Senate Public Health Committee Advances Bill to Protect Conscience

From Left: Family Council’s Luke McCoy joins Sen. Kim Hammer (R – Benton) and Alliance Defending Freedom’s Stephanie Nichols during presentation of S.B. 289 protecting healthcare workers’ rights of conscience.

On Monday the Senate Public Health Committee passed S.B. 289 by a unanimous voice vote.

This good bill by Sen. Kim Hammer (R – Benton) and Rep. Brandt Smith (R – Jonesboro) protects healthcare workers’ rights of conscience.

Arkansas’ current conscience protections are narrowly focused on abortion, abortifacients, and end of life decisions, and they protect only a limited number of people.

S.B. 289 helps broaden these protections for healthcare workers.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Stephanie Nichols traveled to Little Rock to testify in favor of the bill and outline some of the threats that rights of conscience currently face in Arkansas and across the United States.

No one should have to worry about facing retaliation or discrimination for obeying their conscientious convictions.

Rights-of-conscience is a long-established tradition that predates the U.S. Constitution. This right should not be ignored.

Arkansas’ healthcare payers currently have no specific conscience protections, and Arkansas law does not address discrimination or retaliation against medical professionals or companies who object to certain procedures. Current law also does not provide specific legal remedies for victims of discrimination or retaliation.

S.B. 289 helps address these problems. The bill now goes to the entire Arkansas Senate.

Here’s Some of the Legislation We’re Tracking

We’re wrapping up another week at the Arkansas Legislature.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the bills that we are tracking at the capitol.

Good Bills Passed

On Thursday the Arkansas Senate overwhelmingly passed H.B. 1211 declaring religious organizations are essential during an emergency.

H.B. 1211 (Religion is Essential): This good bill by Representative Mary Bentley (R – Perryville) and Senator Kim Hammer (R – Benton) recognizes that religion and religious organizations are essential in Arkansas. H.B. 1211 will protect churches and religious groups without hampering the government’s ability to respond during a pandemic. See how your state representative voted here. See how your state senator voted here. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1195 (Pro-Life): This good bill by Rep. Jim Dotson (R – Bentonville) and Sen. Bob Ballinger (R – Ozark) enacts legislation ensuring that women are offered information, assistance, and resources that could help them choose an option besides abortion. See how your state representative voted here. See how your state senator voted hereRead The Bill Here.

Good Bills Filed

S.B. 6 (Prohibiting Abortion): This good bill by Sen. Jason Rapert (R – Conway) and Rep. Mary Bentley (R – Perryville) prohibits abortion in Arkansas, except in cases when the mother’s life is in jeopardy. Family Council fully supports this good bill. Family Council is working closely with Sen. Rapert to pass this good bill that could save the lives of thousands of children and give the courts an opportunity to overturn decades of bad, pro-abortion rulings. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1402 (Abortion-Inducing Drugs): This good bill by Rep. Sonia Barker (R – Smackover) and Sen. Blake Johnson (R – Corning) updates Arkansas’ restrictions on abortion-inducing drugs like RU-486. It outlines requirements that abortionists must follow in administering abortion-inducing drugs, and it prohibits abortion drugs from being delivered by mail in Arkansas. It also updates current law to ensure doctors who perform chemical abortions are credentialed to handle abortion complications and can transfer the woman to a hospital if she experiences complications. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1324 (Substance Abuse Treatment for Pregnant Women): This good bill by Rep. Jimmy Gazaway (R – Paragould) gives pregnant women priority in accessing substance abuse treatment programs that accept Medicaid. Read The Bill Here.

H.C.R. 1007 (Abortion): This good resolution by Rep. Jim Wooten (R – Beebe) and Sen. Jason Rapert (R – Conway) recognizes January 22 — the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade abortion decision — as “The Day of Tears” in Arkansas. The resolution acknowledges the 61 million of unborn babies killed in abortion in America over the past five decades, and encourages Arkansans to lower their flags to half-staff on January 22 to mourn the innocent children who have lost their lives. The resolution has passed the House and been sent to the Arkansas Senate. Read The Resolution Here.

S.B. 85 (Abortion): This good bill by Sen. Cecile Bledsoe (R – Rogers) and Rep. Joe Cloud (R – Russellville) requires an abortionist to show an ultrasound image of the unborn baby to the pregnant woman before an abortion. Currently, Arkansas law says an abortionist must offer to let the woman see the ultrasound image. Research indicates that some women are less likely to have an abortion once they see an ultrasound image of their unborn child. That means pro-life bills like S.B. 85 can help further decrease the number of abortions in Arkansas. Arkansas Right to Life is the chief proponent of this bill, and we fully support their efforts. Read The Bill Here.

Above: Rep. Jim Dotson (R – Bentonville) presents H.S. 1116 in the House Public Health Committee on Thursday, February 4.

H.B. 1116 (Simon’s Law): This good bill by Rep. Jim Dotson (R – Bentonville) and Sen. Bart Hester (R – Cave Springs) is named in honor of an infant in Missouri who died after doctors put a Do Not Resuscitate order on his chart without his parent’s knowledge or permission. If passed, it would help protect children in Arkansas from being denied life support or having a DNR placed on their medical charts without parental consent. The bill has passed the House Public Health Committee and been sent to the entire Arkansas House. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1408 (Abortion): This good bill by Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R – Springdale) and Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R – Branch) helps prevent abortion providers and their affiliates in Arkansas from receiving Medicaid reimbursements from the state. Read The Bill Here.

On Tuesday, February 2, the House Public Health Committee considered H.B. 1061, the “No Patient Left Alone Act” by Rep. Julie Mayberry (R – Hensley).

H.B. 1061 (No Patient Left Alone): This good bill by Rep. Julie Mayberry (R – Hensley) and Sen. Breanne Davis (R – Russellville) protects patients from being left alone and denied visitors in hospitals, nursing homes, and similar facilities. No one should be barred from being in the hospital with their dying child, spouse, or parent. This bill helps address that in Arkansas. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1160 (Used Car Tax): This good bill by Rep. John Payton (R – Wilburn) and Sen. Jason Rapert (R – Conway) would eliminate the tax on used cars sold for less than $7,500; the bill contains a provision that would take effect in 2023 eliminating the tax on used cars sold for less than $10,000. Family Council has worked for years to eliminate the used car tax, because it hurts single moms and middle class families who often can barely afford to buy a used vehicle, much less pay sales tax on one. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1353 (Marijuana Advertisements): This good bill by Rep. Delia Haak (R – Gentry) and Sen. Cecile Bledsoe (R – Rogers) closes a loophole in Arkansas’ laws regarding medical marijuana advertisements. It clarifies the law to say that marijuana dispensaries and cultivators cannot use a cross of any color or other symbols commonly associated with the practice of medicine in their advertisements. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1430 (“Tim Tebow” Law): This good bill by Rep. Mark Lowery (R – Maumelle) makes technical adjustments to Arkansas’ “Tim Tebow” law that allows home schoolers to participate in interscholastic activities at public and private schools. H.B. 1430 makes it easier for home schoolers to play sports or other activities outside their resident school district. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1429 (Home School): This good bill by Rep. Mark Lowery (R – Maumelle) and Sen. Ben Gilmore (R – Crossett) makes it easier for a student to withdraw from a public school to home school. The bill eliminates the fourteen-day waiting period currently in Arkansas law for families wishing to transfer out of a public school. It also makes technical corrections to the home school law. Read The Bill Here.

S.B. 289 (Conscience): This good bill by Sen. Kim Hammer (R – Benton) and Rep. Brandt Smith (R – Jonesboro) protects healthcare workers’ rights of conscience. Arkansas’ current conscience protections are narrowly focused on abortion, abortifacients, and end of life decisions, and they protect only a limited number of people. S.B. 289 helps broaden these protections for healthcare workers. Read The Bill Here.

Bad Bills Filed

S.B. 3 (Enacting Hate Crimes Legislation): This bad bill by Sen. Jim Hendren (R – Gravette) and Rep. Fred Love (D – Little Rock) enacts hate crimes legislation by enhancing penalties for crimes committed against certain protected classes of people listed in the bill. The bill is virtually identical to H.B. 1020. Family Council has opposed hate crimes legislation for more than 20 years, and we oppose this bill as well. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1020 (Enacting Hate Crimes Legislation): This bad bill by Rep. Fred Love (D – Little Rock) and Sen. Jim Hendren (R – Gravette) enacts hate crimes legislation by enhancing penalties for crimes committed against certain protected classes of people listed in the bill. The bill is virtually identical to S.B. 3. Family Council has opposed hate crimes legislation for more than 20 years, and we oppose this bill as well. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1228 (Public Drinking): This bad bill by Rep. Lee Johnson (R – Greenwood) and Sen. Breanne Davis (R – Russellville) would let cities in dry counties to approve public drinking in “entertainment districts” if the city contains a private club that serves alcohol. Under Arkansas’ “entertainment district” law, alcohol can be carried and consumed outdoors on city streets and sidewalks around bars and restaurants, if approved by the city council. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1066 (Alcohol): This bill by Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R – Clarksville) would let microbrewery operators ship beer directly to private residences anywhere in the state of Arkansas or to residences in other states that allow direct shipment of alcohol. The bill may not contain sufficient safeguards to prevent alcohol from being delivered to someone who is under 21. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1148 (Alcohol): This bill by Rep. Frances Cavenaugh (R – Walnut Ridge) and Sen. Missy Irvin (R – Mountain View) overhauls Arkansas’ local option election law concerning alcohol. The bill reduces the threshold for taking a county wet or dry via a petition drive. Liquor stores in wet counties would be able to continue operating even if the county voted to go dry. The bill would make it easier for some cities or towns in a dry county to be wet while the rest of the county is dry. Read The Bill Here.

Other Noteworthy Bills

H.B. 1069  (Contraceptives): This bill by Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R – Clarksville) and Sen. Breanne Davis (R – Russellville) lets pharmacists dispense oral contraceptives to women without a prescription from a doctor. Family Council previously opposed this bill. However, Rep. Pilkington has filed amendments to the bill. His amendments address objections Family Council raised against H.B. 1069. At this time, Family Council is neutral on this bill. Read The Bill Here.

S.B. 32 (Alcohol): This bill by Sen. Jane English (R – North Little Rock) and Rep. Karilyn Brown (R – Sherwood) would let retail liquor permit holders — such as liquor stores — deliver alcoholic beverages to private residences in the county where the store is located. The bill may not contain sufficient safeguards to prevent alcohol from being delivered to someone who is under 21. The bill has passed the Arkansas Senate and been sent to the Arkansas House. See how your senator voted hereRead The Bill Here.

S.B. 76 (Alcohol): This bill by Sen. Lance Eads (R – Springdale) and Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R – Springdale) lets “excursion trains” serve alcoholic beverages to passengers. It has passed the Arkansas Senate and the Arkansas House. See how your senator voted hereSee how your representative voted hereRead The Bill Here.

H.B. 1341 (Alcohol): This bill by Rep. Karilyn Brown (R – Sherwood) and Sen. Jane English (R – North Little Rock) permits on-premises consumption of alcohol on Christmas Day. Currently, Arkansas law generally prohibits bars and liquor stores from selling alcohol on Christmas. This bill would allow alcohol to be sold for on-premises consumption in bars and restaurants on Christmas. It would not let liquor stores sell alcohol for off-premises consumption. Read The Bill Here.

Bill Filed to Protect Healthcare Workers’ Rights of Conscience in Arkansas

On Thursday Sen. Kim Hammer (R – Benton) and Rep. Brandt Smith (R – Jonesboro) filed S.B. 289, the Medical Ethics and Diversity Act. This good bill protects healthcare workers’ rights of conscience in Arkansas.

S.B. 289 supplements existing conscience protections in Arkansas law.

It emphasizes the right of healthcare providers, institutions, and payers to decline to participate in medical procedures that violate their moral, religious, or ethical convictions. It also prohibits retaliatory discrimination against healthcare providers, institutions, or payers for declining to participate in healthcare services that violate their consciences.

Arkansas’ current conscience protections are narrowly focused on abortion, abortifacients, and end of life decisions, and they protect only a limited number of people. S.B. 289 helps broaden and strengthen those protections for healthcare workers.

No one should have to worry about facing discrimination for obeying their conscientious convictions.

You can read S.B. 289 here.