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Guns galore 

Cotton down on AHCA, 'conscience' bill rejected, state turns away immigrant children and more.

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Quote of the Week:

"As it's written today, this bill in the House of Representatives cannot pass the Senate. I believe it would have adverse consequences for millions of Americans and it wouldn't deliver on our promises to reduce the cost of health insurance for Americans."

— U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton on ABC's "This Week," criticizing the American Health Care Act, the House Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the AHCA would result in 24 million more Americans being uninsured by 2026. It would also reduce federal deficits by $337 billion, the CBO said. House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump are pushing hard for passage of the AHCA, but it faces mounting opposition from conservatives, some Republicans from states that have expanded Medicaid (such as Arkansas) and congressional Democrats.

Guns galore

The NRA is set to win again in Arkansas. House Bill 1249, by Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville), began as an effort to allow staff members on college campuses to carry concealed weapons. After much legislative drama on the Senate side, it was ultimately amended to become a much broader expansion. If the Senate amendment receives final concurrence from the House, the new version of HB 1249 will allow anyone with a concealed carry permit to tote their gun on campus, provided they take eight hours of additional training from the State Police. But it would also allow guns in most public buildings — including the state Capitol and county courthouses — and even in bars and churches, if not expressly prohibited. Anthony Roulette, an NRA lobbyist, said the organization was "very happy" with the bill and called it "our primary legislative objective in Arkansas this year."

Health care 'conscience' exemption rejected

The House Public Health committee rejected a bill by Rep. Brandt Smith (R-Jonesboro) that would create an avenue for health care workers, institutions and insurers to opt out of administering or paying for services on the basis of "religious, moral or ethical principles." Smith said the bill would "protect" those who object to procedures such as transgender reassignment surgery or abortion, and would prohibit withholding "life-sustaining treatment" from any individual.

Several doctors objected to the legislation, including Arkansas Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe, who said a "freedom of conscience" exemption was not necessary and "sends a message" to some minority groups (such as LGBT people) that the state "is insensitive to them and is proactively trying to preempt something against them." Bledsoe said he hasn't heard from health care professionals who feel a need for such a bill.

Arkansas turns away immigrant children

Complaints from Arkansas's congressional delegation — and a change in the White House — have put an end to federal plans to use the vacant Ouachita Job Corps facility in Garland County as a temporary shelter for unaccompanied minors, many fleeing violence in Central America. Fourth District U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, who objected to the children being housed temporarily in his district, celebrated the about-face from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. It's a victory for the fearful.

Legislators seek to punish university for sex ed event

Rep. Trevor Drown (R-Dover) and other conservative legislators filed an amendment to Arkansas Tech University's budget appropriation that would end funding for the Russellville college's Department of Diversity and Inclusion. The department is targeted in part because it was listed as a sponsor for an annual event called "Sex on the Lawn," which is put on by a student group to provide information about safe sex and relationships. The event used no university funds.

Charters triumph in re-vote on facilities bill

A measure to force public school districts to sell or lease their underutilized buildings to charter schools failed in the House on Wednesday by a single vote — but returned on Thursday to narrowly win passage, 53-32. Senate Bill 308 previously passed the Senate and now awaits the governor's signature.

Wine bill passes

With a bare minimum of votes, 18-14, the Senate gave final approval to an expansion of wine sales in Arkansas grocery stores over the strenuous objection of liquor store owners. The bill, which was pushed by Walmart and other grocers, allows sales of all wines in grocery stores, rather than the limited selection of "small farm" and in-state wines now permitted. It now goes to the governor.

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