Group Launches Referendum Effort Against LEARNS Act

Above: Gov. Sanders signs the LEARNS Act into law at the Arkansas Capitol Building.

On Monday a group filed paperwork with the state to place the LEARNS Act on the ballot in Arkansas via the initiative and referendum process.

Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students submitted a statement of organization with the Arkansas Ethics Commission. The statement indicates their ballot question committee will seek to repeal the LEARNS Act that Gov. Sanders recently signed into law.

Act 237 of 2023 — originally S.B. 294 — is a 144-page omnibus education law by Sen. Breanne Davis (R – Russellville) and Rep. Keith Brooks (R – Little Rock) titled “The LEARNS Act.”

The law deals with issues such as critical race theory, teacher salaries, public school employment, early childhood care, and protecting elementary school children from inappropriate sexual material at school.

The law also provides a blueprint for implementing a voluntary school choice program that would make it possible for students to receive a publicly-funded education at a public or private school or at home.

As we have said before, the LEARNS Act is a good law that could provide students in Arkansas with unprecedented access to education.

Many families feel like public education has deteriorated over the years, and they don’t like the direction it’s heading. For those families, school choice legislation like the LEARNS Act could empower them with real alternatives that will help their children succeed.

Article 5 of the Arkansas Constitution lets citizens initiate a referendum against recently passed legislation.

If Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students can gather enough petition signatures from registered voters, they can place the LEARNS Act on the ballot for a vote. Currently, placing a referendum on the ballot requires at least 54,422 valid petition signatures.

Articles appearing on this website are written with the aid of Family Council’s researchers and writers.

Recapping Week 13 of the Arkansas Legislature

Above: Sen. Tyler Dees presents S.B. 396, the Social Media Protection Act, in the Arkansas Senate.

The Arkansas Legislature is wrapping up its thirteenth week of the 2023 session.

Here’s a brief recap of the week:

Monday

  • On Monday the Arkansas House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H.B. 1615 enhancing protections for religious freedom.
  • The Rules Committee at the Arkansas House of Representatives passed S.B. 475 authorizing alcohol sales at bars and restaurants via self-service vending machines.
  • The House City, County, and Local Affairs Committee passed S.B. 446 to help expand Pro-Life political subdivisions in Arkansas.

Tuesday

Wednesday

  • On Wednesday the Senate Judiciary Committee passed H.B. 1615 strengthening Arkansas’ religious freedom laws.
  • The Senate Public Health Committee passed H.B. 1786 that would help clarify Arkansas’ abortion restrictions and protect women’s health in the state.
  • The Arkansas House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a good bill prohibiting Delta-8 THC in Arkansas.
  • The Arkansas House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Social Media Protection Act that would help protect children in Arkansas from accessing social media sites without parental consent.
  • The Arkansas House of Representatives passed a bad bill authorizing self-serve alcohol vending machines in bars and restaurants.
  • The Arkansas House of Representatives passed a bill to help expand Pro-Life political subdivisions in Arkansas.
  • The Arkansas House of Representatives passed a pro-life bill addressing abortion-inducing drugs in Arkansas.
  • The legislature passed a measure that will help keep pro-abortion groups out of Arkansas’ public schools.

Thursday

Good Bills Passed So Far

H.C.R. 1005 (Religious Freedom): This good measure by Rep. Mary Bentley (R – Perryville) and Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R – Branch) declares January 16, 2023, “Religious Freedom Day” in Arkansas. Read The Measure Here.

H.R. 1021 (Home Schooling): This good resolution by Reps. Cameron Cooper (R – Romance), Delia Haak (R – Siloam Springs), Wayne Long (R – Bradford), and Mindy McAlindon (R – Centerton) recognizes the fact that home schooling provides educational flexibility and benefits to more than 30,000 students in Arkansas. Read The Resolution Here.

H.R. 1010 (Pro-Life): This good resolution by Rep. Cindy Crawford (R – Fort Smith) recognizes the vital role of pregnancy help organizations in Arkansas. Read The Resolution Here.

Act 68 / H.B. 1098 (Pro-Life): This good law by Rep. Julie Mayberry (R – Hensley) and Sen. Missy Irvin (R – Mountain View) permits Safe Haven Baby Boxes at volunteer fire stations in Arkansas. See How Your Representative VotedSee How Your Senator Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

Act 131 / S.B. 43 (Decency): This good law by Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R – Branch) and Rep. Mary Bentley (R – Perryville) prohibits adult performances on public property or in view of children. It also prohibits public funding of adult performances. See How Your Representative Voted HereSee How Your Senator Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

Act 274 / S.B. 199 (Protecting Children): This good law by Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R – Branch) and Rep. Mary Bentley (R – Perryville) lets a child who undergoes a sex-change procedure sue the healthcare provider who performed procedure if the child suffers any physical, psychological, or emotional injury as a result. See How your Senator Voted HereSee How Your Representative VotedRead The Bill Here.

Act 237 / S.B. 294 (Education): This omnibus education law by Sen. Breanne Davis (R – Russellville) and Rep. Keith Brooks (R – Little Rock) titled “The LEARNS Act” deals with critical race theory, teacher salaries, public school employment, early childhood care, and protecting elementary school children from inappropriate sexual material at school, and it provides a framework for implementing a voluntary school choice program that would make it possible for students to receive a publicly-funded education at a public or private school or at home. See How Your Senator Voted HereSee How Your Representative Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

Act 354 / S.B. 282 (Human Trafficking): This good law by Sen. Missy Irvin (R – Mountain View) and Rep. Jimmy Gazaway (R – Paragould) makes it easier for victims of human trafficking to sue their traffickers and those who profited from the trafficking. See How Your Senator Voted HereSee How Your Representative Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

Act 327 / H.B. 1459 (Human Trafficking): This good law by Rep. Charlene Fite (R – Van Buren) and Sen. Kim Hammer (R – Benton) strengthens Arkansas’ laws and penalties concerning human trafficking. See How Your Representative Voted HereSee How Your Senator Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

Act 317 / H.B. 1156 (Privacy): This good law by Rep. Mary Bentley (R – Perryville) and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R – Jonesboro) addresses privacy in public school locker rooms, showers, restrooms, changing areas, and similar facilities by requiring public schools to designate these facilities for “male” or “female” use. See How Your Representative Voted HereSee How Your Senator Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

Act 310 / S.B. 307 (Pro-Life): This good law by Sen. Kim Hammer (R – Benton) and Rep. Mary Bentley (R – Perryville) authorizes a monument on the Arkansas Capitol Grounds commemorating the unborn children whose lives were lost in abortion. See How Your Senator Voted HereSee How Your Representative Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

Act 372 / S.B. 81 (Obscenity): This good law by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R – Russellville) and Rep. Justin Gonzales (R – Okolona) prohibits giving or sending a child harmful sexual material that contains nudity or sexual activity. See How Your Senator Voted HereSee How Your Representative Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

S.B. 66 (Pornography): This good law by Sen. Tyler Dees (R – Siloam Springs) and Rep. Mindy McAlindon (R – Centerton) requires pornographic websites to use a government-issued ID or a commercially available age verification method to protect children from pornography. See How Your Senator Voted HereSee How Your Representative Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

S.B. 270 (Sexual Indecency): This good bill by Sen. John Payton (R – Wilburn) and Rep. Cindy Crawford (R – Fort Smith) clarifies that an adult commits sexual indecency if the adult enters and remains in a changing area where a child of the opposite sex is present. See How Your Senator Voted HereSee How Your Representative Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

S.B. 361 (Education): This good bill by Sen. Matt McKee (R – Pearcy) and Rep. Cameron Cooper (R – Romance) makes it easier for home schoolers to participate in an interscholastic activity in a neighboring school district if their local district doesn’t offer the activity. It also clarifies requirements about enrollment in public school classes and about the waiting period for student athletes who withdraw from a public school to start home schooling. See How Your Senator Voted HereSee How Your Representative Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

S.B. 286 (Pro-Life): This good bill by Sen. Scott Flippo (R – Bull Shoals) and Rep. Lane Jean (R – Magnolia) authorizes $1 million in state-funded grants for crisis pregnancy centers, maternity homes, adoption agencies, and social services agencies that provide material support to women with unplanned pregnancies. See How Your Senator Voted Here. See How Your Representative Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

S.B. 446 (Pro-Life): This good bill by Sen. Joshua Bryant (R – Rogers) and Rep. Kendon Underwood (R – Cave Springs) expands the law that lets cities, counties, and other political subdivisions of the state pass resolutions affirming that they are Pro-Life. See How Your Senator Voted Here. See How Your Representative Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

S.B. 452 (Pro-Life): This good bill by Sen. Ben Gilmore (R – Crossett) and Rep. Mindy McAlindon (R – Centerton) amends the legislative declarations in the Arkansas Family Planning Act of 1973. The bill deletes legislative findings in state law that claim, “Continuing population growth either causes or aggravates many social, economic, and environmental problems, both in this state and in the nation,” and that “[c]ontraceptive procedures, supplies, and information as to and procedures for voluntary sterilization are not sufficiently available as a practical matter to many persons in this state.” See How Your Senator Voted Here. See How Your Representative Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

S.B. 466 (Pro-Life): This good bill by Sen. Jim Dotson (R – Bentonville) and Rep. Sonia Barker (R – Smackover) says that a public school or open-enrollment public charter school shall not knowingly enter into any type of transaction with an individual or entity that offers or provides abortion referrals. This will help keep public schools from contracting with organizations like Planned Parenthood in Arkansas. See How Your Senator Voted HereSee How Your Representative Voted Here. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1786 (Pro-Life): This good bill by Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R – Knoxville) and Sen. Clint Penzo (R – Springdale) specifies that abortions performed to save the life of the mother must take place in a hospital or emergency room. This bill will help clarify Arkansas’ restrictions on abortion, and it will protect women’s health by ensuring that any abortion performed to save the mother’s life takes place in a facility that is properly equipped to handle medical emergencies. See How Your Representative Voted Here. See How Your Senator Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

S.B. 384 (Adoption): This good bill by Sen. David Wallace (R – Leachville) requires public schools to provide at least one hour of education regarding adoption awareness to students in grades 6-12.  See How Your Senator Voted HereSee How Your Representative Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

S.B. 396 (Social Media): This good bill by Sen. Tyler Dees (R – Siloam Springs) and Rep. Jon Eubanks (R – Paris) requires social media companies to verify users’ ages, and it prohibits them from letting minors access the social media platform without parental consent. See How Your Senator Voted Here. See How Your Representative Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

H.B. 1468 (LGBT): This good bill by Rep. Wayne Long (R – Bradford) says that a teacher or faculty member who declines to use a student’s or co-worker’s preferred pronouns could not be held civilly, criminally, or administratively liable. See How Your Representative Voted Here. See How Your Senator Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

H.B. 1615 (Religious Freedom): This good bill by Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R — Elm Springs) and Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R — Branch) makes important clarifications to the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act that helps safeguard the ability of religious people and religious organizations to operate according to their deeply held convictions. See How Your Representative Voted Here. See How Your Senator Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

Good Bills Filed So Far

S.B. 358 (Marijuana): This good bill by Sen. Tyler Dees (R – Siloam Springs) and Rep. Jimmy Gazaway (R – Paragould) would prevent Delta-8 THC from being manufactured via industrial hemp, and it would place Delta-8, Delta-9, and Delta-10 THC on the list of controlled substances in state law. See How Your Senator Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

H.B. 1006 (Abortion): This good bill by Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R — Knoxville) would require an employer that covers abortions or travel expenses related to abortions to also provide 12 weeks of paid maternity leave to employees in Arkansas. See How Your Representative Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

H.B. 1398 (Pro-Life): This good bill by Rep. Les Eaves (R – Searcy) raises the state income tax credit for stillborn children from $500 to $1,500. See How Your Representative Voted Here. Read The Bill Here.

S.B. 261 (Pro-Life): This good bill by Sen. John Payton (R – Wilburn) and Rep. Delia Haak (R – Siloam Springs) lets a person claim an unborn child as a dependent for income tax credit purposes. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1428 (Education): This good bill by Rep. Cameron Cooper (R – Romance) and Sen. Matt McKee (R – Pearcy) ensures that public, private, and home schooled students have equal access to college and career readiness assessments offered at public schools in Arkansas, and that students with disabilities receive appropriate accommodations when taking these exams. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1305 (Child Welfare): This good bill by Rep. Delia Haak (R – Siloam Springs) protects child welfare by amending the “mature minor” doctrine in Arkansas law to clarify minors may consent to medical treatment for sexual assault; sexual, domestic, or physical abuse; or alcohol or substance abuse. Read The Bill Here.

S.B. 284 (Alcohol): This good bill by Sen. Jane English (R – North Little Rock) would prevent retail liquor stores, microbrewery restaurants, and small breweries from delivering alcohol to private residences in the county where the store is located. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1141 (Sexual Assault): This good bill by Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R – Elm Springs) and Sen. Clint Penzo (R – Springdale) clarifies the definitions for “consent” and “forcible compulsion” in Arkansas’ laws regarding sexual offenses, and it helps strengthen Arkansas law to better address date rape. Read The Bill Here.

Bad Bills Passed So Far

Act 34 / H.B. 1024 (Public Drinking): This law by Rep. David Ray (R – Maumelle) and Sen. Matt McKee (R – Pearcy) would let cities and towns that do not collect advertising and promotion taxes on hotels and restaurants establish entertainment districts where public drinking is legal. This would let communities authorize public drinking in entertainment districts even if the community does not cater toward hospitality and tourism. That has the potential to expand public drinking in Arkansas. Read The Bill HereSee How Your State Senator and State Representative Voted Here.

Act 162 / S.B. 138 (Abortion): This bad law by Sen. Missy Irvin (R – Mountain View) and Rep. Rebecca Burkes (R – Lowell) repeals abortion facility licensing requirements in state law. Arkansas’ abortion facility licensing requirement is tied to other provisions related to abortion in state code. Repealing the licensing requirement could have unintended consequences for those good laws if abortion were once again made legal by a state or federal court decision or law. See How your Senator Voted HereSee How Your Representative Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

Act 169 / H.B. 1162 (Alcohol): This bad law by Rep. David Ray (R – Maumelle) and Sen. Justin Boyd (R – Fort Smith) would expand alcohol sales via microbreweries. See How Your Representative Voted HereSee How Your Senator Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

Act 334 / H.B. 1498 (Alcohol): This bad law by Rep. Matt Brown (R – Conway) and Sen. Missy Irvin (R – Mountain View) would expand alcohol at microbrewery-restaurant private clubs and let municipalities authorize public drinking in entertainment districts outside microbrewery-restaurant private clubs. See How Your Representative Voted HereSee How Your Senator Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

Act 439 / H.B. 1349 (Gambling): This bad bill by Rep. David Ray (R – Maumelle) and Sen. Jim Dotson (R – Bentonville) legalizes paid “esports tournaments” in Arkansas. The bill has been heavily amended, but it still does not adequately prohibit wagering at casinos on esports tournaments. See How your Representative Voted HereSee How Your Senator Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

S.B. 475 (Alcohol): This bad bill by Sen. Joshua Bryant (R – Rogers) amends Arkansas’ law regarding alcohol sales via vending machine. The bill authorizes self-serve machines that dispense beer, wine, mixed drinks, and distilled spirits for on-premises consumption in bars and restaurants. See How Your Senator Voted Here. See How Your Representative Voted HereRead The Bill Here.

Bad Bills Filed So Far

H.B. 1605 (Marijuana): This bad bill by Rep. Jeremiah Moore (R – Clarendon) and Sen. Joshua Bryant (R – Rogers) would legalize Delta-8 THC and other dangerous drugs made from cannabis under the state’s industrial hemp law. Read The Bill Here.

S.J.R. 13 (Marijuana): This proposed constitutional amendment by Sen. Joshua Bryant (R – Rogers) would “legalize marijuana for the purposes of craft or home growing and adult use by Arkansas residents of a certain age.” Read The Amendment Here.

H.J.R. 1008 (Abortion): This bad amendment by Rep. Deborah Ferguson (D – West Memphis) would amend the Arkansas Constitution to recognize a fundamental right to abortion. Read The Amendment Here.

H.B. 1684 (Abortion): This bad bill by Rep. Denise Garner (D – Fayetteville) would permit abortions performed to protect the health of the mother. Over the decades, courts have interpreted health exceptions like the ones in H.B. 1684 very broadly. As a result, adding this kind of vague exception to a pro-life law makes it much easier to justify abortion and can effectively permit abortion on demand. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1174 (Fetal Homicide and Wrongful Death): This bill by Rep. Richard Womack (R – Arkadelphia) changes Arkansas’ fetal homicide law and wrongful death statute. Among other things, the bill makes it possible to prosecute or sue a woman for the death of her unborn child. It is unclear how a court might interpret and enforce this bill in light of Arkansas’ laws prohibiting abortion. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1587 (Home Schooling): This bad bill by Rep. Jim Wooten (R – Beebe) requires home schoolers to take a nationally recognized norm-referenced test every year in order to receive any form of public funds. The testing requirements in H.B. 1587 do not seem to be connected to the LEARNS Act that Gov. Sanders recently signed into law. Home schoolers in Arkansas would have to test if they receive any type of public assistance or any type of grant or scholarship paid for with state or federal funds. Read The Bill Here.

Bad Bills Defeated

H.B. 1670 (Abortion): This bad bill by Rep. Ashley Hudson (D – Little Rock) would weaken Arkansas’ pro-life laws by creating an exception for abortion in cases of incest. Rape and incest are evil, and any woman who is a victim of rape or incest is a victim in every sense of the word. However, legislation like H.B. 1670 fails to acknowledge that the unborn child is totally innocent. An unborn boy or girl has no control over how he or she was conceived. These are living human beings. It is not right to kill an unborn baby because the baby’s father was a rapist or committed incest. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1301 (Abortion): This bad bill by Rep. Nicole Clowney (D – Fayetteville) would legalize abortion in cases of “fetal abnormality incompatible with life.” The bill does not define what is or is not a “fetal abnormality.” It is not clear how a federal judge might interpret this language. Unborn children should not be aborted simply because a doctor thinks they may be at risk for a fetal abnormality. Family Council strongly opposes this bill — and any other bill that would weaken our state’s pro-life laws. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1204 (Nonpublic School Testing): This bill by Rep. Jim Wooten (R – Beebe) requires nonpublic schools that receive any form of state funding to assess their students with a standardized test. Read The Bill Here.

Arkansas Legislature Passes Religious Freedom Law

On Thursday the Arkansas Legislature passed what could be the strongest religious freedom protection law in the country.

H.B. 1615, the Conscience Protection Act by Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R — Elm Springs) and Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R — Branch), makes important clarifications to the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The bill also helps prohibit religious discrimination against individuals, business owners, and organizations that want to follow their deeply held religious convictions.

In 2015 Gov. Hutchinson signed Arkansas’ Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. That good law has been on the books for the past eight years — but it needs to be improved upon.

Over the past decade, we have seen wedding venuesbakeriesphotography studios, and florist shops come under fire, because their owners wanted to operate according to their deeply held convictions.

Our laws must protect religious liberty as much as possible. H.B. 1615 improves on good state law to help prevent the government from burdening the free exercise of religion in Arkansas.

H.B. 1615 has already passed in the Arkansas House of Representatives, where it received very strong support. The bill now goes to Gov. Sanders to become law.

The Following Senators Voted For H.B. 1615

  • J. Boyd
  • J. Bryant
  • A. Clark
  • Crowell
  • B. Davis
  • Dees
  • J. Dismang
  • J. Dotson
  • J. English
  • Flippo
  • Gilmore
  • K. Hammer
  • Hester
  • Hickey
  • Hill
  • Irvin
  • B. Johnson
  • M. Johnson
  • B. King
  • M. McKee
  • J. Payton
  • C. Penzo
  • J. Petty
  • Rice
  • Stone
  • G. Stubblefield
  • D. Sullivan
  • D. Wallace

The Following Senators Voted Against H.B. 1615

  • G. Leding
  • F. Love
  • R. Murdock
  • C. Tucker

The Following Senator Did Not Vote

  • L. Chesterfield

The Following Senators Were Excused From Voting

  • Caldwell
  • S. Flowers