State Capitol Week in Review
From Senator Larry Teague
March 10, 2017
LITTLE ROCK – The General Assembly gave final approval to legislation that will give law enforcement authorities effective new tools to deal with people going through mental health crises.
Act 423 of 2017 will establish three regional Mental Health Crisis Stabilization Centers, each with 16 beds. When people need mental health treatment and are causing trouble, the police can take them to a center rather than to jail, where they will not get any treatment at all.
Act 423 also sets up courses to train police officers to recognize and respond to people going through a mental health crisis and whose behavior could be harmful to others and to themselves. The training includes how to deal with people under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Under Act 423 the Arkansas Crime Information Center, which keeps criminal records, will include in those records people’s history of mental health screenings when they are admitted to jail or a mental health crisis center.
The Legislative Criminal Justice Task Force worked on the bill for two years, which also changes how parole violators are treated.
In other news the governor announced his plan to hold down Medicaid costs. There are four main provisions in the plan, and the state must get approval from federal officials to put them in place.
One is a work requirement. Another encourages workers to sign up for employee-sponsored health insurance, rather than for Medicaid. A third provision would allow state officials, rather than federal officials, to determine eligibility. Finally, eligibility would be for people earning 100 percent of the poverty level, rather than the current 138 percent.
Initial estimates are that lowering the income threshold would remove about 60,000 people from the list who qualify for Medicaid expansion, which now has about 311,000 people enrolled. Although they would no longer qualify for Medicaid they could buy health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act, under which they could get tax credits to help them pay the premiums.
The Senate gave final approval to a proposed constitutional amendment that would require voters to present a photo ID in order to cast a ballot. If passed by voters it would authorize the legislature to determine the acceptable forms of ID.
The measure will be on the general election ballot in November of 2018, as will a second proposed amendment referred to the ballot earlier this session that would limit attorneys’ fees and punitive damages in civil lawsuits.
The Senate passed an amended version HB 1249, which has been labeled the “campus carry” bill. Originally it would have allowed faculty and staff with concealed carry permits to carry a firearm on college campuses. After seven amendments, it is a much different bill. It would allow anyone over 21 with a concealed carry permit to carry on campus, but only after they complete eight hours of additional training.
The State Police may waive up to four hours of training for people who got their permit within the past 10 years.
For permit holders who take the additional training, the new bill expands the number of places they can carry. However, they still will not be able to carry a firearm into prisons, courtrooms or school facilities for kindergarten through grade 12. The new version of the bill would expand the number of states that recognize our concealed carry laws, and which will allow Arkansas permit holders to carry in those states under reciprocal agreements.