New bills: Prison reform, school board election dates, regulating campaign ads and abortion | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, February 19, 2015

New bills: Prison reform, school board election dates, regulating campaign ads and abortion

Posted By on Thu, Feb 19, 2015 at 6:17 PM

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It's been a busy day, and there's still more to talk about. Here are several noteworthy pieces of legislation filed towards the end of the afternoon.

*PRISON REFORM: Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Benton) introduced SB 472, the legislation to enable the corrections reform plan laid out yesterday by his uncle, Gov. Asa Hutchinson. It's a big, sprawling bill that will require a closer look, but a quick survey shows a few surprises not mentioned yesterday by the governor. Looks like we have yet another Asa task force, for one thing: the "Legislative Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force," which will study "performance and outcome measures" related to the reform package.

It also creates something called a "pay-for-success program," in which the Department of Community Corrections will pay its contractors for intervention services "only if certain performance targets are met, including without limitation a reduction in the reincarceration rate." And then there's this section: "Warrantless search by any law enforcement officer for a probationer or parolee." It says that in order to be eligible for probation/parole, a person must sign a waiver that allows any law enforcement or parole officer to "conduct a warrantless search of his or her person, place of residence, or motor vehicle at any time, day or night, whenever requested." The search also "does not need to be based on an articulable suspicion that the person is committing or has committed a criminal offense."

If you won't sign the waiver, no probation or parole for you. Civil liberties groups might have something to say about that

*SCHOOL BOARD ELECTIONS: Rep. Nate Bell (R-Mena) filed HB 1422, which would move local school board elections to the regular November date for general elections, rather than in September. It's not a new idea, but it may have a better chance of gaining traction in this legislature than in previous years. Should it pass, local millage campaigns will generally be much harder pressed to gain voter approval.

Note that the bill was assigned to the House State Agencies committee. Dems have enough of a presence on House Education to block legislation hostile to public schools, but State Agencies is dominated by conservative members (these were the gentlemen who gave us Lee/King State Embarrassment Day last week) and may be more amenable to the election date change. We'll see.

*ELECTIONEERING COMMUNICATIONS: Rep. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) is sponsoring a bill to require reporting and disclosure of "electioneering communications." That deserves a round of applause. "Electioneering" ads refer to the weaselly class of political commercials during election season that are paid by outside groups (ie, not the candidate's campaign itself) and manage to skirt the definition of what counts as a campaign ad by using phrasings such as "call Candidate X and tell him/her to stop supporting terrorism," etc. 

Such ads are entirely unregulated by the state, often making it impossible to know who's buying them. Thanks to a bad decision by the Arkansas Ethics Commission in January, candidates now can even appear in electioneering ads that an independent group purchase for them (a la Leslie Rutledge and her saltshaker commercial) — all without any campaign finance rules. Tucker was himself the target of sleazy anonymous mailers in his race against Republican Stacey Hurst in 2014, so he presumably sees the absurdity of allowing this sort of political material to fly underneath the public radar.

*ABORTION: Legislators filed two bills aimed at limiting access to abortion in Arkansas. Max will undoubtedly have more on this in the future, so for now I'll just give the bill numbers. HB 1421 by Rep. Mary Bentley (R-Perryville) targets admitting privileges for abortion providers; HB 1424 by Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork) concerns parental notification in the case of a minor seeking an abortion.

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