Last week legislators convened for a special session of the Arkansas Legislature. Two identical bills that caught our attention were H.B. 1006 by Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville) and S.B. 5 by Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Little Rock).
In a nutshell, these bills made it possible for people to unknowingly waive their right to a jury trial when signing a contract. If a company wanted to, they could include language saying that you waive your right to a jury trial in any contract they make you sign—including contracts for admission into a nursing home or hospital, leases, insurance, loans, and so on.
The bills made the waiver irrevocable—meaning once you signed away your right to a jury trial, you couldn’t get it back.
The bills also said that you could not get your right to a jury trial back by arguing that you didn’t read the waiver, didn’t understand the waiver, or didn’t know you were forfeiting your right to a jury trial.
Our chief concern was that nursing homes would force residents to waive their right to a jury trial in order to live in the nursing home. If a grandmother were injured or killed due to nursing home neglect, she or her family would not be able to take her case before a jury.
The bills were filed at 9:00 AM on Tuesday. An hour later H.B. 1006 was in the hands of legislators on the House Judiciary Committee.
Our staff quickly analyzed the bill and drove to the Capitol. The bill’s ink practically was still wet when I sat down to testify in the committee room.
As politely as I could, I told lawmakers why we opposed the bill. “This affects old people,” I finally said. “How many old people in Arkansas even know this bill is being debated right now?”
Fortunately, the bill narrowly was defeated. Had Family Council not been there to oppose it, I am not sure what would have happened.
Several different lawmakers told me the legislation was prompted by a recent court case regarding a dispute over a loan. Lawmakers wanted to make it possible for borrowers and lenders to settle their differences outside of the jury trial system. Personally, I don’t object to that, but passing a blanket proposal that would let elderly nursing home residents and their families unknowingly sign away their right to a jury trial is just plain irresponsible.
After H.B. 1006 failed in committee, Sen. Hutchinson amended S.B. 5. He narrowed the bill so that it only applied to loans, and he took out the language about people being able to sign the waiver unknowingly and the waiver being irrevocable. We decided we could live with those changes, so Family Council quit opposing S.B. 5.
The amended version of S.B. 5 passed the Arkansas House Thursday and has gone to Gov. Hutchinson to be signed into law.
This isn’t the first time lawmakers have tried to take away Arkansans’ right to a jury trial.
Fifteen years ago Family Council spent almost an entire legislative session battling it out with members of the nursing home industry who wanted to shield themselves from lawsuits. At that time, they wanted to take away nursing home residents’ right to go to court. Our staff attorney, Martha Adcock, spent more hours than I can count working with lawmakers to defeat that bad proposal.
I am glad we were successful last week, and I am deeply grateful to the state legislators who helped defeat H.B. 1006 and amend S.B. 5 to address our concerns.
Sadly, this fight is not over. Rep. Bob Ballinger, a sponsor of the bill, plans to continue advocating for the passage of the portions of the bill that lawmakers rejected. Rep. Ballinger told lawmakers that work needs to continue in order to help the business community.
This week the Arkansas Legislature moved forward with plans to look at two key pieces of legislation between now and 2019.
The first is S.B. 583 by Senator Joyce Elliott. The legislature will study the feasibility of requiring 25% of lottery proceeds to fund scholarships; reinstating the 2.5 GPA requirement to be eligible for scholarships; and having independent consultants for the Arkansas Lottery.
The second is S.B. 774, the privacy bill by Senator Linda Collins-Smith. This bill would have required a person using a public shower, locker room, restroom, or similar facility on government property to use the facility that corresponds to the biological sex listed on his or her original birth certificate. The legislature will study this issue in the months to come.
Lawmakers cannot pass these bills during the interim study period, but can research these issues, collect testimony, and present recommendations when the Arkansas Legislature reconvenes as a whole.
We are glad lawmakers have agreed to look at these two issues during the interim. The next step is to schedule meetings where experts, members of the public, and others can testify at the Capitol.
This afternoon a good bill that prohibits “medical marijuana” users from smoking marijuana failed to clear the Arkansas Senate for the second time since last week.
The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment currently lets practically anyone qualify to smoke marijuana. Even children are allowed to smoke it.
Smoking is a recreational activity that is almost universally recognized as unhealthy.
That’s why S.B. 357 by Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) and Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Elm Springs) prohibits marijuana smoking; other forms of medical marijuana use—such as marijuana oils, tinctures, and vaporizers—would remain legal, but not smoking.
This afternoon S.B. 357 failed to pass the Arkansas Senate. The bill needed twenty-four votes to pass; it received only eleven.
Here are the senators who voted for S.B. 357:
- Sen. Cecile Bledsoe (R-Rogers)
- Sen. Ron Caldwell (R-Wynne)
- Sen. Linda Collins-Smith (R-Pocahontas)
- Sen. John Cooper (R-Jonesboro)
- Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs)
- Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View)
- Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway)
- Sen. David Sanders (R-Little Rock)
- Sen. Greg Standridge (R-Russellville)
- Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R-Branch)
- Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot)
Here are the senators who voted against S.B. 357:
- Sen. Will Bond (D-Little Rock)
- Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock)
- Sen. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale)
- Sen. Joyce Elliot (D-Little Rock)
- Sen. Jake Files (R-Fort Smith)
- Sen. Trent Garner (R-El Dorado)
- Sen. Jim Hendren (R-Gravette)
- Sen. Jimmy Hickey (R-Texarkana)
- Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Little Rock)
- Sen. Keith Ingram (D-West Memphis)
- Sen. Blake Johnson (R-Corning)
- Sen. Uvalde Lindsey (D-Fayetteville)
- Sen. Bruce Maloch (D-Magnolia)
- Sen. Terry Rice (R-Waldron)
- Sen. David Wallace (R-Leachville)
Here are the senators who did not vote on S.B. 357:
- Sen. Eddie Cheatham (D-Crossett)
- Sen. Lance Eads (R-Springdale)
- Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock)
- Sen. Scott Flippo (R-Bull Shoals)
- Sen. Stephanie Flowers (D-Pine Bluff)
- Sen. Bill Sample (R-Hot Springs)
- Sen. Larry Teague (D-Nashville)
Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe) voted “Present” on the bill instead of voting for or against it.
Sen. Bryan King (R-Green Forest) was not able to vote due to an excused absence from the Arkansas Senate.
The Arkansas Senate was flooded with phone calls from people all over Arkansas who support this good bill. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette chastised the legislature over the weekend for failing to pass a commonsense regulation like S.B. 357 to ban marijuana-smoking. The fact that the Arkansas Senate failed to pass S.B. 357 today shows that senators are out of touch with Arkansans.
Unfortunately, the Arkansas Senate did not expunge the vote that was cast today. That means it is highly unlikely Sen. Rapert will be able to bring S.B. 357 back up for a third vote.
However, there is legislation related to marijuana-smoking up for consideration in the Arkansas House of Representatives. We plan to work with lawmakers to help those good bills move forward. We will have more information about that legislation in the coming days.