House City County Local
Feb. 1, 2023
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- HB 1258: Allows the use of sky lanterns (passed)
- SB 43 Defining and restricting adult performances (passed)
- McAlindon: Who determines ‘prurient’?
- Cavenaugh: Male beauty pageants for charity
- Cavenaugh: Parental rights
- McCullough: How will it be enforced?
- Collins: Definitions and conjunctions
- Hudson: This is already in code
- Ray: Is this just standard regulation of adult performances?
- Collins: Has the AG approved this?
- McCullough: Where is this happening?
- Hudson: Why don’t we leave it up to parents?
- Dalby: Does this impact private performances?
- Public testimony against SB 43
- Public testimony for SB 43
- HB 1175: Cleaning up issue with police and fire policies (passed)
- HB 1196: Work requirements for public housing (passed)
- HB 1318 Allows local government to consider lifetime project costs with bids (passed)
Rep L Fite: We now call this meeting to order. The chair sees a quorum. If anyone wishes to speak for or against the bill on today’s agenda, I ask you to sign up here on my right on the sign up sheet. Representative Lundstrum has a bill that she says is very quick, so we are going to let her present this first. If you would identify yourself and proceed. The bill number is House Bill 1258.
HB 1258: Allows the use of sky lanterns
Representative Lundstrum: Thank you Chairman. This is a bill to allow Arkansas to remove an old law and to encourage, if they so choose, to have sky lanterns. And what sky lanterns are, I have sent this around to some of you, and I am sure you have seen this. It is basically a– it’s no longer flammable and is eco-friendly, biodegradable. They go up, they come down. They are cool to the touch. And with that, I would answer any questions.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Do we have any questions? Yes. Representative McAlindon, yes. You are recognized.
Rep McAlindon: Motion to do pass when appropriate. Did you hear me? Motion do pass when appropriate.
Rep L Fite: Oh, at the proper time? Okay. Representative Ray, did you have a question?
Representative Ray: I was just going to say motion at the proper time.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Well, it sounds like it is the proper time. Representative McAlindon, you are recognized for your motion.
Rep McAlindon: Motion do pass.
Rep L Fite: Okay we have a motion do pass. Any discussion on the motion? Okay seeing none, all in favor say aye. Those opposed say no. You were correct.
Representative Lundstrum: Thank you Chairman. Thank you for your time.
Rep L Fite: You did pass your bill.
Rep Lundstrum: Thank you.
SB 43 Defining and restricting adult performances
Rep L Fite: Okay. Up next we have Senate Bill 43. Rep Bentley, would you come to the table and present your bill?
Rep Bentley: Thank you, Chairman and colleagues. We have an amendment if that is okay. I would like folks to see the amendment first and we will get that passed first. Thank you.
Rep L Fite: Okay. You ready to present your amendment then?
Rep Bentley: I am. Colleagues, this amendment to SB43 just further clarifies the language of what we are trying to do with this bill. We are trying to stop explicit material in front of our children. We are not trying to stop plays or lip syncing and those kind of things. And I am sure you as well as I have received so many emails from schools saying that is our number one fundraiser. We don’t want to stop that, so this bill does not stop lip syncing or someone that is dressing up in the opposite sex. It is specifically trying to protect our children from explicit sexual material. So that is really what the amendment does. And so with that, I would appreciate a good vote on the amendment to SB43.
Rep L Fite: Representative McAlindon.
McAlindon: Who determines ‘prurient’?
Rep McAlindon: Thank you, Chairman. I represent Bentonville and Bella Vista, and my constituents did have some questions about the bill and how it impacts the LGB community. Clearly, we all want to protect kids, and I think we agree they shouldn’t be exposed to adult materials, but we don’t want to target or isolate the members of that community. So who is making the judgment on what is prurient? Because pretty much anything can be sexualized, and so can you clarify who is making that judgment and how that will be taken care of?
Rep Bentley: It is a well established legal term that has been established by judges. So the judges are making that term. I would like to just focus on the amendment at this point, so that just further clarifies what we are trying to do, so if you will look at the amendment and take a minute to look at it. If anybody has questions on the amendment, I will be happy to take that. Again, we are not trying to isolate anyone. We are trying to protect our children and its not anti-anybody, again, keeping sexual explicit material away from our kids.
Rep McAlindon: Okay. Can I ask a follow-up?
Rep L Fite: Yes, you are recognized.
Rep McAlindon: Thank you. Can you also just address the issue of Hooter’s or Twin Peaks and taking kids there? Is that something that will fall under your bill?
Rep Bentley: So that is already covered in other statutes. This is specifically going against outdoor entertainment are those things we are looking at. So it is already covered in other statutes and if somebody wants to run another bill, they are happy to do that. But this is covering this one specific area.
Rep McAlindon: Thank you.
Rep Bentley: Thank you.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Representative Cavenaugh, you are recognized.
Rep Cavenaugh: Yes, sir, I will make a motion to accept the amendment.
Rep L Fite: Okay. We have a motion to accept the amendment. Any discussion? Representative Rye, you have discussion on the motion? Please turn your light on.
Rep Rye: Yes sir, I will second that motion.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Any other discussions? Seeing none, all in favor of the amendment say aye. Those opposed say no. Okay. Your amendment passes. You may present your bill as amended.
Rep Bentley: Thank you, Chairman. I appreciate you. In my recent primary elections, I knocked on thousands of doors in my district. I repeatedly heard this word over and over to me: What is going on with our kids? Why can we not stop the sexual grooming of our children? We used to protect our kids, we used to protect innocence, why are we not doing that? Surely there is something that you can do to help protect our children? So that is where this bill came from, to protect our children and to stop us being pushed back from a woke agenda and trying to attack our kids.
The children in our state are struggling. I think if you visit with any of your superintendents or your teachers, they are going to tell you our kids are struggling. We have a record number of students on prescription anti-depressants, a number of students that are addicted to drugs, children that are committing suicide at the highest rate ever. The rate of youths struggling with gender identify has sky rocketed and we will continue to see an increase in child molestation and children trapped in sex trafficking. We used to cherish the innocence of our kids and do everything we could to protect them. We went above and beyond to protect the innocence of our children, but somehow we have forgotten that and have left that behind. How is it possibly okay for children to be present where a prosthetic penis is used as a microphone or where drag queens chant cheers to the one who licked us where we pee. Those are things that are going on right in Texas right below us and those are videos that have been sent to me from my constituents who are just appalled at what is going on in front of our kids. How can we allow children right here in Little Rock to have emergency contraceptives tossed in their direction while they are at a Gay Pride parade? Emergency contraceptive with a Children’s Hospital sticker attached to it.
We have got to say enough is enough. We are going to protect our kids and that is exactly what this bill does. I have worked very hard with the Attorney General’s office, with the Governor’s office, with the Alliance Defending Freedom to get a bill that will be passable in court, with the language to be approved in court. And so that is what this bill does. If you look and read there on the amendment, read 26 there about adult oriented performance. It says the performance that is intended to appeal to the prurient interest and it features a person who appears in the state of nudity or semi-nude. The purposeful exposure with a complete or partial of a specific anatomical area or prosthetic genital or breast, or specific sexual activity. We are just trying to keep minors away from sexually explicit material. We are not trying to be anti-anybody, anti-trans, anti-anything. We are just trying to protect our kids. This is the purpose of the bill. That’s what our constituents– I known mine vastly want us to just protect our kids and protect their innocence.
Again, we have been doing this for years. We have kept kids out of strip clubs. We have kept kids out of bars and we kept them from getting tattoos. We are just adding another area that we want to protect our kids from. Adults can do what adults want to do when it’s adults present and children are not there. That is simply what the bill does. It is not anti-anybody. Again, we have been doing this for decades. We are just trying to protect our kids and are not trying to stop the plays and are not trying to stop Peter Pan or Tootsie or any of those things. It is not what we are trying to do with the bill. We are just simply wanting to protect our kids. And with that, I will be happy to take any questions from the committee.
Rep L Fite: Representative Cavenaugh you are recognized.
Cavenaugh: Male beauty pageants for charity
Rep Cavenaugh: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I just want to clarify you had just said that this in no way will affect theater, no musicals, no plays that anyone is having. What about the high schools, these things called Male Beauty Pageants where they dress up to raise money for whatever their charity might be. Is that going to affect this?
Rep Bentley: Not in any way whatsoever.
Rep Cavenaugh: Follow up, Mr. Chair?
Rep L Fite: Yes, follow up.
Cavenaugh: Parental rights
Rep Cavenaugh: If a parent still chooses to take a child to the drag performance, are they still allowed to do so?
Rep Bentley: Not if they are doing what we’re listed here and this performance. If there is nudity– so it depends on what they are doing. There are things that are appropriate for children just like we rate movies. We have G-rated movies, we have X-rated movies. So there are things that may happen that they will have to be aware of what is going on in that performance. If there is a type of nudity or sexual activity like in this definition, then, no, it is not appropriate for them to take their child to that.
Rep Cavenaugh: I didn’t ask if it was appropriate, I asked were they going to be allowed if a parent made the decision that they wanted to take their child to one of these performances?
Rep Bentley: No. These performances, minors will not be allowed in these performances under this definition that we have here.
Rep Cavenaugh: Okay. Thank you.
Rep Bentley: Sorry. Thank you for the clarification.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Representative McCullough, you are recognized.
McCullough: How will it be enforced?
Rep McCullough: Thank you Mr. Chair. Representative Bentley, how will this be enforced?
Rep Bentley: Just like we enforce every other law when someone can’t get into a strip club or an x-rated movie. We enforce that now. We don’t allow youths into a bar where there is alcohol and we don’t allow them into a strip club, so it will be enforced the exact same way it has been enforced there.
Rep McCullough: Follow up, Mr. Chair?
Rep L Fite: Yes. Follow up.
Rep McCollough: Thank you. I would say I am probably sitting up here and have been more to drag shows than anyone up here. They have always been in clubs and places where you couldn’t get in unless you were of legal age to do that. I have also participated in Pride Parades and different things like that and I have also talked to my constituents and I have heard nothing, nothing about any of this. I have seen none of this happening across this state. So, I am still trying to understand why the words attack, and I mean I do believe that is what’s happening, it is attacking this very small group of people. Can you explain that to me?
Rep Bentley: I represent a different part of the state than you do and my part is very conservative and I am doing exactly what my constituents have asked me to do. It’s not affecting anything that goes under club where minors aren’t present. This has absolutely no effect on that whatsoever.
Rep L Fite: Representative McCullough, are you through?
Rep McCullough: Yes, sir.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Representative Collins, you are recognized.
Collins: Definitions and conjunctions
Rep Collins: Thank you, Mr. Chair. So I am looking at the new language here in 26 post-amendment and I want to ask you about this 26A. First of all, what is semi-nude? I don’t think it is defined here so I would like your definition of what that even means. And second, the way that this is not separated– this A and B is not separated with a conjunction, an “and” or an “or,” I would read that to be, in the absence of a conjunction, an “or.” So, is the intent to say that an adult oriented performance could be either someone who appears in a state of nudity or is semi-nude or the stuff in B or the stuff in C?
Rep Bentley: Yes, sir.
Rep Collins: Okay. So any of those things independently would be considered adult oriented performance? And then I am also am curious about the semi-nude, please?
Rep Bentley: Yes sir. And that would be determined by a judge, not by me and not by you. The judge is there to enforce the law.
Rep Collins: Follow up, please? Is there an intent of what semi-nude means? I mean is there a common prominence of what semi-nude means to you?
Rep Bentley: Numerous videos that I have seen. Again, it is not for me to determine or for you to determine. It would be a for a judge to determine and for common sense. We are trying to bring common sense back to what should be in front of our kids. I don’t know why we are intent on bringing sexual explicit material in front of our children. We are just trying to stop that.
Rep Collins: I do think that the words in our bills are what we determine, but thank you.
Rep L Fite: Thank you. Representative Hudson, you are recognized.
Hudson: This is already in code
Rep Hudson: Thank you Mr. Chair. Representative Bentley, why do we need this additional language. I am looking at 14-13-02 and this appears to be ground that has already been tread, so why is it necessary to add another definition that is essentially more or less what is already included in that part of the code?
Rep Bentley: I think it is necessary. I think we have not drawn the line enough and I think we have seen this being pushed a little bit out in front and open. So it is exactly what we tried to do with our other bill. We are trying to keep sexually explicit material away from our children in public. I think that the public area, as you see further in the bill, is an area that we are really trying to make sure that minors are not present when things are done, when nudity or semi-nudity or those things. We are trying to protect children and that’s really what the bill is about. My constituents feel that we are currently not covered with what we are doing.
Rep Hudson: Follow up?
Rep L Fite: Yes. You are recognized.
Rep Hudson: Okay, so going back to what Representative Collins was saying with regard to some of the definitions which are pretty vague, I can appreciate that you say that a court is supposed to figure this out, although we are already dealing with significant backlogs in the court and I don’t know that the judges will be thrilled before having them try to define words that we didn’t. I am thinking in terms of concerts that come through, Miley Cyrus in a short skirt, Madonna with the cones on her boobs, are those semi-nude? Are we going to quit allowing major pop artists to come through?
Rep Bentley: That is not the purpose of the bill. The purpose of the bill is to keep sexually explicit material away from our kids and use of common sense when we are taking care of our kids.
Rep Hudson: But would you agree with me that without an explicit definition, it is likely that people will be confused by the intent of the bill?
Rep Bentley: This language is brought to me by lawyers that feel very well it to be protected, so I am going to go with the lawyers that I have worked with to make this bill the best it can be.
Rep Hudson: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Rep L Fite: Representative Ray, you are recognized.
Ray: Is this just standard regulation of adult performances?
Rep Ray: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Representative Bentley, as I read through the many emails that I have received on this bill, one of the common themes that keeps coming up is people say “don’t criminalize this behavior.” But as I read the bill, it seems to me like you are just regulating these types of performances in the same way any other adult oriented performance would be regulated. Am I missing something or is that correct?
Rep Bentley: No, you’re exactly right. We are not trying to ban anything at all. We are trying to let adults do what adults do in adult presence and keep children protected.
Rep L Fite: Representative Collins, you are recognized.
Collins: Has the AG approved this?
Rep Collins: Thank you Mr. Chair. Representative, as you know the Attorney General has made themselves available to help members with questions about constitutionality of bills. Have you spoken with anyone at the Attorney General’s office about the constitutionality of this bill as it is presented to us?
Rep Bentley: The amendment came from his office and me working with his office, and it all came from constitutional lawyers.
Rep Collins: He believes that this is constitutionally sound?
Rep Bentley: Yes, he does.
Rep Collins: Okay. Thank you.
Rep Bentley: As does the Governor’s office. I have been working with them to do the amendment so to make sure that it is constitutionally sound. I don’t want to pass a bill just to pass a bill for theater. I am wanting to protect children so that I want to make sure that it will hold up in court as best as we possibly can.
Rep L Fite: Representative McCullough, you are recognized.
Rep McCullough: Thank you Mr. Chair. There has been a long history of drag queens as performance art, and I know Representative Bentley, you have talked a lot about common sense and everything. In the past, have constituents and parents and people just not cared about their children in the past since this has never come up before?
Rep Bentley: It is a point that it is coming out into the public and public arenas where children are present. More and more are seeing drag friendly shows that my constituents don’t feel are children friendly at all. These things are sexually explicit material saying that it, just the examples I gave before, about a drag performer using a prosthetic penis and using it as microphone in front of children, they think its horrible but that’s what been going on around our country and in Texas and close by. So those are the things that my constituents want to protect us from.
Rep McCullough: Follow up, Mr. Chair?
Rep L Fite: You are recognized.
McCullough: Where is this happening?
Rep McCullough: Can you tell me specific incidences in Arkansas where those things have happened?
Rep Bentley: One thing I gave to you was about the emergency contraceptives being thrown out where children were present in a drag parade with the Children’s Hospital sticker on there. That is not things that we do with our kids, throwing out emergency contraceptives. I don’t have specific videos here in Arkansas, but again we pass bills all the time proactively to protect our kids. I don’t want to wait until it’s here to have parents livid with what’s going on with their kids here in Arkansas. Let’s protect them beforehand. It’s going on all across the country. Texas is just 2 hours away. I don’t want to wait until its here, I want to protect them beforehand to make sure our kids are safe. And that’s what my constituents have asked me to do, and that is exactly what we are trying to do today with this bill.
Rep McCullough: So, no specific incident in Arkansas?
Rep Bentley: Not that I am aware of, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. I know the other folks have seen things that I don’t have on video. I have people that have contacted me from Mt. Home and said, For heaven’s sake, we moved to Arkansas away from Oregon to be here in Arkansas where things are fresh and clean and wholesome for our kids to be around. They were very disturbed at things they saw at a pride parade there. So again, I don’t have videos of it all but there are things going on that’s why my constituents, again, when I was in the primary going door-to-door visiting with folks with what they were concerned about, and they were very concerned about what was happening to our kids. This is not the end all to what’s going on with our kids. I am not trying to say that, but this is just one step in a number of things– I know other members of this body are doing other things to protect our kids from pornography and different things, and that’s all that we are trying to do with this bill.
Rep McCullough: One more follow up, Mr. Chair?
Rep L Fite: Yes, go ahead.
Representative McCollough: Do you believe, Representative Bentley, that there can be a drag performance that is appropriate?
Rep Bentley: Yes, I do.
Rep L Fite: Are you through, Representative?
Rep McCullough: Yes, thank you.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Representative McAlindon, you are recognized.
Rep McAlindon: Thank you, chairman. I am just following on Representative Ray’s point. I just want to clarify that this bill is simply equating adult drag shows to other adult entertainment. It is not drawing it out as a separate class or category. It is just saying, included with x-rated shows and strip clubs, we are going to add the adult oriented drag shows as well. Is that correct?
Rep Bentley: Correct.
Rep McAlindon: Thank you.
Rep L Fite: Representative Richardson, you are recognized.
Rep Richardson: I will have a motion at the appropriate time.
Rep L Fite: Representative Hudson, you are recognized.
Hudson: Why don’t we leave it up to parents?
Rep Hudson: Thank you Mr. Chair. So, whenever we start talking about artistic expression, I worry a great deal about government interference on a 1st Amendment basis. Assuming that we look at this, or there’s an argument that there is artistic value to these performances and we are regulating them, why isn’t the narrowest way that the government can regulate this type of artistic expression to simply recommend to our constituents that they don’t take their children to events that they don’t think that they ought to see? My concern is that when we talk about regulating these type of performances in the way that you’re proposing that we create a first amendment issue.
Rep Bentley: Do you have a specific question? I didn’t hear a question in that. I’m sorry.
Rep Hudson: Yes. Why isn’t the solution to simply not take your kids if you’re worried about exposing them to these types of performances?
Rep Bentley: Because these performances are being done in public where people are not specifically taking their kids. So how does a parent protect their kids if they are walking by and had no idea that was going on and it is out in the open for people to see? So that is the whole point of it is that it used to be where it was in a club and not open in the public for children to see. Now it is in open areas where people aren’t specifically taking their children, but they are seeing it anyway. That is the whole purpose of the bill, and, again, I am not a lawyer. I have been visiting constitutional lawyers to make this as sound and as narrow as we can. I am not trying to be anti-anybody, anti-trans, anti-anything. We are trying to protect our children. This is specifically what the bill is about.
Rep Hudson: Follow up, Mr. Chair.
Rep L Fite: Yes, you are recognized.
Rep Hudson: So kind of to follow up on Representative McCullough’s question, have there been instances where people were literally walking by a performance in Arkansas or near by and a drag performance or an obscene performance is happening on the side of the street?
Rep Bentley: I can tell you again the folks that called me that moved here from Oregon that wanted to get their kids into a place where it is safe were very offended by the things they saw at the drag parade openly in Batesville going down the street. Again, where the children were receiving emergency contraceptives with a Children’s Hospital sticker tossed at them at the Pride Parade here in Little Rock. I don’t have specific things. Again, things are going on right here in Texas and all around the nation. My constituents just want to stop it here before it gets any further. That’s the whole purpose of the bill and put some guard rails up to protect our kids.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Representative Collins, did you have a question?
Rep Collins: Yes sir.
Rep L Fite: Would you please mash your button?
Rep Collins: I think it’s on.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Alright.
Rep Collins: Thank you, Mr. Chair. You know we have spoken a few times about the differences between your district and your area and maybe some other representatives’ districts and areas. You know I represent a district where we really do value diversity and expression and freedom in certain ways that maybe is different it sounds like from where you are representing. I am curious. Do you believe that something like this would be preempted and permissible to do at the local level? Do you think that it is not allowed to do that, to ban the type of things that you are trying to ban here at the local level?
Rep Bentley: I think that we need to expand it to state policy and that is exactly why I am here today.
Representative Collins: Thank you.
Rep L Fite: Representative Dallby.
Dalby: Does this impact private performances?
Rep Dalby: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I apologize, Representative Bentley, I was a little late getting in here. As I told you the other day, I had to go run a bill, so I may have missed your opening comments and I apologize if you are having to repeat. My question really deals with Section 2 on Page 2, where it talks about “an adult oriented performance shall not take place on public property, admit any minor for attendance, or be funded whole or apart by public funds.” So my question is, will this bill also take care of what if there is a private performance? Somebody had something on– I don’t know, I have never been to a drag queen performance and don’t know much about it– but let’s say if somebody had something in their home or it wasn’t a business, but it was a private party or private performance, is that going to be prohibited by this bill? I am just curious as to that. I apologize if you have already addressed any of that.
Rep Bentley: No, that is fine. In my visit with the AG’s office, we believe so. In the first part of that under section 26 on Page 1. So, under that statute they believe no minors will be allowed into where those performances are taking place.
Rep Dalby: Okay. Thank you very much.
Rep Bentley: Again, I am not a lawyer. I am just going with what I am being told by those that are.
Rep L Fite: Okay. I am seeing no more questions. At this time, we will open it up to the public. We have several signed up today to speak. So those speaking against the bill, the first one I have is Sarah Everett. Excuse me.
Representative: I make a motion that we limit 15 minutes to each side for testimony.
Rep L Fite: That is a proper motion and non-debatable. All in favor say aye. Those opposed say no. The ayes have it. Yes, Sarah would you please come forward. Please identify yourself and who you represent for the record please. You may proceed after that.
Public testimony against SB 43
Everett (ACLU): My name is Sarah Everett. I am the Policy Director for the ACLU of Arkansas and I am going to try to talk quickly because we are once again not making it possible to hear from our constituents on those issues. Laws are meant to be instructive and their meaning clear to the average citizen. This amendment does nothing to clarify the law or its enforceability. This bill would require current businesses that don’t allow minors into their drag performances to move their businesses in order to be able to have those performances. I think it’s important to point out that an adult oriented business cannot be located within a 1,000 feet of any public park, any recreational area, any walking trail, any residence, any church, any playground, and there is nothing in this bill that I can see that would limit the definition of drag performances to exclude private homes, for example.
Every other adult oriented business listed here is specifically a business, a venue, a shop. There is nothing in this definition of drag performance that limits it to a business like that. A law violates the constitution when an average citizen cannot determine who is regulated or what conduct is prohibited. The absurdity of this bill is that even people making the law can’t tell us when it applies. The Senators who voted for this bill couldn’t even agree on what it meant. It is not enough to say that it is not the purpose of the bill or that the courts will sort it out. Your constituents expect you to pass bills that comply with the constitution, not put our rights in jeopardy, not use our tax dollars to discover that what we have told you is true. It is unconstitutional, but that is the goal ultimately of this bill, to curb the free speech and expression of the LBGTQ community and their allies. Fear is running this legislature and has been for a long time and it’s time to stop. Thank you.
Rep L Fite: Thank you. Okay. Also speaking against it is Ms. Sinclair. Please identify yourself for the record and who you represent, and you may proceed.
Sinclair: My name is Athena Sinclair, also known as MD Hunter, and I am just representing myself and other drag venues in the state of Arkansas. I am actually the drag queen that spoke against this bill when it was in the Senate committee. I am just really disappointed by this bill. She said that they aren’t trying to stop theaters from having drag and performances and things like that; however, that is what drag actually is. This bill is just saying a hatred hateful rhetoric of what drag actually is because these people do not understand what we do.
What we do is not sexual. When I dress up in drag, I am doing it because it is simply art. I started to go to school at ASU Beebe and went to a performance of the Rocky Horror Picture Show and decided that I loved what they were doing and that they were expressing themselves in anyway that they felt like they needed to be to be their authentic self and that’s why I started doing drag. She also said that this wasn’t going to affect our current venues, and I can tell you right now every single one of our current venues that does drag, which is less than about 6, is terrified of this bill because it will affect them. They will have to move their venues or stop having drag. And this bill is just disgusting because this is a huge part of our entertainment industry and our LGBT community. I can tell you there is 100% no drag shows in Representative Bentley’s district, so I don’t see why any of her constituents would be worried about this because it’s not happening in her district. I feel like this bill is just happening because she said that it is happening in Texas. None of these things are happening in Texas in public areas where kids can see it. These are all places where adults are already at. So there is no drag queen that is going to be sexualizing any child or wanting to be sexual around a child because we are just trying to represent those children who are different from yourselves, those children who grow up already being bulled, already disappointing their parents because they don’t understand what being gay is, or being what the LGBT community is.
That’s what drag does for these kids. It lets them know that there are people out there like them. There is people out there that want to represent them and that they can say “oh, okay there’s nothing wrong with me.” Because Representative Bentley and Stubblefield actually call transpeople and drag entertainers an “abomination,” so I can’t say that she is saying that this is not attacking a particular community when she specifically said that it was. And that’s all I have to say. Thank you.
Rep L Fite: Excuse me, would you be willing to take a question?
Sinclair: Yes, absolutely.
Rep L Fite: Representative Ray, you are recognized.
Rep Ray: Thank you Mr. Chair. And thank you for your testimony. I understand we live in a pluralistic society and people have different lifestyles and mine may be different from yours, and yours may be different from mine and that’s part of America. I guess my question is, specifically with regard to these types of performances, why is it so necessary that they take place in front of children?
Sinclair: It is not necessary. If you saw the testimony when I was here for Senate, I was completely dressed in a gown that you could barely see any of my skin. All you could see was my face. So when people usually perform in front of children, they are dressed extremely appropriate and it is only happening so that those kids can come and see somebody that is like them. There is nobody out there that is going to bring their kids out there just because, “Oh, I just want to go to a drag show so I’m going to bring my kid.” Usually, they bring their kids because their kids are different. Their kids are unique, and their kids are not seeing representation of themselves anywhere else in their community. So that’s why they bring them to a drag show so that they can see that there is people like them out there.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Seeing no more questions, we appreciate your testimony.
Sinclair: Thank you.
Rep L Fite: Also speaking against it is Judson Scanlon. Close? Okay. Please identify yourself for the record and you may proceed.
Scanlon: Thank you very much. Good morning, Mr. Chair. My name is Judson Scanlon and before I begin, I would actually like to give a chance to the parents who are in the room. I know there are some young children here and I am about to use some language and some scientific terms that they may find questionable. So, if you want to, I just want to give you the option. Just a couple of minutes please? Thank you. Mr. Chair?
Rep L Fite: Okay. May I tell you also there is 8 minutes left right now.
Scanlon: I understand. I am not going to take very long at this. I am going to be very clear about some very scientific things that happen. I am transgender. That means that my internal self does not identify with my external self. At times, in order for me to feel comfortable, I actually take steps to match the internal and the external. When I choose to do that, and when I feel like that is necessary for my own well being, there are times that I choose to use an element that I purchase and this element is used in order to help me be real with myself. Now wearing a false penis is actually something that has been done for years and it is actually a medical necessity in order to transition. People don’t understand that.
So this question that I have is this. If I am actually in public doing what we refer to as “packing” in the community, does that make me susceptible to arrest? If I hug my partner and a young child sees me, because according to the language in this bill, an arbitrarily decision can be made outside of my knowledge in order to make me a criminal for simply taking that action. Just like you to be aware of this. This bill chooses to go to arbitrary as opposed to defined and we have fought for years in the gay and lesbian community. Until 1970, the way I appear in front of you would have been illegal in many locations across this country. The Stonewall riots were created because people fought back against being arrested for wearing articles of clothing associated with the opposite gender. That’s what this bill is about. We are proud. Our pride parades allow us to exhibit that pride. We are humans who actually feel joy and we want others to understand that. You do not have to attend a pride parade, and Representative Bentley, I am thrilled that you found yourself at one to actually experience our community. This bill is harmful to many people for many reasons. It is harmful to me, and its harmful to my children who get to hear that I am the problem. Thank you very much.
Rep L Fite: Thank you for your–
Scanlon: Are there any questions?
Rep L Fite: I see no questions. I appreciate your testimony. Alright, now we have a little over 5 minutes left. Gary Sullivan? If you will identify yourself for the record and state your name, you may proceed.
Sullivan (ACLU): I am Gary Sullivan. I am the legal director at the ACLU of Arkansas, and I am also here on my own behalf. I want to congratulate Senator Stubblefield and Representative Bentley, but before I tell you why I am going to tell you a very short story since we are running out of time.
Not too far from Little Rock, there was this young boy who realized he was an artist and he wanted to be a performer. He was a little stage shy but he finally got over that, and once he got on the stage he realized that was where he wanted to be, and that’s what he wanted to do for life. He started out wearing fairly conservative clothing but soon he advanced to more less conservative clothing. He certainly started exaggerating things. From the get-go, he wore eye makeup. He soon started teasing his hair. Over time he teased that hair higher and eventually started dying the hair. He wore for performances loose fitting outfits at first. They were brightly colored and some of them had plunging necklines all the way down to his navel. Very revealing.
Soon he started shaking his legs and gyrating his hips. Young people talked about this and more and more young people started coming to his performances and the parents were furious. The parents wanted to outlaw him and the parents got him arrested at least one time for lascivious conduct and lewd behavior. He wasn’t swayed by that and started wearing tighter clothing, more revealing clothing, and then boy did he start exaggerating things. He got gold rings on his fingers and thick gold necklaces, big diamonds on his fingers. The more he exaggerated himself, the more he became known, and people started coming. There was no doubt that his performances were for the prurient interest of the Members because some people started taking off their underwear and throwing it up on the stage.
This went on and it grew, and it grew. It was exaggerated. It was prurient. It was very sexual. The parents got madder and madder, but, boy, they did not succeed. They tried so hard but they couldn’t do it, so my congratulations to Senator Stubblefield and Representative Bentley is, you have finally done what parents couldn’t do 60 years ago. You found a way to outlaw Elvis Presley. Now, unfortunately, Elvis Presley can’t perform in Arkansas now, but Dolly Parton might. Elton John might. And this bill would prevent that. Thank you. I’ll accept any questions.
Rep L Fite: I see no questions. Thank you for your testimony. Up next, we have Courtney Friarson. I know I butchered it, so correct me when you get up here. Please identify yourself and who you represent and you may proceed.
Friarson: Does my introduction cut into time?
Rep L Fite: You have 2 minutes and 39 seconds.
Friarson: Well, I have tried to prepare a short speech. I am Courtney Friarson a native Arkansan, a social worker, and a certified sex therapist. I respectfully ask that you vote no on SB43. I do care deeply about drag performers and their artistic expression. My deepest concerns are the infringement on the rights to assemble, the rights of free speech, and the impact that this will have on enforcement. I don’t know how to shorten this. The 3 article rule mentioned earlier were based on masquerading laws based in the 1845’s which made it a crime to have one’s face painted, discolored, covered, or concealed or be otherwise disguised while on a road or public highway. This law’s intended purpose was to prevent rural white farmers from darkening their faces to be perceived as Native American to avoid taxation.
After 6 decades of marginalization and violence sanctioned by the state enforced by the police, a group of black and brown transgender, gay, queer, and drag performing people fought back in June of 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. The community resisted arrest, fought the police, started a riot, and sparked a revolution of resistance. The first pride was a riot. I do not say this to encourage violence. I am reminding you of the history to highlight that this drag bill is an old story. We’re tired. We have heard this one before and we have already resisted.
While some of you might opine that the 1950s were the good ole days that you would like to go back too, this bill is a regurgitation of hateful and oppressive past. SB43 represents outdated gender policing and infringement on the freedoms of assembly and free speech and will and is already harming LGBTQ people and drag performers. It will be costly to the state. This bill is masquerading as protection of children when it is a thinly veiled attempt to police the gender of others. If enforced and passed, the state will be challenged in court as this bill is unconstitutional. For a party that believes in small government and fiscal responsibility, it sure is an expensive and harmful way to waste precious taxpayer money. I urge you to vote no on SB43.
Rep L Fite: Okay. We have 34 seconds left. We have Blake Tierney? I apologize for the short period of time, but I’ll be slow in starting the clock, okay?
Tierney: Thank you. My name is Blake Tierney. I am here representing myself. I am a queer gay man, a Christian, and I have years of experience in non-profit field and child welfare, child mental health, and child social services. Section 305 of the code that is being amended with this bill allows any citizen to take legal action against individuals or businesses. Just because we say that it is up to the courts to decide, the damages will already have been done through finances, reputation, and time of these individuals and businesses who get to determine what prurient interest means as we have heard from every individual who has spoken against this bill and for this bill even. I have been called out at a public pool for kissing my partner who was a woman at the time before I came out because it was to “protect the children.” I have seen through my years’ experience in child services, women, many of you are very familiar with breast feeding, it has been called “shameful.” People are harassed for that, all to protect children from sexually obscene things.
Rep L Fite: Hey, Blake, your time is up. We will give you 30 seconds to wind this up, okay?
Tierney: I really appreciate that. So thank you for listening to me. I want to close out and say that this is targeting LGBTQ people. There is lots of roots in Christianity about this that you are appealing too, but I want to point out that first Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their strict adherence to law that marginalized people. And furthermore, in Galatians 3 Paul said,” before the coming of this faith, we are held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian so Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, so in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. For all of you who are baptized unto Christ, I clothed you with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile. Neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I urge you, SB43 is illegally spurious, it is economically careless, is morally bankrupt, and is deeply un-Christian. Please oppose this bill. Thank you.
Public testimony for SB 43
Rep L Fite: Thank you for your testimony. Now speaking for the bill, Jennifer Lancaster. Please identify yourself for the record and who you represent, and you may proceed.
Lancaster: Good morning. My name is Jennifer Lancaster. I represent myself and my children. Thank you for allowing me the privilege to speak to before you today. Conceptions and freedom are often one-sided with people taking the position that they should be free to do anything within the bounds of non-harmful conduct. This raises many questions about what harmful conduct really is and the true nature of freedom. One thing is clear. Freedom to act is something that we rightly exalt; however, freedom for any one person to act must always be tempered by another’s freedom, the freedom to be free from something harmful or immoral.
Many people are claiming this bill violates their rights. They list the rights to free speech, express themselves, and to be who they are or perceive themselves to be. In essence, the detractors of this bill espouse a freedom to act and do as they wish. They claim this conduct is within their realm of freedom; however, we have a myriad of laws that limit individual freedom to that which society deems harmful. We have laws that limit sexual discussions in the workplace among adults. Should we not have similar laws to protect the most vulnerable of society in an environmental atmosphere? This is not a ban on drag shows, gender neutrality, self-expression, creativity, or any of the freedoms that make America and Arkansas great. It is a regulation of adult content that limits that expression to certain venues, away from children.
And what about the responsibility to young impressionable children? With great freedom comes great responsibility. We have a God given mandate to be responsible for our children. What are our children really being taught to accept if this bill were to fail? They are taught drag queens reading to children is really about presenting a hyper-feminized, hypersexualized cross dressing man performing for children. If the drag performers are legitimately concerned about literacy among our children, they can abandon the makeup and the wigs and read to children. Children do not need to know about the sexual interest or gender identities of adults, whether gay or straight. Story time should not be politized to reflect adult virtue signaling.
Drag has always been, until recent years, adult entertainment. It is worth asking ourselves why child safeguarding practices has gone out the window when it comes to drag culture? I would like to point out that a woman is more than a face full of makeup or teased hair to the ceiling or a form fitting dress. Women such as myself and my daughters are more valuable than mere clothes and accessories. Neither a woman nor a child should be a prop to be used for political statements or for showing off that one is open minded and hip. Children are society’s most precious commodity and every experience and every interaction leaves an indelible mark on the formation of their development and their character. We should not think of freedom as an unchecked right to do as we please, but as an opportunity to do what is right. I would like to say that SB43 is not an anti-gay bill, it is a pro children bill. Thank you for allowing me to testify.
Rep L Fite: Thank you. I appreciate your testimony. Okay, we have no others signed up to speak for or against this bill. Representative Bentley, are you prepared to close?
Rep Bentley: Chairman and committee, thank you for taking this bill. Again, thank you for amending the bill because the bill amendment makes it much better and clear to what we are trying to do. We are strictly trying to protect our kids from adult things that they don’t need to see. Our children are suffering in our state and this is one of the many good bills I think that will pass during this session. So with that, I am going to end this bill and I would appreciate a good vote.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Representative Richardson, you are recognized.
Rep S Richardson: Motion do pass.
Rep L Fite: I have a motion do pass. Any discussion on the motion? Representative McCullough, we recognize you. Okay.
Rep S Richardson: Sorry. Do pass as amended.
Rep L Fite: Okay. We have a motion do pass as amended.
Rep McCullough: Mr. Chair. I was waiting on him–
Rep L Fite: Okay. I apologize. Go ahead.
Rep McCullough: Thank you Mr. Chair. First of all I want to apologize for the limited debate that some of you had this morning. I know some of you came from maybe all over the state, I don’t know exactly where you came from and we had what I felt like was plenty of time to hear you this morning. So thank you for being here and thank you for testifying. Thank you for saying what you had to say as quickly as you could. I just want to say that drag queens have been a part of the LGBTQ community since I am aware at the beginning of time. This group, besides being an artistic expression, has also been a group that has often protected members of the LGBTQ community when they have been kicked out of their house. They have given them a place to stay, they have given them something akin to a family. So, I want to say that also. I do believe that there is a fear of what people don’t understand often, and I do believe that freedom is not alive and well. I believe it is for some, but not for all. I really want to say though that sexually explicit content is already covered under existing law even if it doesn’t use the term “drag,” I do believe this is an attack on a community no matter how many times it’s stated otherwise. And I ask that you vote against this bill.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Seeing no others, all in favor say aye. Those opposed say no. The ayes have it. Okay. Moving on, Representative Underwood, are you here?
Rep Underwood: Yes.
HB 1175: Cleaning up issue with police and fire policies
Rep L Fite: Alright. Are you prepared to present House Bill 1175? Okay, go to the table and present it please.
Rep Underwood: Is it okay if I have Municipal League join me at the table?
Rep L Fite: Yes.
Rep Underwood: Thank you.
Wilkerson (Mun. League): I’m John Wilkerson, General Counsel of the Arkansas Municipal League.
Rep L Fite: Y’all may proceed.
Rep Underwood: Thank you, committee, for the second time. I am going to turn this over to the Municipal League and give Mr. Wilkerson an opportunity to kind of tell you about the bill and maybe answer some questions if you have any. So, thank you.
Wilkerson (Mun. League): Thank you Mr. Chair and thank you Representative Underwood. Representative Underwood and I on the last session worked on a bill, Back the Blue bill, and in our trying to figure out best to craft something, I inadvertently omitted some language that I wasn’t sure was going to be a terribly big deal, but it turns out it is a cause of confusion. Essentially, what the law was prior to 2021 was that the city councils make a policy or shall have the power to make policies for the police department. And this has been in federal law for a long time. It is the way we at the Municipal League defend police offices and cities in these type of actions. It clarifies who the policymaker is.
And then when it was inadvertently omitted, we had some concerns about whether or not it caused some confusion on who the policymaker is for the police departments. And we found also that the fire departments as well have a similar language but it wasn’t consistent with one another. So essentially what this bill does is puts back in the language to clarify that city councils shall have the power to make police policies, promulgate rules for both the police and fire department. We ran this by the chief’s association for both the police and the fire and there was no objections. Again, this clarifies the law and it’s a law that has already been in place for a long time. And again it just gives clarity for all of us moving forward.
Rep L Fite: You are ready for questions?
Rep Underwood: Yes, Mr. Chair
Rep L Fite: Seeing none, what’s the wishes of the committee? Excuse me. Would you like to close?
Rep Underwood: I am closed, thank you.
Rep L Fite: Okay. What’s the wishes of the committee? Okay. I have a motion do pass. Any debate on the motion? Seeing none, so all in favor say aye. Those opposed say no. Congratulations, you passed your bill.
Rep Underwood: Thank you.
HB 1196: Work requirements for public housing
Rep L Fite: Okay. Up next is house bill 1196. Representative Underwood, I understand you have an amendment to this also.
Rep Underwood: Yes sir, I do.
Rep L Fite: Okay. You are recognized to present your amendment.
Rep Underwood: Thank you, Chair and committee. All the amendment is is adding co-sponsors to the bill. I am happy to take questions if you have any.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Representative Cavenaugh, you are recognized.
Rep Cavenaugh: I make a motion to accept the amendment.
Rep L Fite: Okay. I have a motion on the amendment. Any discussion on the amendment? Seeing none, all in favor say aye. Those opposed say no. Okay. You may present your bill as amended.
Rep Underwood: Thank you committee. We passed a similar bill last session regarding work requirements, but I believe this bill is pretty common sense policy and one that most Arkansans probably agree with. Simply all this bill does is if you are getting public housing assistance and you are able bodied, you are required to work part-time. I think that this bill allows, reduces government dependency and allows people to get into the work force, which I think that is good for individuals, businesses, and taxpayers. Most importantly, or maybe importantly, I think that leaves some resources for those who truly need the resources.
So just a couple of quick points. The work requirement only applies to those who are between the ages of 19 and 64 years of age. It also exempts those who have a disability or something of that nature. To meet the work requirement, you have to work part time. So that is 20 hours or volunteer for 20 hours or be in a work fair program. And finally I’ll say,I think although I mentioned it earlier, I think some reasons why we should pass this policy is, again, common sense, good for the budget, it reduces government spending, it promotes self-sufficiency, and in the past when we have seen work requirements implemented individuals have entered industries that they normally wouldn’t have been in. It has increased income that outweighs the loss of the benefits, but again it really helps those who truly need those services. 45% of able-bodied working adults receiving public housing do not work at all. On average, families spend 29 months on the Section 8 waiting list and 19 months before getting into public housing. And 48.4% of Section 8 waiting lists are closed to new applicants. So those who are on those waiting lists are included, veterans, homeless, those with disabilities, the elderly, and victims of domestic violence. I would like to, if you are able bodied, I think you should work and I think that’s good for you, and I think that helps free up those resources for those individuals. I appreciate you and I’m happy to answer any questions.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Representative Dalby, you are recognized.
Rep Dalby: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Representative Underwood, I really have about 3 questions if the Chair will allow me to ask them. Could you explain the difference between this bill this time and the bill we passed last session. What are the differences?
Rep Underwood: It is different. If I remember correctly, it has been a little while since I looked at the bill, but that bill was regarding food stamps and this one is regarding public housing assistance. I was just going to add we do have work requirements in various different programs in Arkansas.
Rep Dalby: Follow up?
Rep L Fite: Follow up.
Rep Dalby: Does this bill violate any federal fair housing standards act or anything like that if we pass this bill that it would be in contradiction to what the federal government? Because most of these are going to be federal programs.
Rep Underwood: Right. I do not believe so. Again, we have passed similar type provisions in other areas in Arkansas and I believe these requirements are consistent with federal law.
Rep Dalby: One more follow up Mr. Chair?
Rep L Fite: Yes, go ahead.
Rep Dalby: And just so that I am real clear, in section B on page 1, it says that “as used in this section, an able body adult means an individual who is not” and if you drop down to H, so an able body individual who is not participating in a drug addiction or alcohol treatment or rehabilitation program. I am not quite following the wording, and here’s my question. In the court system in the state of Arkansas, we have specialty courts for drugs for folks who may have a drug addiction problem. And instead of sending them to prison, they go to a specialty court. The specialty court may deal with drug and alcohol addictions, but part of that specialty court program would be that they maintain housing and that they are in housing. It has a lot of things, like they go to drug and alcohol rehab, they have to keep a job, they have to maintain housing and its all in an effort to keep them on the work force in Arkansas paying taxes, keeping them out of our prison system, giving them the help they need.
And maybe I am reading this wrong but it sounds like to me that this would keep that individual from being in this program in housing. Am I reading that wrong, because that’s what it says: “an able body person is not one who is doing that”? So you would be then kicking those individuals who may be in that housing but then are participating in a drug and alcohol treatment program. Can you explain to me because it sure seems worded awkwardly to me?
Rep Underwood: Sure. No, I don’t believe, and I appreciate the question, and I appreciate, obviously, we want to make sure the wording is correct. So, I don’t believe that the case. The work requirement only applies to those who are able bodied adults. So it says if you are not participating in one of those programs. So if you are participating in one of those programs, you would not be considered an able bodied adult, and therefore you would not be subject to the work requirement. Sorry, do you have a follow up question?
Rep L Fite: Follow up.
Rep Dalby: Okay. I don’t think I really have a follow up. I just appreciate the comment because it was really hard to read the way this bill is written. I think it is really very difficult, so that is why I was having trouble. So, thank you very much.
Rep Underwood: I do appreciate the question. To me, it is clear, but, obviously, I know different interpretations, so I would be happy to talk about that with you further and see if I am wrong in any way. So, thank you.
Rep L Fite: Representative Collins, you are recognized.
Rep Collins: Thank you Mr. Chair. So I mean, I think everybody appreciates the value of work and truly if this would always go the way you intend where the threat of taking away housing would make someone get a job and work, that would be great. But I think that we know that is not going to happen in a lot of cases. When that doesn’t happen, you are going effectively have people who are already for the most part very poor being kicked out of their housing. Given all of the issues we have had with homelessness in this state and across the country lately, aren’t we just creating many, many more people who will likely become homeless and become a strain on the system and on tax payers, just in different ways?
Rep Underwood: No, I don’t think that is correct. So, I think that, again, like I mentioned the people who are on a waiting list and who are not getting those housing opportunities right now are people who are homeless and people who truly need those services. So, I think we are opening up those opportunities. In addition, the work requirement, to meet the work requirement, all you have to do is work part time or volunteer 20 hours per week. So, I don’t think that is extremely burdensome to do that and if they were to do that, it will increase their income and give them skillsets that will make them, give them skills to be successful and make more money later. In addition, at the end of the bill, it discusses the Public Housing Authority can terminate them but gives them 60 days to be compliant with that. So, I think that is also contemplated in the bill as well. Thank you for the question.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Representative Hudson, you are recognized.
Rep Hudson: Thank you Mr. Chair. Representative Underwood, I was interested in your thoughts on how you came to settle on, this is B1E, which says that it sets the limit of someone who is not required to fall under the work requirement as a parent or caretaker who is responsible for the care of a dependent child under 4 months of age. I am wondering about that just in terms of the fact that even with subsidies, daycares often are so expensive, or the wait lists are so long, that it’s difficult to get your child into daycare and we don’t have necessarily enough spaces for kids who need daycare. So, why did you settle on 4 months as opposed to 3 or 4 years old when a child is old enough to go into public school?
Rep Underwood: I appreciate that question. I did think about that. So, I think part of the answer to that is that you mentioned, we do have other programs for those who are low income and have a child that needs that help with child care services and those type of things. And I’m not an expert on that topic, but I do believe there is a work requirement with those as well. But again, I think that it’s helpful for those individuals to get the skills that they need and work and that provides a benefit to them long term. Again, the work requirement isn’t super burdensome. There are several different ways you can meet it, volunteering, working part time, work fair program, so I think that it’s still very reasonable that they can meet that requirement.
Rep L Fite: Representative Long, you are recognized.
Rep Long: I have a motion at the proper time.
Rep L Fite: Thank you. Representative Dalby, you are recognized.
Rep Dalby: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Representative Underwood, first off I am supportive of your bill, but I have also gotten a text message that I think you may want to consider before we take a final vote. Have you talked to Workforce Services, and if not, are you aware that this bill might need to be reviewed to make sure it follows under federal unemployment law? Well, the reason why I am asking that is because I believe they have sent this off for it to be reviewed because it has to comply with that federal unemployment law. And the question is, would you be willing just to pull it down until the next time that we meet so that they can get that report back from the US Department of Labor to make sure it aligns with that law and your bill can be done in alignment with federal law? Not to kill your bill but just to make sure that it all aligns so that it can do what you want it to do and I think what this committee wants it to do. I think they are just waiting, from what I understand, they are waiting for a report back from the US Department of Labor and that wouldn’t do anything to kill your bill, but it would make sure that the language is in line with that so that it can all be done correctly. Would you consider that possibly so that we can make sure that is correct?
Rep Underwood: So, I was checking my phone, and I would check my phone to see if I had a text from somebody the last minute, but I didn’t see one about the issue.
Rep Dalby: I will be happy to share what I just got.
Rep Underwood: No, you are fine. I believe that they sent you that text. I have spoken with Workforce Services, not about this bill, and I have spoken with them as recently as maybe early this week or late last week. So they did not raise that concern to me at that time and this bill has been filed I think for at least a couple of weeks. I believe it is compliant with federal law. I will tell you that is a concern, and if that’s the case I will reach out to them and talk to them after the committee today because I want to see if that is the case. They did not raise that issue to me when I spoke to them earlier this Monday or Friday or whatever day it was that I spoke with them.
Rep Dalby: Mr. Chair, may I read this to him just because I think we want to see this bill be a good bill, so may I read this to Mr. Underwood with a question?
Rep L Fite: Yes.
Rep Dalby: The text that was sent to me is that this bill has been sent to United States Department of Labor yesterday for review for conformity with the federal unemployment law. Have not heard back from the US Department of Labor yet. We would like to make sure that the way it is written aligns with the unemployment law so that Workforce Services can do what it is that we want done. I think that is a valid concern because we don’t want to pass something that they can’t implement. We want it to be able to be implemented. So, once again, my question to you is if you would be willing just to pull it down for today and bring it back next week so they can get that report back and then your bill is in good shape. That’s all my question is.
Rep Underwood: Yeah, I appreciate the question. I think from what– unless I misunderstood it, I think it sounds like they just want to review it and they are not raising concerns about the bill necessarily, but are just looking for that report to confirm that. I would say, I could be wrong, that I feel confident that the bill does comply, so I would like to keep running it. I do appreciate the opportunity. I will also say that this is something that we will have that report by the time it goes through Senate committee. I think that we will have that opportunity to know that as well. I feel confident that the bill is good as it is. I could stand corrected but I think that is my position at this time. Thank you.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Representative McCullough, you are recognized.
Rep McCullough: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I mean, that is some of my concern too that Congress and HUD have to approve and authorize some of this stuff and that there are no plans to open the application process again, so I think that is some of the things you are talking about.
Rep Underwood: Thank you, I appreciate that. I don’t want to not answer a question but–
Rep McCollough: Yeah, are you aware of those things, I guess?
Rep Underwood: Can you restate the question for me?
Rep McCollough: Well, doesn’t Congress have to authorize and HUD approve this application process, I mean these things, and that they are not accepting those applications?
Rep Underwood: I hope I am not misunderstanding your question. Certainly, federal law dictates what the parameters are, but the state has flexibility in adding these work requirements. And again we have done this in other programs in Arkansas. We passed a bill just last session, and to my knowledge there have not been any issues with any of those. Based on the people who have helped me with this bill and researching this, I feel confident that it is good and is compliant.
Rep L Fite: Representative Richardson, you are recognized.
Rep S Richardson: Representative Underwood, thanks for this bill. I just want to make sure that I am clear on Section B1 and G. As I read this bill your specifically–
Rep Underwood: Can you say that section for me again just real quick? What page and line maybe?
Rep S Richardson: Page 2. Item G. As part of your bill, kind of building on what Representative Dalby mentioned, your bill excludes people that are currently receiving unemployment compensation, correct?
Rep Underwood: Right, I believe you say that correctly.
Rep S Richardson: So, if they are already receiving unemployment compensation, then it wouldn’t be applicable that the concern over whether or not we would be in compliance?
Rep Underwood: Yes, that is correct as long as they are in compliance with that program, yes.
Rep S Richardson: Okay. Thank you.
Rep L Fite: Okay, seeing no more– oh excuse me, Representative Burkes, you are recognized.
Rep Burkes: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Representative Underwood, am I to understand that nobody from Workforce Services contacted you about the report that was just referenced earlier?
Rep Underwood: To my knowledge. I did speak with them about another bill and they did not raise issues with this bill.
Rep Burkes: Okay. Thank you.
Rep L Fite: Okay, seeing no more questions, members, we have speaking for and against the bill, speaking against the bill is Laura Kellams. If you would please identify yourself for the record and who you represent.
Public testimony against HB 1196
Kellams (AACF): Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. I am Laura Kellams and I am with Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. We have worked since 1977 on public policy in particular to make Arkansas a better place for children to grow up. We oppose House Bill 1196 based in part on our state’s previous experience with work reporting requirements, but also on the abundant research that exists regarding policies like this. We already know that from our own experience that work requirements don’t actually improve employment outcomes or raise people out of poverty. They are based on the false notion that people who benefit from public assistance don’t have an incentive to work without a requirement like this.
They will require the state to create additional red tape for participants to navigate and our own state’s experience with requirements on Medicaid shows that many people who qualify actually would be incorrectly kicked off the program, and in this case, become homeless. In 2018, some of y’all it’s before your time in the legislature, but we had more than 18,000 Arkansans lose their health care coverage, even though 97% of the population were either meeting the necessary hours, worked, or qualified for an exemption. And the exemptions of this proposal in this work requirement is much more narrow than those were and the comparable work requirements already on our SNAP program for example.
The current work requirement on SNAP applies to able bodied adults without dependents, and that means that adults with dependent children are exempt. But House Bill 1196 would exempt adults with dependents 4 months or younger as you heard during the questions earlier. Our work requirements on Arkansas Works, which was the Medicaid program at the time, exempted older adults over 50, and this legislation would apply work requirements to participants as old as 64. So, if we have had that much trouble and red tape and kicking people off who are qualifying with even stricter rules on this one, we would see even more people who qualify who would be kicked off.
We know it’s easier for people to get and maintain stable employment if they first have stable housing. So we maintain that we shouldn’t take it away from those who have trouble getting back on their feet. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee. I would be happy to answer any questions you have, but with the caveat that I am filling in for our resident policy expert who couldn’t get to the Capitol today.
Rep L Fite: Okay. We have a question if you don’t mind taking a question.
Kellums (AACF): Sure.
Rep L Fite: Representative Ray, you are recognized.
Rep Ray: Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you for your testimony. It sounded to me, and correct me if I am mistaken, but it sounds like you were sort of portraying a work requirement as being punitive in some sense. Why is it bad that someone work?
Kellums (AACF): Oh no. I take pride in my work, and we definitely understand the importance of work. It is the way that programs like this are implemented and that they end up– people who are working end up caught in the red tape, and that is what we saw with Medicaid. Definitely not against work and definitely want families to have work and to rise up through our employment system. The research just shows that requirements like this don’t actually accomplish that.
Rep Ray: So you don’t think that the participants will be able to comply?
Kellums (AACF): It’s the way that we have implemented them with Medicaid and 97% of the people actually were working or were exempted, but those 18,000 were still kicked off because it was so hard to work through the bureaucratic system to show that they were working or in training. We definitely want people to be working and to get trained for better jobs, but oftentimes the requirements like this create the red tape that actually kicks off the folks who are trying.
Rep Ray: So, what you’re saying is the process of reporting their volunteerism or their training or their work, it’s so difficult to report that that people can’t possibly comply with it? Is that what you are saying?
Kellums (AACF): It definitely happened with Medicaid folks who were working and who were complying. It was very difficult for them to work that system.
Rep Ray: Okay. Thank you.
Kellums (AACF): Sure.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Seeing no other questions, we appreciate your testimony.
Kellums (AACF): Thank you.
Rep L Fite: Up next speaking against the bill is Kendall LuAllen. Please identify yourself for the record. Please mash the button in front of you. There you go.
LuAllen (Legal Service): Good morning Chair and other members of the committee. My name is Kendall LuAllen and I am here representing the Center for Arkansas Legal Services. We are a non-profit law firm, and we serve low income Arkansans in civil or non-criminal cases. Much of my work there is devoted to landlord/tenant issues and public housing and other federally funded housing programs. Safe affordable housing is incredibly scarce and those who are lucky enough to access it through public housing and other programs will go to great lengths to keep it.
Reasonable people may disagree about whether the work requirements contemplated under this bill are a good idea. So, I am here to discuss whether they are legal. The short answer is that they are not because they are preempted by federal law. Public housing is funded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD. This money comes with a lot of strings. Some of those strings take the form of federal regulations and statutes about how public housing is run. When there is a conflict between state and federal law, the federal law controls under the supremacy clause to the US Constitution. This bill directly conflicts with federal law, specifically HUD regulations that I will discuss.
There is actually already a work requirement in public housing under federal law and it’s quite different from the one considered under this bill. Tenants in public housing have to volunteer 8 hours a month unless they fall under some sort of exemption such as working. Other exemptions are if they are 62 years of age or older, blind or disabled, things of that nature similar to this bill. If a tenant fails to do this, the Housing Authority can choose not to renew that person’s lease when it expires; however, these regulations expressly forbid a Housing Authority from evicting that person in the middle of a lease term, which seems to be a requirement under this bill of Housing Authorities.
These are just a couple of examples of conflicts between federal law and this bill. Simply put, State Legislatures should not be involved in these kind of public housing issues for this reason and I think that this law is fairly likely to be struck down by the courts if it is enacted. I am also concerned about the liability it could create for Housing Authorities or perhaps our cities and counties as they are forced to try to comply with conflicting state and federal law. And with that, I would like to thank the committee for their time and answer any questions that they may have.
Rep L Fite: Okay. We do have a question here. Representative McGrew, you are recognized.
Rep McGrew: Thank you, Chairman, and thank you for your testimony. I have a question about you said under federal law there is already a work requirement under HUD?
LuAllen CALS: Yes, there is.
Rep McGrew: Follow up?
Rep L Fite: Yes, go ahead.
Rep McGrew: I at one time had more HUD vouchers in Garland County, Hot Springs, than anybody else. I have never heard about a work requirement. I had many of those. I am in favor of this bill because it also the way the HUD vouchers were done and the way I understand them, is they figured that individual’s income, and when it fell short, then HUD covered the rest of the rent. So if they do work and have more income it actually saves taxpayers a lot of money, correct? And I guess, one other question was if that is a law, why is it not being communicated to some of the biggest landlords that cover some of the vouchers and why is not being used in Arkansas?
LuAllen (Legal Services): I will try and answer those questions separately. The main issue that I see is that in federally funded housing there are different kinds of programs. In that world, you call them different kinds of subsidies. A Section 8 voucher or a housing choice voucher like Representative McGrew is discussing is a different program from public housing and it is governed by a different set of federal regulations. Actually, I am not sure if there is a work requirement for housing choice vouchers, which would be why local landlords are not aware of that requirement, and that requirement may not exist for housing choice vouchers. However, it does exist for public housing and it’s at 24-CFR-960.603. As to the question about whether it would save taxpayers money if public housing residents were to work, presumably public housing is incredibly scarce and these units go quickly. Someone will live in them if someone is– I don’t believe that it would change the amount of money– I don’t think that would affect tax payers any direct way, to answer your question.
Rep McGrew: Follow up?
Rep L Fite: Yes, go ahead.
Rep McGrew: Alright. I am pretty familiar with the vouchers. They were figured on, for instance, they would take the tenant’s income and would only take 30% of it. So they would take 30% of that income and then pay the rest of the rent. So, I don’t understand you saying that it wouldn’t. If they are figuring it on income at 30%, if their income increases then they would take a bigger portion of the rent, the tenant would pay a bigger portion of the rent. It has to save the taxpayers money.
LuAllen (Legal Services): Well, I am not sure if it would directly save the tax payer money because any money that’s saved would go back into programs for the Housing Authority so that money would be spent either way. I don’t think that it would directly save the taxpayers any money, but you are correct it would change as a tenant’s income changes. The amount of rent that the tenant pays does change as well.
Rep McGrew: Thank you.
Rep L Fite: Representative Ray, you are recognized.
Rep Ray: Thank you Mr. Chair. So, I am reading on page 3 of the bill toward the end on line 17 and it says “to the extent necessary to carry out this section under federal law, each public Housing Authority shall request federal approval from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development by January 1, 2025. If federal approval is denied, each public Housing Authority shall submit a request for approval within 24 months of each denial.” So it sounds like the concerns that people have expressed regarding whether this is allowed under federal law, it seems to me that section of the bill would work itself out. Am I wrong in my conclusion there?
LuAllen CALS: I think that’s a fair point, Representative Ray, and my concern is that I think the language is still ambiguous and I am concerned that some Housing Authorities may just go ahead and implement this bill at the risk of loosing their charter, which would be disastrous for them and the people they serve. It could perhaps be reworded so that the Housing Authorities have to request advanced permission from HUD, and I think that this would put them in a much better position.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Seeing no other questions, we appreciate your testimony.
LuAllen (Legal Services): Thank you.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Representative Underwood, are you ready to close? Oh. I’m sorry, you’re recognized, Representative Dalby.
Rep Dalby: Not for a question, but just for some clarification because I do always want to be accurate. In the interim time since the questioning has begun, the Workforce Services attorney has just received just a few moments ago a letter from the Department of Labor saying that at this time with this particular bill, they are not identifying any conformity issues. So, I wanted to make sure we were clear on that. So they just got that and sent it to me, so I don’t want to mislead anybody that they just got that so I wanted to make sure. I think that cleared up any questions I had. Thank you.
Rep Underwood: No. I greatly appreciate that and I was just, I will say this in my closing, I was just speaking with Senator Gilmore and we reached out to the Governors office. They have not expressed any concerns. The Department of Labor has stated that they have not reached out to the sponsors, and if they had concerns they would have. So, I appreciate that clarification. In all, I know you have heard a lot today so I will just close in saying again I think this is a good policy. I think work requirements help individuals and it helps taxpayers and I think it helps us provide services to the those who truly need the services. I am closed. Appreciate you guys.
Rep L Fite: Representative Long, Yyu are recognized.
Rep Long: Mr. Chairman, I make a motion to do pass as amended.
Rep L Fite: Okay. We have a motion to do pass as amended. All in favor say aye. Oh– discussion. Okay go ahead. I apologize I didn’t see you.
Rep Collins: Thank you Mr. Chair. I just want to clarify something for the benefit of the committee. You know the Department of Labor question is one question, but the conflict in federal and state law that Ms. LuAllen was talking about is a different issue. So even if the Department of Labor signs off, that doesn’t necessarily remove the conflict that sounds like a very real conflict that will lead to some serious issues for public housing. Also want to mention that there was a little bit of confusion on Representative McGrew’s questioning about Section 8 vouchers versus public housing. I want to be clear that those are different things. What we are talking about here is public housing, so if there was some sort of talking past each other on that, it seems like what that may have been. Those are really just the points I think and everything else has been raised. The work requirements ultimately are not going to be doing what we hope it’s going to do, but it’s going to create more problems and is probably going to be thrown out, it sounds like, from the experts. So, I am opposed. Thank you.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Any other comments? Representative Ray.
Rep Ray: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I want to thank Representative Underwood for bringing this bill. I am going to vote for this bill because I think it’s a very good idea. Some of the testimony struck me that they were characterizing the work requirement as almost punitive and that bothers me a little bit because I think that work is a good thing. I think it’s beneficial to the individual and to society that promotes human flourishing and fulfillment and this is really a part time work requirement in this bill. It is 20 hours per week, and it’s not even just work. It could be training for work, preparation for work, it could be volunteering in your community. So, there is a lot of different ways to meet it.
I just don’t think it is cruel or inhumane to ask able bodied adults, people who are prime working age, to work at least part time in exchange for government services. I was at a briefing with the State Chamber the other day and they said that there are 60,000 unfilled jobs in our state. I think that if we did more to promote work throughout our public assistance programs we could help reduce that number of open jobs. I have been reading recently some of the work of a political economist named Nicholas Everstatt with the American Enterprise Institute and he makes the observation that we currently have 7 million able bodied prime age adult males in our country who are just not participating in the labor force. There is a lot of reasons as to why that is so, but I think legislation like this can help address some of those issues, and that’s why I am supporting this bill.
Rep L Fite: Representative McGrew, you are recognized.
Rep McGrew: Thank you, Chairman. I also would just like to speak for this bill. I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t understand that vouchers which are funded by the public are not part of public housing, and there may be a different clarification that I don’t understand. But what I do know is that public taxpayer money pays for their rent, and having rented to a lot of them and have some that are absolutely great tenants and some that are in definite need, I am absolutely for those. Also being in that position where a lot of them would come and ask for cash work so that it could be under the table so it wouldn’t be shown so that they didn’t have to contribute more. I am just in favor of having someone pay their bills if they are physically willing and able to. And with the shortage on the workforce, I think that it’s a great idea and I support this bill. Thank you.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Seeing no more questions, all in favor of the ordinance, say aye. Those opposed say no. The ayes have it.
Rep Underwood: Thank you, chair, and thank you, committee. Appreciate your time.
Rep L Fite: Up next is Representative Cavenaugh. House Bill 1118. 1318, I apologize. Please identify yourself for the record and proceed.
HB 1318 Allows local government to consider lifetime project costs with bids
Rep Cavenaugh: Thank you Mr. Chair. Fran Cavenaugh, Representative District 30. This is a simple bill that will allow municipalities and their utilities to actually look at the cost associated with the entire life of the project rather than the initial bid price because sometimes the initial bid price is not the lowest when you look at the life of the project. Currently state agencies are able to do this, and this bill would just allow municipalities to be able to do the same thing.
Rep L Fite: Okay. Representative McGrew, you are recognized.
Rep McGrew: Question. Coming from the construction industry, a lot of that over the cost of the project had to do a lot with the way it is engineered. So, I guess I am concerned that it could be taking care of the engineering when you allow the decision to decide for them. How are they going to decide whether it’s costly? Is it going to be their opinion or who makes that decision? Because when you are putting a price in as a public bid, it seems to me like you worked a long time on that bid and then the people that you are bidding to can decide whether they believe it’s going to be more costly in the future. How is that going to be determined?
Rep Cavenaugh: Well, they will have to do their due diligence. But a simple way to explain it is if I am going to drill a well, and I have to drill it, but the well will only last me 35 years the way it is engineered and the different parts of it, and then the other bid says, no, that’s going to last you 70 years. So you are going to have a way that you are able to keep it and know that you are going to have a cost that associates it, although up front the 70 year bid might be more, but the 35 is actually more expensive because you have to come back and drill again and do all the work. So that is going to allow them to look at what it is based upon. Currently state agencies do the same thing. This is nothing that is not currently being done in government and this is just allowing the municipalities to be able to do the same things state agencies do.
Rep McGrew: Thank you.
Rep L Fite: Any other questions from the committee? Anyone in the audience signed up to speak for or against this bill? Seeing none, would you like to close?
Rep Cavenaugh: I am closed for my bill, and I make a motion do pass.
Rep L Fite: 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. We will be meeting next Wednesday. I will try and get an agenda out. Sir? Well, Representative Pilkington, I told you you had opposition to your bill and you weren’t in the other day, and I told them I hadn’t spoken to you and that I would wait. We weren’t going to run it today and I said that I would run it next week. Alrige are adjourned.