraging that, as well as our crime scene photography class, which also has to be in person. So we are looking at blending both of them, but this meets the 40-hour criteria that we don’t lose deputy coroners in our counties.


Rep L Fite: Okay. Representative McAlindon, you’re recognized.


Rep McAlindon: Thank you, Chairman. So similar to following up on Representative Dalby’s question, there’s nothing in the bill that requires that there is in-person training, is that correct?


Cleghorn ASCA: The wording here it’s not requiring the in-person. It requires one or the other is this is going to  do.


Rep McAlindon: And is that the industry standard then?


Cleghorn ASCA: It is. Yes, ma’am.


Rep McAlindon: Thank you.


Rep L Fite: Okay. Any other questions? Seeing no other questions, Kevin, I see that you are signed up to speak for this bill. Do you want to speak for this bill?


Cleghorn ASCA: Absolutely. We have, to date, 295 deputy coroners and coroners across the state of Arkansas has been through this program. 259 have successfully completed. The remaining of those lack one or two classes to complete that but for whatever reasons have been unable to attend the actual classes. The opportunity to be able to do that online and not have to leave, it will be absolutely of the utmost benefit to our deputy coroners. And it too will also be reimbursed by the state as well and the Coroner’s Association. So there’s no out-of-pocket expense for those deputies even for the online program.


Rep L Fite: Okay. Mr. Cleghorn, would you be willing to take a question?


Cleghorn ASCA: Absolutely.


Rep Whitaker: Thank you, Mr. Chair.


Rep L Fite: Representative–


Rep Whitaker: Oh, sorry.


Rep L Fite: Representative Whitaker, you’re recognized for a question.


Rep Whitaker: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Not a question. A motion at the proper time.


Rep L Fite: Thank you. Okay. Seeing no other questions, we appreciate you. Is there anyone that’d like to speak against the bill? Seeing none, Representative Watson, would you like to close for your bill?


Rep Watson: Yes, I will. I appreciate a good vote and I have closed for the bill. Thank you.


Rep L Fite: Representing Whitaker, you’re recognized at this time.


Rep Whitaker: Move do pass.


Rep L Fite: Have a motion do pass. Any discussion on the motion? Seeing none, all in favor say aye. Those opposed say no. Congratulations. You passed your bill here.


Rep Watson: Thank you very much.


Rep L Fite: Okay. Next up, we’re going to pass over HB 1031, my bill. We have a little work to do on it. And at this time, House Bill, HB 1067, Representative Andrews, you are recognized to speak for your bill. Please identify yourself for the record, and also your guest up there please identify himself.

HB 1067: Prohibiting residency requirements for full-time, non-volunteer firefighters

Rep Andrews: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’m Representative Wade Andrews.


Stallings (Firefighters): I’m Matthew Stallings. You got me. There we go. Matthew Stallings for the Arkansas Professional Firefighters.


Rep L Fite: All right. You may proceed.


Rep Andrews: Thank you, Mr. Chair. House Bill 1067, what I thought would be a noncontroversial bill, apparently ruffled some feathers. Nonetheless, what this does, this removes the residency requirement for full-time paid departments. If you read through this bill, there’s exemptions for volunteer departments or any type of combination departments. So any department that’s not full-time paid, that uses any type of volunteers, the category of pay per call type people, those people are exempt or anyone who has to respond within a timely manner. This is for departments who are fully staffed at all times. They’re 100% pay. They don’t run any volunteers. And we’ve seen many cases of where people who live outside of that residency requirement radius get hired on, show up to work, and do a good job are terminated because of the fact that they simply live too far away from the fire station. So I want to defer to Mr. Stallings now. He can discuss more on this bill.


Stallings (Firefighters): Yeah. And one of the things we did, we crafted this in mind with the volunteer fire– we crafted this with the volunteer fire service in mind. A lot of volunteer fire departments, I think, with the exception of maybe one, I think everybody in here has a volunteer fire department in their district. Most of the state is protected by volunteer fire departments. And a lot of those departments, they need paid professional guys who volunteer on their days off. If you look at a city like Little Rock, we have the chief of Arch Street, East End, Sheridan, Lonoke, West Pulaski– I’m sure I’m leaving some out. My former captain, who is now retired, he was the chief of Jerusalem Fire Department. If you don’t know where that is, that’s up in the Ozark mountains. And he was a Little Rock firefighter. He showed up to work on time, did a good job. He was a good firefighter. And so what we are trying to do here is not allow cities to enact policies that would harm other municipalities and their fire departments because, say, if Little Rock does that, it’s still the most attractive firefighting job in the state with the best benefits. People will relocate for it. And what you’re doing then is you’re forcing people who volunteer on their days off to choose between remaining a volunteer in the rural community that they choose to serve on their days off and moving to Little Rock to satisfy an arbitrary requirement. In order for something like this to stand up to a judicial test, it has to have a compelling governmental interest. And we’ve carved those out here, what he talked about, where you have your combination departments, your volunteer departments, your pay per call type positions, we’ve carved those positions out. Any kind of residency requirement, it has to have– it has to be job-related to the position in question and consistent with business necessity. There is no business necessity in the larger cities that have fully staffed fire departments. And so what we’re trying to do here is we’re trying to protect people’s rights to live where they want, people’s rights to show up and do a good job, be a firefighter, and also on their days off serve in a volunteer capacity.


Rep Andrews: Thank you. And I just want to say, you can also look at it as an employment issue. Like you said, letting people live where they want to live and work where they want to work. Little Rock fire departments, great paid benefits, if you want to fight fire, you can fight a fire here. If you want to run medical calls, you run medical calls. But if you want to live in Saline County or North Pulaski County or anywhere else, you can do that. And this is what this bill allows for without penalty.


Rep L Fite: Representative Andrews, you ready for questions?


Rep Andrews: Yes.


Rep L Fite: Okay. Representative Dalby, you’re recognized.


Rep Dalby: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Representative Andrews, can you explain to me why you think it’s important for this committee to do away with local control that cities or counties may have in regard to firefighters or anything else when we tend to like– at least it’s been my experience, the legislature doesn’t typically step into a local control issue. Could you explain what the overarching reason why we would step into local control in this case?


Rep Andrews: Yes, Representative. So I’m running this bill– I’m generally in favor of local control, but a lot of times this is up to city councils. And not every city council is going to take this up or want to take this up or think this is a big issue. And so some may see this as circumventing local control, but this is just being fair and open employment for everybody.


Stallings (Firefighters): Yeah, and to his point, local control is important, but it shouldn’t extend so far as to allow one municipality to enact policies that could harm another smaller municipality.


Rep L Fite: Okay. Representative Whitaker, you’re recognized.


Rep Whitaker: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Representative or Mr. Stallings, I’m curious, can you cite any cities in the state of Arkansas that have implemented such a residency requirement?


Stallings (Firefighters): There are cities that do have residency requirements and they have been carved out because they do have a compelling governmental interest in doing so. Take the city of Paragould. They have one because they rely on callbacks. They have guys who are there staffed during the day, but if you have a large fire or something like that, they have to have volunteers who respond and they have to respond in a timely manner. The issue here is that when you have a larger city like Little Rock who tries to do this every single year. They could be one election cycle away from enacting a policy like this, and if they do that, then it has an immediately harmful effect on surrounding cities that depend on volunteer firefighters and have firefighters who would do both jobs, firefighters who are career guys on their regular day job and then guys who are on their off days volunteer in surrounding communities because they would then have to relocate either to the county or to the city, and they could no longer serve in a volunteer capacity.


Rep Whitaker: Follow up, Mr. Chair?


Rep L Fite: Yes.


Rep Whitaker: Thank you, sir. So you’re telling me any that do currently have a residence required are already carved out of the bill?


Stallings (Firefighters): Yes. The ones that have residency requirements like Malvern, I believe, has one. I think it’s 30 minutes because they depend on callbacks. Larger cities that have fully set up departments, they don’t. So there’s no business necessity reason to have anything like a residency requirement.


Rep Whitaker: Thank you.


Rep L Fite: Representative Rye, you’re recognized.


Rep Rye: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Gentleman, could I ask you a question? The situation that we’re in here with this bill, is part of the reason or all the reason because within an area you’re having trouble finding someone that’s qualified to actually do the job?


Stallings (Firefighters): So like I said, I think everybody in here with the exception of one has volunteer departments in your district. You should go back and talk to them. Ask them how recruitment is going, ask them how retention is going, and they’re going to probably say it’s not going well. And then ask them if they have guys who are paid firefighters who also volunteer in their department and they’re probably going to say yes.


Rep Andrews: Representative Rye, to more answer your question, my other day job is Camden Fire Department. I’m full-time firefighter there. And not until I got hired on back in July of 2121, for four or five years before that, they were not fully staffed. And so it is hard to find people within your own community– it’s hard to find workers for anything, really, especially hard for someone who wants to go through the training and get the knowledge and experience and want to be a firefighter.


Rep Rye: Thank you.


Stallings (Firefighters): And also to that point, the city of Little Rock, they used to cap their application process at 500. Now we don’t even get 500 people who apply and take the test.


Rep L Fite: Representative Ray, you’re recognized.


Rep Ray: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I was going to ask an almost identical question to what Representative Rye was asking. It seems like it would unnecessarily restrict the pool of potential applicants. So I’ll pivot to a different question. Because I’m not familiar with this, what happens if a city– what happens to existing firefighters if a city implements a residency requirement for someone who lives outside of the city? Are they grandfathered in, typically, or would they be forced to move? Would it just apply to existing or future applicants? How would that be handled?


Stallings (Firefighters): So you can see it both ways. There are situations where they grandfather in anybody who was currently not outside the city and it just applies to new applicants, or there are situations where they’re given a time frame where they have to relocate in order to keep the job. And neither one of those is good. If you have a situation where people are grandfathered in and it’s only applies to new hires, well, now you’ve created two separate classes of firefighter. You have one who’s free to live and go to church and have their kids go to school wherever, and then you have one that is required to live within a certain proximity of their job. And that’s a pretty big fairness issue.


Rep Ray: Thank you.


Rep L Fite: Representative McGrew, you’re recognized.


Rep McGrew: Thank you. The residential or the requirement that you’re trying to get lifted there, I’m assuming that it was input that some of the smaller fire departments have a small amount of people there in time so they want to be able to call the other firefighters in when they have a major fire. So this is going to affect– am I correct that this could affect that, that those firefighters, if they live far enough out, could not get there quick enough? I guess–


Stallings (Firefighters): No, sir, this is exempting those fire departments.


Rep McGrew: I’m sorry?


Stallings (Firefighters): This does not apply to those fire departments.


Rep McGrew: It doesn’t apply to small towns that have a–


Stallings APF: No, sir. No, this does not apply to small towns that have a residency requirement for the situation you just explained. If like I said, the example of the city of Paragould, they have their daytime staff, and then they have guys who have to respond if they have an incident. And so they have to live within a certain radius because they have to respond in a certain time. This does not apply to them. This would not affect them in any way.


Rep McGrew: So a smaller city can have a– you have to live within so many miles and that would be allowed under this bill?


Stallings APF: Yes, sir. That is a condition that currently exists in Arkansas. It’s fairly common. It would not affect that.


Rep McGrew: Thank you.


Rep L Fite: Representative Cavenaugh, you’re recognized.


Rep Cavenaugh: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I just want to make sure when Representative Whitaker was asking the question about what cities does it affect? You never came up with city. What cities will this affect? What cities already currently that this bill is designed to address restricts the residency?


Rep Andrews: I was told of an issue a certain time period to go. There was a firefighter who was hired on– he lived in Conway, and he got hired on in El Dorado. El Dorado has since lifted their resident requirement, but he was showing to work every day, doing his job very well, but they terminated him about two or three months after they hired him because they found out he lived in Conway. El Dorado has since lifted their residency requirements.


Stallings APF: Yeah, and that is a good example. I mean, it’s a situation where that’s not an ideal commute, but if he’s showing up to work on time and he does a good job, that’s all that matters.


Rep Cavenaugh: Okay, but the bottom line is they lifted their restrictions. So this bill does not apply to them because they have no restriction. So what town currently restricts? That’s what I’m asking. Why are we need this bill if there’s no town doing it?


Stallings APF: Because you have situations like the city of Little Rock that tries to do it every single year at the city council level. And we’re trying to prohibit that from happening. Because if it does, it would have an immediately harmful effect on surrounding departments.


Rep Cavenaugh: Why would it have an effect on surrounding departments?


Stallings APF: Because applicants would be forced to either choose between remaining a volunteer and serving in the rural community where they live or relocating to the city of Little Rock.


Rep Cavenaugh: Or whatever–


Stallings APF: Or whatever city would try to enact this. It basically creates an applicant vacuum where you have these you have–


Rep Cavenaugh: Can I ask where you live?


Stallings APF: I live in North Little Rock.


Rep Cavenaugh: And where do you serve as a firefighter?


Stallings APF: I serve in Little Rock.


Rep Cavenaugh: Okay, thank you.


Rep Andrews: Representative Cavenaugh, to further answer your question, I don’t have a list off the top of my head of cities that enact this, but I know there are some. And I think there’s some in northwest Arkansas. But I’m not for sure. I don’t have a list.


Stallings APF: Memphis, Tennessee had one, and it hurt with recruitment and retention. And so the state of Tennessee stepped in and enacted something similar to what we’re doing.


Rep L Fite: Representative Dalby, you’re recognized for a question.


Rep Dalby: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Kind of thinking as to what Representative Cavenaugh and Representative Whitaker have brought up, I guess my question is, if a city wants– really have two questions. One, if a city wants to dilute their applicant pool or narrow it down, that’s in essence, going to cut their nose off to spite their face. But why should we as a legislature keep them from making that decision? I keep coming back to that. Why should we limit them from making that decision if that’s the decision their elected officials want to make. It may not be the best decision, but that’s their decision. I just am having a hard time getting past that. Can you help me with that?


Rep Andrews: I would say, even if a city council wanted to do that and hurt themselves, it’s still our duty to the state of Arkansas to protect Arkansans and to make sure people who want to be firefighters who want to go and get qualified and work at other departments, give them that opportunity and let them have that equal opportunity employment as well.


Rep Dalby: Follow up, Mr. Chair.


Rep L Fite: Yes, go ahead.


Rep Dalby: And one other question I had reading your bill and I’ve read it numerous times to understand your carve-outs and all of that. It seems like the easy out for anybody would be have one volunteer fireman and that would carve them out. Would it not?


Rep Andrews: Technically, yes.


Rep Dalby: Okay. Thank you.


Rep L Fite: Representative Schulz, would you mash your button again, please? One more time.


Rep Schulz: I just want to make a comment.


Rep L Fite: All right, you’re recognized.


Rep Schulz: I’m sorry. I’ve spent 35 years as a volunteer fireman, been a paid fireman. I’ve worked in EMS for over 20 years. I see the point they’re going at with this bill. I feel like the verbiage is what’s got a lot of folks hung up. On the subtitle here, to prohibit municipal fire departments and fire protection districts from having a residency requirement for certain firefighters. I’m hearing from a lot of my fire chiefs who had the smaller departments that are hung up on that. They’re not getting to the point where they’re carved out of that. So I guess my point is that quote right there is probably where there’s a lot of folks struggling. I just want to throw that out there.


Rep L Fite: Okay, Representative Rye, you’re recognized.


Rep Rye: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Jim, let me ask you this. Is there not an advantage to a firefighter living in the area that they serve?


Rep Andrews: You’re right. I mean, technically, there is. They know the area, know the people, and all that. Take my department, city of Camden. We have 27 full-time people. Nine per shift, and there’s 10,000 or less people. And so you might say, “Well, we can find 27 guys out of 10,000 people.” But when you break down to the age range and people who are healthy enough for the job and everything else, it’s hard to find applicants. And like I said, it’s taken us four or five years to be fully staffed. We have two guys that live in Clark county right close to Arkadelphia, where one lives in Curtis, one lives in Arkadelphia. We have two guys that live in Fordyce. That’s Dallas county. Our chief lives in Magnolia. And so it’s important that we have this flexibility to allow people to not live within a certain radius to get to work.


Stallings APF: And also, we spend 24 hours a day there. Over the course of my 14-year career, I’ve spent nearly 5 years at that station, a third of my life since I joined the fire department. It is our job. That is one of our job functions, is knowing the district, knowing the areas we work, and knowing the streets, knowing the community. That’s part of our job. And we also do other things to be a part of the community through charities and events and stuff like that.


Rep Rye: Follow up, please.


Rep L Fite: Yes, you’re recognized.


Rep Rye: Guys, I can see how that if it was limited to a certain area, let’s just say 20 miles away or something like that if you had a stipulation in there, that might be better. But it looks like that you may have a problem if these folks are so far away from the area that they would have trouble getting to the fire.


Stallings APF: That’s why we carved out the combination departments that do have restrictions like that. Because they do depend on people responding from a certain amount of time. And then it even says in there that, somebody who’s duty it is to respond in a certain amount of time.


Rep Rye: Thank you, Mr. Chair.


Rep L Fite: Okay, I see no other questions. Public comment. Mr. Stallings, you have signed up to speak for the bill. You’re recognized at this point to do that.


Stallings APF: Yes, sir. I understand the concerns. We are a fire service organization. This is something from the fire service. It is for the fire service to protect the fire service. I understand the idea of local control. I think local control is important to an extent. Like I said earlier, to the extent that it would allow one municipality to enact policies that would harm other municipalities, particularly surrounding municipalities. I think one of the issues that’s going to be raised is that it could create some kind of litigious nightmare where you have lawsuits based on people suing and claiming that it was because of the– I have not seen any cases where that– any cases involving that at all. But where you do see lawsuits is when residency requirements are enacted without a compelling governmental interest. There’s plenty of lawsuits there, and they don’t stand up to judicial scrutiny. And also, this isn’t a new idea. The state of Washington did it to preempt situations like what we’re talking about here. The state of Michigan did it. The state of Tennessee just did it. So what we’re doing here, it’s not a new idea. And it hasn’t created the problems that will probably be suggested.


Rep L Fite: Okay. Anybody have any questions? Seeing none, we have speaking against the bill John Wilkerson. Please identify yourself and–


Wilkerson (Municipal League): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. A lot of the things that I was going to plan on speaking about have already been discussed. I do appreciate Representative Andrews and Mr. Stallings talking with me about this bill and hearing our concerns.


Rep L Fite: John, could you identify yourself.


Wilkerson (Municipal League): Oh, sorry, John Wilkerson, general counsel at the Municipal League. Like I said, I won’t repeat a lot of the conversation that’s already been had. But I will say this, this is clearly working out well across the state. Cities that have had the residency requirement like Conway and El Dorado got rid of it because the applicant pool is, according to what I understand, is small. Back to the point made earlier that perhaps at one point the applicant pool gets large enough where we can have the luxury of saying, you know what, we would rather folks live closer to town. And that leads into my bigger sort of more fundamental problem that Mr. Stallings sort of alluded to is that this bill just doesn’t prohibit cities from saying you have to live within the city. This bill says that the cities can’t have any preference on where somebody lives, which means if someone in– I keep using that example, someone wants to apply for a firefighter position in Camden, and there’s two applicants, one in Ouachita county, and one that lives in Missouri, the city can’t say, “You know what, I prefer our firefighters to live in– or prefer this position to be filled by firefighter who lives close to home.” And that’s the litigation that Mr. Stallings is sort of alluding to. I worry that creates this cause of action that because I live in Missouri and I don’t live in Ouachita County, I’ve been denied this job and therefore I’m going to sue under this law. So again, it’s not just about prohibiting cities from having a requirement to live in the city limits. It’s prohibiting cities from having any preference at all when they make staffing decisions to someone that lives in the city or in the county or even in some kind of radius. And I talked to the mayor of Magnolia who admittedly is exempt from this bill because they have a volunteer fire department, but he said, “You know what? We have a requirement that you live within a fire district. And that makes sense for us.” So again, this is a local control issue. It seems to be working out well. And it’s just in our mind just unnecessary.


Rep L Fite: Mr. Wilkerson, you’ll take a question?


Wilkerson (Municipal League): Of course.


Rep L Fite: Representative Ray, you’re recognized.


Rep Ray: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Mr. Wilkerson, obviously where someone chooses to live can be sometimes a very personal decision. If the residency is not directly related to the individual’s ability to perform their work duty, what compelling interest does the local government have in instituting a residency requirement?


Wilkerson (Municipal League): It may simply be that the city would prefer that the person that is representing the city as a fire department personnel lives in the city, knows the city, and has that sort of touch with the city or even in the area or knows the area better. I mean, it’s tough to really get into the minds of every city and why they would make the decision. But as far as a compelling governmental interest, I mean, it’s really up to each city what they think is important to them.


Rep Ray: So it’s just that they might know the roads better.


Wilkerson (Municipal League): It could be that. It could be, again, if they want a firefighter that has a better relationship with that city or with that area. I think all sorts of different reasons. And that’s another thing that you–


Rep Ray: Does having lots of relationships in the community improve their ability to fight fires?


Wilkerson (Municipal League): I’m not saying it does or doesn’t. I’m just saying that could be a preference that the city would have.


Rep Ray: Okay.


Rep L Fite: Representative Hudson, you’re recognized.


Rep Hudson: Thank you. Mr. Wilkerson, you touched on the question of whether or not a fire department should be put in a situation where they’re choosing between an applicant from Missouri and someone more local. Is there some sort of issue that you’re seeing from your role where fire departments have some sort of obligation to hire an applicant based on an argument of regional discrimination or something? I mean, as I view it, coming from the perspective of someone who does employment work, there is no prohibition from a hiring manager and an individual fire department of looking at an address and saying, “If I’ve got two applicants who are equally trained and equally qualified and one lives within a few blocks of the station and one lives in Missouri, I’m going to pick this guy.” Do you see that there’s some issue that would keep a fire department for making those types of hiring decisions on that very, very local level?


Wilkerson (Municipal League): And that was sort of one of the things that I talked to Mr. Stallings about is that– I do employment law as well and where you live is not necessarily a protected class. Now, I guess in certain circumstances, maybe– I don’t think that it could, honestly– but it creates another employment law and protected class to somebody that just because I live in Missouri, I’m now protected from this. I’m protected in the employment decision that was made of the city level. So no, I don’t see any cause of action unless this bill gets passed because this would create a protective class based on where you live.


Rep Hudson: Follow up.


Rep L Fite: Yes, you recognized.


Rep Hudson: So explain to me how this creates a protected class. And the reason I’m asking is just, I mean, it says that this bill would prohibit certain decision-making from a municipal level, but how does it create a protected class given that it doesn’t have any specific prohibitions or requirements for the nature of the hiring decisions made based upon someone’s regional location. It just says that they can’t require that somebody live within a radius.


Wilkerson (Municipal League): Well, no, it says– subsection B, notwithstanding any law or resolution or ordinance, a municipality shall not dismiss, discipline, fine, or penalize a firefighter or deny employment to a person applying to be a firefighter based on where that person resides. And that means, in my mind, that all of a sudden you’re saying, okay, I live in Missouri and the Ouachita County fellow got the job. So because we’re equal in all of the respects, because I live in Missouri, that’s my class now is protected of where I live. Where I live is now protected class. Now, I’m a short-circuiting perhaps a legal logic, but that’s what it does. It creates a cause of action for someone who in all of the respects is equal except they live in Missouri. Now they get to sue and claim that I didn’t get the job because I lived in Missouri.


Rep Hudson: I mean, but you would agree with me that wrongful or failure-to-hire cases are probably some of the most difficult to prove? Certainly in a situation where you’re talking about a regional protection versus race, religion, and so on.


Wilkerson (Municipal League): I completely agree. I don’t mean to suggest– I didn’t mean to suggest to you that we’re going to have an onslaught of litigation. I was just saying that that is an issue that I’ve identified that it does create a cause of action based on where you live.


Rep Hudson: Thank you.


Rep L Fite: Okay. Seeing no other questions– excuse me, Representative McAlindon, you’re recognized.


Rep McAlindon: Yeah. Thank you, chairman. Quick question for you. Just looking at other services like police departments, do they also have residency requirements or are they in the same boat as the firefighters? Thank you.


Wilkerson (Municipal League): Again, I don’t know if many cities that have any kind of residency requirements either for police or fire or really anybody. I haven’t done a survey of cities for that issue. But I don’t hear about it a lot. And I certainly don’t hear that it’s an issue at all.


Rep L Fite: Okay. Seeing no other questions, you are dismissed. We have no one else signed up to speak for or against this bill. Would you like to close at this time, Representative Andrews?


Rep Andrews: Yes. Can I have Mr. Stallings talk one more time?


Rep L Fite: Excuse me?


Rep Andrews: May I allow Mr. Stallings to speak one more time?


Rep L Fite: You will have to close for your bill.


Rep Andrews: Okay. Colleagues, on this bill, understand everyone’s got some apprehensions about it, concerns about it. But overall, I feel that this is good for employment. This is good for allowing people to live where they want to live and work where they want to work. And at the end of the day, your fire districts, firefighters, your fire departments are still conservative communities to the utmost of their ability and do the job that they’re hired to do. So with this, I motion do pass and hope for a good vote.


Rep L Fite: Okay, I have a motion do pass. Is there any discussion on the motion? Seeing none, all in favor say aye.


audience: Aye.


Rep L Fite: Those opposed, say no?


audience: No.


Rep L Fite: No’s have it. Okay, Representative Warren– I mean, Watson, excuse me, you’re recognized on House Bill 1090 to present it. Identify yourself and you may proceed. If you have someone joining at the table– no. You don’t, do you? Okay.

HB 1090: Separating the Hempstead County collector and sheriff positions

Rep Watson: Thank you, Mr. Chair. House Bill 1090. I did have an amendment onto it, and it’s just actually a starting dates, and I will explain that. Page 1, line 24, delete 2025 and substitute the year 2026. And page 1, line 26, delete 2026 and substitute for the year 2027. House Bill 1090 is an act to separate the offices of sheriff and tax collector in Hempstead County. Effective January 1st, 2026, the offices of sheriff and tax collector and Hempstead County shall be separate offices. At the 2026 general election, the electors of Hempstead County shall elect both a sheriff and a tax collector, and each officer so elected shall take office January 1st, 2027. The sheriff and tax collector in Hempstead County shall each give bond for the faithful performance of their respective duties as provided by law. The sheriff and tax collector of Hempstead County shall each receive compensation that shall be determined by the Hempstead County quorum court within the minimum and maximum compensation range prescribed by the general assembly and shall hire deputies and have other allowances as prescribed by the Hempstead County court. I learned through the AAC, Mr. Chair, that a little over 50-something counties out of 75 counties in Arkansas have already done this. I did intentionally visit with quite a few sheriffs from my House district that were in attendance last night at the Sheriff’s Association. One of them– part of the district I have now is Miller County. And I understand through the sheriff that they had done that several years ago– that they separated the collector from the sheriff.


Rep Watson: Something tells me there’s going to be a lot more counties jumping on board on this. And what’s the reason behind this? Our elected sheriff– he needs to focus on being a sheriff. The turnover– not only the jail that they’re normally responsible for– all the other humongous details keeps him occupied. Who’s doing the tax collector now in Hempstead County? Who’s doing the collection? Deputy clerks in the office. So there will be primarily no change at all. So, again, this came before me from our sheriff– from our county judge who’s a retired sheriff for Hempstead County, and also quorum court members requested this to be done. Totally painless. And they wanted this to be extended out, and y’all heard me just say a while ago, 2027. So the sheriff that’s serving right now– he just got elected. He’s starting year number one. So this will not be applicable until he goes out four years from now. So he’ll serve his whole four-year term, and for the next sheriff coming in after that, which is going to be a little while, that’s when this will have gone in effect. If there’s any questions–


Rep L Fite: Seeing no questions, I have no one signed up to speak for or against the bill. You’re recognized to close the bill.


Rep Watson: I’d appreciate a good vote to help out Hempstead County for the sheriff’s office to be a whole lot more efficient– more effective – and that’s all anybody in here wants – and also for the other counties that they should go forward on there. And I appreciate a good vote. Thank you.


Rep L Fite: Okay. What’s the wishes of the committee? I have a motion do pass. Any discussion on the motion? Seeing none, all in favor say aye. Those opposed say no. Congratulations. You’re 2 and O today. All right. Up next we have House Bill 1100. Representative Collins, you’re recognized to present your bill. Please identify yourself, and then you can proceed after that.

HB 1100: Allowing urban districts to provide additional street and drainage services

Rep Collins: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Andrew Collins. And this bill is a bill that allows an urban service district to do a couple more things. It came from the Municipal League, and I have the honor to work on it because the only urban service district that we currently have in the state is in my district. It’s Cammack Village. So what an urban service district is– it’s a type of improvement district. And unlike other improvement districts that are used for a specific purpose, the urban service district exists to do, basically, the role of a city. And so its current powers are pretty numerous, and they’re mostly overlapping with the things cities can currently do: emergency services, solid waste, public transportation and parking, recreation, housing, community, facilities, maintenance, and street type things. So the things that we found– actually, what Cammack found is that they wanted to be able to do drainage, and they wanted to be able to do street and sidewalk work within their urban service district. They currently do this work already, but they have to find some other funding source for it, whether that’s bonds or they have some limited other revenue sources other than what they get from this urban service district. So it would help them streamline what they currently do. It is fundamental, I believe, to what a city does to allow them to do drainage system maintenance and redevelopment and sidewalk maintenance and redevelopment, as well as street resurfacing. So nothing really out of the ordinary here– just the typical things cities do. I’ll stop there– see if there are any questions. And I think that there are some other people who can answer questions if they are specific to Cammack or specific to the form of the district.


Rep L Fite: Committee? Representative Rye, you’re recognized.


Rep Rye: Yes, sir. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me ask you this, Representative Collins. If this should pass, what will be the difference of what is going on with the urban league now, and what would be added should that pass?


Rep Collins: Sure. The things that would be added are sidewalk maintenance and redevelopment, including lighting, cleaning, repairing, resurfacing, and access ramp installation. So that’s street and sidewalks, and drainage system maintenance and redevelopment. So water’s coming– typically, you may need to reroute some of that water to make sure there’s no build-up to help people in the city. Those two things.


Rep Rye: Thank you, sir. Thank you, Mr. Chair.


Rep L Fite: Okay. Any other questions? Seeing none, we have– excuse me. Representative Burkes, you’re recognized.


Rep Burkes: So I see that in the existing law, neighborhood improvement services are already stated. So did you run into a problem with these items that you’re wanting to add not being considered neighborhood improvement services?


Rep Collins: Well, not necessarily. I think it’s a matter of making sure, since we have all these other ones specifically enumerated, it would be, probably better to make sure it’s authorized by having the additional things enumerated. Because sometimes, I mean– and I think these guys are probably just being extra safe about it, but sometimes the existence of an enumerated list would indicate that if it’s not an enumerated, then you’re not covered.


Rep Burkes: Okay. But you– I’m sorry.


Rep Collins: It’s not a specific problem, though, that they run into.


Rep Burkes: Thank you.


Rep L Fite: Do you have a follow-up?


Rep Burkes: No. I’m good. Thank you.


Rep L Fite: All right. Is there any other questions? Seeing none, we have two people signed up for this. James Walton speaking for the bill. You pass? Okay. And do we have anybody– we don’t have anybody signed up to speak against the bill. For the bill we have John Wilkerson.


Wilkerson: I’ll defer to the mayor of Cammack Village.


Rep L Fite: Okay. All right. Are you ready to close the bill?


Rep Collins: Sure. I’m closed. I move do pass.


Rep L Fite: Okay. We have a motion do pass. Any discussion on the motion? Seeing none, all in favor say aye. Those opposed say no. Congratulations. You passed your bill.


Rep Collins: Thank you.


Rep L Fite: We will be meeting next Wednesday also at 10:00 AM.