House floor

Jan. 18, 2023


Jump to section below

House Bill 1086: Disabled veterans license plates no longer grant handicapped parking by default

House Bill 1018: Allowing fire department bomb squads to concealed carry and make arrests

Speaker Shepherd: I invite the members, staff, press, and guests in the galleries to stand and be led in prayer by Lieutenant Commander Sterling Claypool, battalion command chaplain, 4th Marine Division, 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines, and remain standing for the Pledge of Allegiance to be led by Representative Lane Jean.


Rep Jean: Mr. Speaker, members of the House, thank you. Let us pray. Everlasting God, we come here to pray to you requesting that you hear our words. I praise you for your gracious plan of this day and the days to come. I give you praise for salvation through your Son and wisdom through your Holy Spirit. Remember to look at us and hear what we ask. Please come and remind us that it is not our own interests that we come to serve our country in the great state of Arkansas, but we want to serve humbly. Speaking to our innermost parts of our heart, our minds, and allow each member of this chamber to dive deep into you. Bless the pilgrimage of our labors as we persevere and carry on democracy, uphold liberty, and serve the citizens of Arkansas faithfully. Grant us the insight from your wisdom and the shield of your truth and righteousness. Father God, I pray for strength for the members that sit here today. Give them the ideas of service in the focus of loyalty and allow their truth to be guided by your love. I call us to remember the ultimate sacrifice of the men and women who bravely have gone before us, who have loved their country more than themselves and were willing to live and liberate the world of strife. Mend and our flaws, forgive our sins, and allow us to focus on the successes that you give us. This is your day that you have made and allow us now to align our plans to your plans. For it is in your beautiful name of your Son that I pray. Amen.


Speaker Shepherd: Members, please indicate your presence by pushing your yellow present button. Prepare the machine, Madam Clerk. Cast up the ballot, Madam Clerk. With 99 members present, the chair sees a quorum. Are there any requests for leave? 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, Madam Clerk.


Clerk: Mr. Speaker, we your Committee on House Rules to whom was referred House Bill 1024, House Bill 1028 beg leave to report that we have had the same under consideration and herewith return the same recommendation that it do pass. Mr. Speaker, we your Committee on State Agencies to whom was referred House Bill 1023 and House Current Resolution 1001 beg leave to report that we have had the same under consideration and herewith return the same with recommendation that it do pass. Respectfully, Dwight Tosh, Chair. Mr. Speaker, we your Committee on City, County and Local Affairs to whom was referred House Bill 1014, 1090, 1100 beg leave to report that we have had the same under consideration and herewith return the same with recommendation that it do pass. Respectfully, Lanny Fite, Chair.


Speaker Shepherd: Any other committee reports? Is there any unfinished business? Are there any executive communications? Members, the doctor of the day is Dr. Jim Ingram of Little Rock, and the nurse of the day is Ms. Brenda Hewitt. The morning hour has ended. Madam Clerk, please read House Bill 1086.


Clerk: House Bill 1086, to amend the law concerning parking privileges for a person issued a disabled veteran special license plate.


Speaker Shepherd: Representative Berry, you are recognized to explain the bill.


House Bill 1086: Disabled veterans license plates no longer grant handicapped parking by default

Rep M Berry: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and good afternoon colleagues. This amendment is a bill– there were some unintended consequences when the original bill was written back in 2013. So what this does– so keep in mind, I am 80% disabled by VA standards. There’s nothing wrong with my pieces and parts, and I can walk, and walk in the building. So I have no mobility issues. Well, under the current law, if you have a disabled veteran tag and you’re 30% disabled, you can park in a handicapped parking spot. Well, you can have sleep apnea, you can have a hysterectomy, you can have erectile dysfunction and be 30% disabled according to the VA. But that has nothing to do with a mobility challenge. So I see too– Robin, quit hiding– so too often I see– in this building, there’s a handicapped spot right out back. I see a gentleman– I don’t know who it is– but every day, he’s got disabled veteran tags on his vehicle, he parks in that handicapped spot and runs up the steps to the back of the Capitol. When in the meantime, that does not afford our colleague Josh Miller, who has mobility challenges, my colleague Julie Mayberry, her handicapped daughter, the ability to use that parking spot. So this is not denying veterans the ability to park in a handicapped spot. What it will require them to do, just like every Arkansan in the state, they will go get a handicapped placard and they hang it on their mirror if they have mobility issues. That’s all it does. But I think it’s fair for veterans that really need those spots. It’s fair for the average Arkansan who has mobility issues to be able to have use of those spots and to stop a lot of this, for the sake of it, it’s easy for me to park here because I have a disabled veterans tag on my vehicle. It’s just wrong. Senator Josh Bryant, another veteran, is sponsoring this bill for me in the Senate because we felt it was the right thing to do as responsible veterans and to make sure that the handicapped community in the state of Arkansas is taken care of. So I’d be happy to take any questions. If not, I would appreciate the good vote.


Speaker Shepherd: Representative Berry has explained the bill. Would anyone like to speak against the bill? Would anyone like to speak for the bill? Representative Richmond, you are recognize to speak for the bill.


Rep Richmond: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Gentlemen, I’m very sorry to hear of the many problems that you have on this thing. It does cause me concern too. But you’re absolutely right. You’re absolutely right in that I’m disabled also. I’m a disabled veteran, results of an airplane crash. But I can get around, I can walk around, and I’m never going to park in a handicap place until I have to literally get out and wheel myself in or whatever else, or somebody do it. It’s not right. It’s not right for somebody, even though you’re a veteran and you have a disability, if you can walk, then walk. Go park somewhere else and get your rear end in gear and get where you need to go without taking up a spot that really somebody else truly needs. So I thank you for bringing this bill. Thank you Mr. Speaker.


Speaker Shepherd: Represent Richmond has spoken for the bill. Would anyone likes to speak against the bill? Would anyone like to speak for the bill? Representative Berry, you are recognized to close for the bill.


Rep M Berry: Well, thank you Mr. Speaker. I was going to be closed for the bill, but since Representative Richmond brought it up, my disability is because I’ve lost my eyesight from an accident in Guatemala. Okay? So the other stuff works. So I just want to, I just want to– with that being said, I’d appreciate a good vote.


Speaker Shepherd: Representative Berry has closed for the Bill. The question before the House is the passage of House Bill 1086. Madam Clerk, prepare the machine. Has everyone voted? Has everyone voted? Cast up the ballot, Madam Clerk. With 98 yea, zero nay and zero present, the bill has passed. Madam Clerk, please read House Bill 1018.


Speaker Shepherd: House Bill 1018 by Representative Meeks, to allow members of a municipal fire department bomb squad to make arrests and lawfully carry a weapon in certain circumstances.


Speaker Shepherd: Representative Meeks, you are recognized to explain the bill.


House Bill 1018: Allowing fire department bomb squads to concealed carry and make arrests

Rep Meeks: All right, thank you, Mr. Speaker. Colleagues, they say when you start a speech, it’s always good to start off with a joke. And I thought about all manner of good bomb-related jokes that I could start off with here, good quality dad jokes. But after what just happened, I don’t think I can top that. So I’m just going to– I’m just going to jump straight into the meat of the bill here. So I’m honored to bring to you our first public safety bill. And let me kind of give you a little bit of a background about what we’re trying to fix, and then I’ll tell you about what we’re trying to do with the bill. So currently under Arkansas law, bomb squad technicians are required to go through a certain level of training before they become certified as a bomb technician. That training includes certified law enforcement standard training, a basically deputy reserve training that they have to complete. And then they also have to go through a class by the FBI that I think was held in Alabama. But so they have to complete all this criteria. When an emergency call comes up that involves the bomb squad, because they’ve had that reserve deputy training, if they’re authorized by their local sheriff, they’re allowed to carry a weapon into those situations in order to be able to defend themselves. But they can only do it under the authority of the local sheriff.

The bomb squad in Fort Smith has run into a situation where the sheriff out there has decided that he doesn’t want to have any reserve deputies. So this is not something that is directly pointed at the bomb squad. It’s just a general rule that he’s set up. So because of that, these bomb squad technicians that are going into these highly volatile situations over in the Fort Smith area are currently not allowed to carry a weapon to be able to protect themselves. And these are the guys who are going into buildings when everybody else is leaving. And if they were to encounter a perpetrator in that circumstance, A, they would not be able to defend themselves nor B, would they be able to necessarily stop the perpetrator from doing something unthinkable. And so this bill was brought to me by a man that I’ve known since high school. And he’s actually with me today.

So I want you all to see who this bill affects. So if y’all look over here in the east gallery, we have bomb squad commander Todd Cardin from Conway. Todd, if you go ahead and stand for us. And then Chief Winters, also of the Conway Fire Department. I want to thank you two gentlemen for being here. And members, if you would, please join me in recognizing the service they do to our community. So what these gentlemen and I are asking for is just the ability for them to be able to defend themselves in these situations. So what the bill says is once these gentlemen have got the proffered training through the law enforcement training standards, they have no black marks against them, they’re not under the influence of any substances, that they can carry a weapon into these circumstances to be able to defend themselves. And a lot of times, they go into these rural areas. And it may be just the one bomb technician and one deputy. And if something happens to that deputy, the bomb technician is not able to defend himself or that wounded deputy.

The other thing this bill does is it gives a very narrow defined arrest authority. So if they do run into a perpetrator in these buildings or in these circumstances, they can arrest and detain them. Now, there were some questions in committee yesterday that raised some concern about bomb squad technicians having arrest ability. So yesterday, after the committee meeting, I talked with Faulkner County Sheriff Ryals and the president of the Arkansas Sheriff’s Association, and we visited about this bill. The arrest authority was the one concern that committee members had, and it was also the one concern that the Sheriff’s Association had. The reason why that part is in there is not because the bomb squad technicians want to go around and act like police officers. The reason why it’s in there is because God forbid there were another Oklahoma City bombing, in order for the US Marshal Service to be able to deputize our bomb technicians to be able to go to adjoining states to assist in these emergency situations, our technicians have to have some sort of arrest authority.

So assuming this passes here, when it goes down to the Senate and there will be an amendment made to this bill, the first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to better define the training that the technicians have to have. Everybody’s in agreement over what that training is supposed to be. We’re just going to tighten that language up a little bit in the bill. And then the bomb squad technicians, the other federal agencies that are involved in this, and the sheriffs, we’re going to continue to talk so we can work through that arrest. If we can come to some sort of happy ground, we will amend the bill that way. If we cannot, then we’re just going to remove that arrest authority altogether, because ultimately what this bill is about is about our guys being able to protect themselves, the property, and our families. And so with that, I will entertain any questions that you have.


Speaker Shepherd: Representative Clowney, for what purpose? You are recognized for a question.


Rep Clowney: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Thank you, Representative Meeks, for clarifying the Sheriff’s Association’s concerns. I had heard some various things. I guess my question is if we don’t exactly know, and I certainly take you at your word that it will be amended, but if we don’t actually know what those amendments will look like, why are we voting on this right now rather than just kind of working it out on the House side before we send it over to them?


Rep Meeks: So it’s already passed the committee, and I want to go ahead and get it through the House and get it moving and get it down to the Senate. And then, as you know, and this is standard procedure for all the freshmen here, it’s not unusual for us to do this, send it down and we’ll amend it in the Senate side. Once that amendment has taken place, it’ll have to come back down here for everybody to agree on. So it’s not like I’m going to send it down there, you’re going to take my word for it, and we’re never going to see it again. We will see it back down here once it’s been corrected.


Speaker Shepherd: Representative Duffield, for what purpose? You are recognized for a question.


Rep Duffield: With Arkansas being considered a constitutional carry state, why is it necessary to grant the permits for the gentlemen to carry when we have been recognized as an open carry state constitutionally?


Rep Meeks: I had that same question. So for a couple of reasons. One is the open constitutional carry is in flux. It’s not really clear in law. I remember when that happened. And we’re kind of at a point where trying to get that clarified, there’s just never been a way to get that done one way or the other. And so open carry has always been an interpretation about who the current governor, who the current attorney general is, and so forth. I agree we are an open carry state, so that’s why I had that similar question. The other thing is there are certain places, even though we have open carry, that you still can not carry a weapon. So you can not go into a school ground. You can not go into governmental buildings unless you have the enhanced carry. So this allows them, if God forbid the threat was at a local school, they could carry into a school. Without this, they would not be able to do that. That helps clean that up a little bit. I appreciate your question.


Speaker Shepherd: Representative Richmond, for what purpose?


Rep Richmond: I don’t know. I might step out of the well based upon the last– okay, I’m sorry. Go ahead. Question.


Speaker Shepherd: You’re recognized for a question.


Rep Richmond: And, Stephen, I apologize. You just said a word while ago that just triggered this thought. Otherwise, I would have spoken to you beforehand. But when you talked about federal people accompanying them, my concern is that, will this– and you may not have an answer, and that’s fine. But is this a possibility that this may be a way that the federal government can circumvent the authority of sheriffs in their counties on some of these issues? There’s people that do a lot of loading and stuff like that, and they have literally a lot of gunpowder and other things that may cause some questions. So I’m concerned about that. Could you address that, please?


Rep Meeks: Yes. So to answer your question, no, this doesn’t allow for the usurp of state authority. A lot of times, as you just mentioned, in these circumstances, the fed and state are involved in it. And the only reason for this to take place: as you know, our guys don’t have the authority to act in their capacity, say, in Oklahoma or Texas or Louisiana. The only way they would have that authority is to be deputized through the federal government. So the federal government is the only one who has the nationwide authority. So this is just to allow us to help our neighboring states and not to– I would have that same concern. We don’t want them overriding our local sheriffs by any means.


Speaker Shepherd: Representative Ladyman, for what purpose?


Rep Ladyman: Question.


Speaker Shepherd: You’re recognized.


Rep Ladyman: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Representative Meeks, how many bomb squads do we have in Arkansas, where are they located, and how many people would this affect?


Rep Meeks: Actually, I’m glad you asked that. And I’m sorry. I meant to mention that in my remarks. So there are currently three bomb squads located here in Arkansas. They are Fort Smith, Conway, and Little Rock. And so we’re talking about a total of about 20 individuals overall. So it’s not a large group of Arkansans, but definitely some of our bravest.


Speaker Shepherd: Representative Beaty, for what purpose?


Rep Beaty: Question.


Speaker Shepherd: Recognized for a question.


Rep Beaty: Representative Meeks, I think everyone in this chamber is passionate about law enforcement and our firefighters and the service they do for the state. My question is, with all of the unknowns and the areas that you have to address, personally, I’d love to vote for this bill, but there are a lot of unknowns out there.


Rep Meeks: So define–


Rep Beaty: Would you consider pulling this bill down and bringing it back when you have answers to all those questions in final detail?


Rep Meeks: So let me clarify that the only unknown that we have is on the arrest authority, so. And on the arrest authority, we’re either going to tighten it up or get rid of it. So in my mind, that’s not a huge unknown. So right now, the way the bill is written, the only time they would have arrest authority is if a bomb is involved. They don’t have arrest authority if you’re speeding, if you’re shoplifting, only in the circumstances where we’re talking about an explosive device. And so the only amendment we’re going to make on that is that we’re either going to get rid of it or we’re going to tighten it up a little bit.


Rep Beaty: This is typically how we do these things, and it happens quite often. It’s early in the session. And I, again, would respectfully ask that you pull this down, clean up the bill, and bring it back.


Rep Meeks: Well, at this point, I want to try to, like I said, move forward with it, and then we’ll get it taken care of down on the Senate end. So, now, I’ll step aside and see if there’s any for and against.


Speaker Shepherd: Represent Meeks has explained the bill. Would anyone like to speak against the bill? Would anyone like to speak for the bill? Representative Meeks, you’re recognized to close for the bill.


Rep Meeks: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. So, colleagues, the whole purpose of this bill is for our guys to be able to defend themselves. And I’m going to personalize this a little bit. Normally, I would say, if we don’t do this, then one of these guys can end up losing their lives. I’m not going to say we. I’m going to say, if we don’t do this today, it’s your fault and my fault if one of these guys loses their life because they’re not able to defend themselves. And so what I’m going to ask you to do is let’s start off this session by showing our support for these superheroes, send this bill out of here down to the Senate, and allow these guys to be able to, not only take care of themselves, but to take care of our fellow citizens here in the state. And with that, I would appreciate a good vote.


Speaker Shepherd: Representative Meeks has closed for the bill. The question before the House is the passage of House Bill 1018. Prepare the machine, Madam Clerk. Has everyone voted? Has everyone voted? Cast up the ballot, Madam Clerk. With 71 yeas, 9 nays, 10 present, the bill is passed. Members, we’re going to move to our yellow budget calendar. Representative Jean, you recognize to present the budget bills.


Rep Jean: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Colleagues, we have four appropriations today: House Bill 1052, Soybean Promotion Board; House Bill 1056, the Corn and Sorghum Promotion Board; House Bill 1057, the Rice Promotion Board; and House Bill 1058, the Wheat Promotion Board. These are all cash items, fees taken out of the industry that are taxed on the industry, no general revenue, no increases. Any questions? Your one vote is for each of the bills. And by the way, do I need to take any of these out of the batch for any reason? We’re batching them. Seeing none, your one vote is for the bills and emergency clause. Mr. Speaker, have the clerk read the bill for the third time.


Speaker Shepherd: Madam Clerk, please read the bills for the third time.


Clerk: House Bill 1052, House Bill 1056, House Bill 1057, House Bill 1058.


Speaker Shepherd: Prepare the machine, Madam Clerk. We’re voting on the bills and the emergency clauses. Has everyone voted? Has everyone voted? Cast up the ballot, Madam Clerk. With 95 yeas, one nay, and 0 present, the bills and emergency clauses are passed. Representative Meeks, for what purpose? Let’s hear your motion.


Rep Meeks: After the announcements, reading of the bills, transferring of the bills, placing the calendars on the desk, members amending their own bills with their own amendments, members withdrawing their own bills, finalizing resolutions, reading communications, and any remaining committee reports. I move we adjourn until 11 o’clock tomorrow morning.


Speaker Shepherd: That’s a proper motion. It’s not debatable. All in favor say aye. Any opposed? The motion passes. Members, before we go to announcements– you’ve just heard we’ll convene tomorrow at 11:00 AM– for some of your committees, some committees may meet at 10:00, some committees may come in at 9 o’clock, and then I think there’s a budget subcommittee at 8:00. So listen to these announcements, continue to pay attention to your emails and to the website as well. All right, any announcements? Representative Miller.


Rep Miller: Yes, sir. Thank you.


Speaker Shepherd: You’re recognized.


Rep Miller: Thank you. Public Health is going to meet in the morning before session at 9:00 or 10:00. We’ll let you know. Probably 9:00.


Speaker Shepherd: Probably 9:00. All right. Representative Eaves, for what purpose?


Rep Eaves: Announcement. Revenue and Tax will meet tomorrow morning, room 151, at 10:00 AM.


Speaker Shepherd: Representative Wooten, for what purpose?


Rep Wooten: Announcement.


Speaker Shepherd: You’re recognized.


Rep Wooten: Personnel committee meeting at 8 o’clock in Big Mac 8 in the morning.


Speaker Shepherd: Representative Stan Berry, for what purpose?


Rep S Berry: Announcement.


Speaker Shepherd: You’re recognized.


Rep S Berry: Judiciary meets Thursday, which is in the morning, the 19th, at 9:00 AM in room 149.


Speaker Shepherd: Representative Holcomb, for what purpose? You’re recognized.


Rep Holcomb: Transportation will meet in the morning at 9:00 AM in Mac B. Also, remember we’re going to take a photograph in the morning at 9 o’clock at Mac B, so everyone try to be there. Thank you.


Speaker Shepherd: Representative Warren, for what purpose?


Rep Warren: Announcement.


Speaker Shepherd: You’re recognized.


Rep Warren: Just a reminder to the membership: all retirement bills have to be filed by next Friday.


Speaker Shepherd: Representative Evans, for what purpose?


Rep Evans: Announcement.


Speaker Shepherd: You’re recognized.


Rep Evans: House Education meets tomorrow morning, 10:00 AM, room 138.


Speaker Shepherd: Any other announcements? Hearing none, the desk will remain open as needed for the reading of the bills, and upon completion of the items named and the adjourned resolution, the House will be adjourned until 11 AM tomorrow.