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Lawmakers head back to Capitol Monday, with many issues still left on the plate



Arkansas – The winter weather that hammered the state of Arkansas kept lawmakers away from the state Capitol last week.

However, warmer temperatures have unthawed many roads, clearing the way for debate to continue Monday in Little Rock.

There are several key issues on the agenda this week at the Capitol, including the debate over the Stand Your Ground bill.

The bill, SB24, is scheduled to be on the agenda for the House Judiciary Committee at 2 p.m. Tuesday in Little Rock.

During the Senate debate, supporters said the bill would protect people in an emergency while opponents said they believe the bill was not a good policy.

“I’m voting for this bill so that vulnerable people in the state, especially all of our daughters, our wives, and our spouses, regardless of their color, have an opportunity to defend themselves against aggressors,” Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) said.

“Is this the best policy to deal with the behavior of persons that it’s left to the one using the deadly force to form a belief, based on their perception of that person, that they use the deadly force against,” Sen. Stephanie Flowers (D-Pine Bluff) said.

However, the bill later failed by a voice vote in the House Judiciary Committee.

According to the bill, it would end the duty to retreat if:

  • The person using deadly force is lawfully present with reasonable belief they’re being threatened.
  • They’re not engaged in criminal or gang activity.
  • The person is not a felon.
  • The person is not the initial aggressor.

Other bills

The state House is expected to take up a bill Monday that would make the theft of a postal package from a porch, garage or driveway a felony in Arkansas.

HB1317, sponsored by Rep. Lee Johnson (R-Greenwood) was approved in committee. The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Marsh Davis (R-Cherokee Village).

The House is also expected to take up SB236, sponsored by Rep. Joe Jett (R-Success) and Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Searcy).

The bill would exempt unemployment compensation and unemployment insurance benefits from state income taxes for 2020 and 2021.

Both lawmakers have said the bill will help people impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state Senate is expected to take up a resolution Monday in support of a proposed museum to honor the former Eaker Air Force Base in Mississippi County.

SR6, sponsored by Sen. Dave Wallace (R-Leachville), would support the plan to call the former Air Force Base the “National Cold War Center.”

The base, in Gosnell, served as a Strategic Air Command operation center during the Cold War for “command and control of land-based strategic bomber aircraft and intercontinental ballistic missiles,” the resolution noted.

The project has also received support from Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) as well.

Sen. Hendren leaves GOP, becomes Independent

A Northwest Arkansas state senator said last week that he was leaving the Republican party to become an independent, citing comments from former President Donald Trump and the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots.

Sen. Jim Hendren (I-Sulphur Springs) told content partner Talk Business & Politics Sunday that he believes good policy is good policy, no matter which party proposes it.

“If I’m not part of the Republican Party and there is this partisanship, it does make me perhaps less effective when it comes to passing specific or controversial legislation,” Hendren told Talk Business & Politics. “I will tell you that I still believe the majority of the people in the Arkansas Senate are going to vote for a piece of legislation if it’s good legislation, even if it’s brought by an independent or a Democrat. Not all. And some are absolutely not going to do it just because of that fact, and that’s part of the problem.”

Sen. Hendren said one particular issue important to him is the hate crimes bill, working its way through the legislature.

“I’ve said all along this is not, to me, what’s important is not who is the first name on the bill or who presents the bill in committee. What’s important is that Arkansas pass hate crimes legislation. If there’s a better person to do that, particularly because of the change that I’m making with party affiliation, I 100% support that and will do whatever is necessary because I believe in the policy,” Sen. Hendren said.

However, the decision to become an independent will not come without a political price.

According to Talk Business & Politics, Hendren will be stripped of his chairmanship of the Senate Insurance and Commerce committee due to Senate rules noting that a member of the majority party must serve as chairman.

Sen. Hendren said he was okay with any decision.

“Look, I understand the consequences of my decisions and I’m willing to accept that,” he said.