House Judiciary Committee

February 2, 2023 

Rep Dalby: Good morning, House Judiciary is now in session. Chair sees a quorum. The first thing we’re going to take back up is the bill that we just put off. We heard all the testimony on Tuesday and so we’re going to come back to Senate Bill 48. I see Representative Pilkington in the audience, if he wants to come to the table. Senator Johnson said he would be here this morning. I don’t see him in the room. Members, there were some questions as to the language. I think all of those questions have been answered. Does the Committee have any other questions as to making sure that that language is corrected so there’s not any inconsistencies? Seeing no questions to that, Representative Milligan, recognize you for a motion.

Rep Milligan: Motion do pass.

Rep Dalby: We have a motion to do pass. Is there any discussion on the motion to do pass? Seeing no discussion, all in favor please say aye. Any opposed say no. Motion carries, congratulations you have passed your bill. Senator Johnson, you have missed. Well, let me just warn you, had you been there it might have been an iffy vote but. Teasing. Thank you for coming, Senator Johnson, we appreciate you being here. Just teasing with you. Am I good? Thank you. All right, members, with that we have one other bill. It’s going to be House Bill 1144, and at this time I’ll ask the Vice-Chair to take the Chair. Thank you.

Rep S Berry: Ms. Dalby, if you would identify yourself for the record and then proceed with your bill.

Rep Dalby: Mr. Chair, with your permission, I have Brooke Steen from the AOC here to sit beside me if anybody has any questions.

Rep S Berry: You want to identify yourself?

Steen (AOC): Good morning. Brooke Steen from the Administrative Office of the Courts, I’m the Juvenile Division Director.

Rep S Berry: Okay. Thank you.

Rep Dalby: Members, I’m Carol Dalby, State Representative for District 100. I almost said 1, they changed it and I have to remember to add two zeros. You have before you this morning House Bill 1144. As most of you know, for the last seven years I have been on the Specialty Court Advisory Committee and just for those who may be new to the legislature, the Specialty Courts are courts within our circuit courts and our District Courts. They’re all voluntary, not all circuits have them, not all districts have them. It’s certainly voluntary with those judges in those specific districts and they can do them. And we have them for drugs, alcohol, veteran, juvenile courts, juvenile alcohol or drug courts, those types of things.

And so there is this Specialty Court Advisory Committee that consists of the Chief Justice, a number of judges throughout the state, a number of lay people, prosecutors, defense attorneys, all stakeholders. And what that particular committee does or advisory council does is they review the necessity for increasing specialty courts, looking at the need for specialty courts, how to fund the specialty courts. And funding is always one of those things we have to deal with. It’s not completely funded in the state budget. So what we do is they look for grants and they follow the best practices of the national organization and there are grants out there. So a lot of times that’s how these courts are funded.

But the sole purpose of each one of these courts, no matter what the topic or the heading of that court is, is to try to keep an individual from being incarcerated and out of society. The whole hope is, whether it’s a drug court or a veterans court or a mental health court, is that those services can be given, that individual can stay out of prison, can stay to work, can be a productive citizen of society. And some of the judges here in Pulaski County have at different times offered to let the Judiciary Committee come to see what goes on in a specialty court because they are a court that saves us money and helps us to make people productive citizens.

Now, with all of that being said, last term I believe it was, there was a question or some things that were raised about what to do about some families and families in crisis. And so this has grown out of those questions of can we reach whole families or the whole family and look at the family unit. So we have a judge up in northeast Arkansas and one in northwest Arkansas, who have kind of piloted this type of program in their court system. And this bill is really the bill that tells you how to set it up.

So what the family treatment court, specialty court would do, it’s to reduce family separation due to substance abuse or mental health disorders. And so the goal is in this family treatment court is to keep the family together. And I think that’s always the hope of any of these situations, if you can keep a family together, the better you are. It’s to support the participants, particularly the parents in their parenting roles, and to help them to become better parents to keep this going. And there are services for the child and the children in it to support them to help them either remain with their parents or to return to their parents or guardian or custodian.

When this bill was first filed there were several questions, several different stakeholders that had some questions. Brooke over at AOC, they got everybody in the same room, worked out all the differences so everybody’s on the same page. This will work in conjunction with a family in need of services.

Steen (AOC): Dependency neglect.

Rep Dalby: Dependency neglect cases. And will work in conjunction with that. Once again with the whole goal being to keep that family intact, keep those parents in the workforce. And hopefully, stabilize the family so that they can become productive Arkansans and we don’t have separation of families.

So what you will see in this bill is the mechanics of how that’s done, how people participate. And remember, all of these courts are voluntary. The court does not– the judges do not force somebody into any of these specialty courts. It’s all voluntary and so I think that that’s a good thing. The funding for this is once again would be through grants and any state funding that can be. You’ll see in there that the Quorum Court has the responsibility for all fees. In essence, the court does not determine who’s paying or what’s being done but they would submit just like they do in any kind of bill to the Quorum Court for the Quorum Court to pay and those kinds of things. So there are a lot of safeguards in there. And that’s pretty much the bill in its condensed form. And I’ll be happy to take any questions or Brooke can certainly help me out.

Rep S Berry: Okay. Are there any questions of the Committee? Ms. Hudson?  

Rep Hudson: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Representative Dalby or Brooke either one, I think it’s a great program so I’m not worried about that, but I know from working with some of my clients who provide behavioral health services to children and adults that there’s always a concern about the confidentiality of these types of proceedings. Are these proceedings going to be held under seal or is there some mechanism to ensure the confidentiality for all the parties involved?

Steen (AOC): Absolutely. These are going to run within a dependency neglect case so they’re going to have the same safeguards. And so the entire case will be confidential.

Rep Hudson: Perfect. Thank you.

Steen (AOC): Yes, ma’am.

Rep S Berry: Mr. Richardson, did you have a—

Rep Richardson: No, she answered it. 

Rep S Berry: Okay. Any further questions from the Committee members? If not, is there anyone to speak for or against the bill? And my note says that there is not. Ms. Dalby, are you ready to close for your bill?

Rep Dalby: I am, Mr. Chair. I am closed for my bill and I would make a motion to do pass.

Rep S Berry: Okay. Motion do pass has been made. Any further questions on the motion? If not, all those in favor of the motion say aye. Opposed? Motion carries. Ms. Dalby, you’ve passed your bill.

Rep Dalby: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you, members of the Committee, and thank you, Brooke, for being here.

Rep S Berry: We’ll allow the Chairman to get back to her seat.

Rep Dalby: Members, I think we’ve almost had a record this morning of doing things. I want to remind you and for anybody who may be watching or anybody who is here in the audience, that Tuesday morning at 10:00, we have a special order of business. That will be all of the business that we will take up that day. It’ll be a special order of business on House Bill 1013. So be prepared for that. I can’t anticipate that we will have anything else because usually when we set a special order of business that’s all we’ll be doing. 

Representative Gazaway and I have been discussing on his technical corrections. We’re looking for Thursday of next week to have a technical correction day and we’ll be doing that. And right now we just have outside of those things, we only have two other bills on our agenda, and we will get those worked through. With that, I think that we are adjourned. Thank you so much for your time. Have a great weekend. We are adjourned.