SB622, GIRLS Act head to state Senate for busy week in legislature

State’s highest court grants motion to dismiss appeal on Sullivan v. Romero, saying case is now moot

SB622, GIRLS Act head to state Senate for busy week in legislature
It will be a busy week at the state Capitol in Little Rock as a hate crimes related bill moves to a Senate committee Monday and the GIRLS Act heads to the Senate for a vote. (Source: ABC/NBC)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KAIT) - It will be a busy week at the state Capitol in Little Rock as a hate crimes related bill moves to a Senate committee Monday, the GIRLS Act heads to the Senate for a vote and a lawsuit on COVID-19 directives moves to the state’s highest court.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to take up SB622 during a 3 p.m. meeting Monday at the Capitol.

The bill was filed April 1 by House Speaker Matthew Shepherd (R-El Dorado), Senate President Pro Tempore Jimmy Hickey Jr. (R-Texarkana), Rep. Carol Dalby (R-Texarkana), and Sen. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale).

The bill would delay the release of certain offenders until the offender has served at least 80 percent of their sentence if the offender purposely selected their victim.

Under the bill, the crimes listed include murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, battery in the first degree, aggravated assault, terroristic threatening, if a felony offense, terroristic act, arson, unlawful discharge of a firearm from a vehicle and an attempt, solicitation or a conspiracy to commit an offense listed if an attempt, solicitation or conspiracy itself is a felony.

Two other hate crimes bills have been filed this session by Sen. Jim Hendren (I-Sulphur Springs) and Rep. Fred Love (D-Little Rock), but neither bill has been before a committee.

As for SB622, the bill has received support and opposition from groups in recent days.

The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce is in support of the bill, while the Arkansas Family Council and the Anti-Defamation League South Central have stated their opposition.

State Chamber President Randy Zook told content partner Talk Business & Politics Sunday that the bill seeks to find a local solution to the issue.

“If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s a duck,” Zook said. “That would be my answer to that. Yes, it is (a hate crimes bill), and yes it does. It’s an Arkansas solution to a tough challenge and it’s appropriate.”

The Arkansas Family Council said in a statement on social media last week that they reviewed SB622, especially on issues dealing with religious liberty and free speech.

“Our conclusion is that this bill’s language is vague and subjective. The bill fails to define important terms like ‘recognizable and identifiable. This bill is so ambiguous that it’s impossible to know just how far-reaching this legislation may be,” the group’s president, Jerry Cox, said in the statement.

The ADL South Central said on Twitter they were opposed to the bill.

The response from the ADL South Central last week also drew a response from Zook Sunday.

“I’m not in the least bit motivated by or concerned about the credit or lack thereof from the Anti-Defamation League. I’m concerned about Arkansas businesses, Arkansas people, Arkansas employers. This bill is more comprehensive than that cookie-cutter approach that the ADL would have had us follow, and it’s more comprehensive and it’s more severe,” Zook told Talk Business & Politics.

GIRLS Act

The Senate is also scheduled to take up SB450 Monday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View) and Rep. DeAnn Vaught (R-Horatio), would create the Gender Integrity Reinforcement Legislation for Sports, or GIRLS Act, in the state.

Under the bill, all interscholastic, intercollegiate, intramural or club athletic teams or sports sponsored by an elementary school, high school, secondary school or postsecondary school would have the following teams:

  • males, men or boys;
  • females, women or girls;
  • Coed or mixed.

The bill also prohibits “members of the male sex” from participating in any interscholastic, intercollegiate, intramural or club athletic team or sport that is expressly designed for females, women or girls.

Also, the bill would allow the Attorney General to seek a cause of action for injunctive relief and any other relief for a “covered entity that knowingly violates this chapter” and “the directors, officers, agents, and employees of a covered entity that knowingly violates this chapter.”

In addition to the relief, a court could enter into an injunction to bar the school from receiving funding from any public source for up to one year, according to the bill.

Sullivan v. Romero

The state’s highest court was expected to hear oral arguments Thursday from 18 state lawmakers who challenged Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s ability to issue directives dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the Arkansas Supreme Court granted a motion to dismiss the appeal, making the arguments moot.

In court papers filed by an attorney for Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Jonesboro) and the 17 other lawmakers, a request was made to dismiss the appeal.

“Act 403, signed into law by Governor Hutchinson on March 22, 2021, during the pendency of this litigation, amended the Arkansas Emergency Services Act, A.C.A 12-75-701. That act includes a provision calling for the convening of the Arkansas General Assembly as committees of the whole for the purpose of considering and possibly terminating a statewide declaration of disaster emergency in satisfaction of the constitutional principle of co-equal branches of government and the doctrine of separation of powers that were the bases for the underlying action,” the motion said. “Because the issues raised in said action are now moot, this appeal should be dismissed and the oral arguments scheduled for April 8, 2021 canceled. Further, Respondents request that the Court expedite its consideration of this motion.”

The case, Sullivan v. Romero, was filed last September in Pulaski County Circuit Court. The lawmakers alleged the directives were done without the approval of the 135-member General Assembly.

However, the Arkansas Attorney General’s office, which is representing Gov. Hutchinson in the case, said the Emergency Services Act of 1973 gave governors the power to respond during health emergencies in the state.

The suit was dismissed last October in Pulaski County Circuit Court and was appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Dr. Romero confirmation

The Senate Rules Committee is also expected this week to discuss the confirmation of Dr. Jose Romero as Secretary of Health.

According to content partner KATV, a request was made last week by Sen. Trent Garner (R-El Dorado) for the confirmation hearing.

Sen. Garner told KATV that he had some concerns.

“I have serious questions about Dr. Romero’s ability to lead the Department of Health, and until those questions are answered in a public forum by him or his staff, I will not vote for his confirmation,” Garner told KATV.

Romero was appointed as interim Secretary of Health last year and was officially appointed last August.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson told KATV that Dr. Romero is a “nationally recognized leader in pediatric medicine, and we are fortunate to have his experience and skills in state government.”

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