What a wild week at the Arkansas Legislature. Hannah hit the bullseye in our video recap when she said, “A lot of stuff happened, but not a lot of things got done.” Watch the video or read on to see what we mean. 

Drag bill unanimously passes Senate committee 

Remember SB43? It’s the bill that classifies drag performances as adult entertainment. It ran in Senate committee this week, and the meeting was one big ball of bad vibes. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Gary Stubblefield introduced the bill by rattling off alleged horrors drag performers cause: stealing children’s innocence, violating children’s boundaries, trivializing family fun. He also made multiple references to childhood memories that still haunt him. 

There was a lot of public testimony against the bill and only one proponent for it: Jerry Cox, founder of the Family Council — an ultra right-wing, anti-abortion group. Cox gave the bill a “Well done” but folks speaking against the bill had much more to say. Among the speakers were an artistic director, a disability rights advocate, the director of the ACLU of Arkansas, a trans attorney, and a drag performer. Committee members were quick to push back on testimony against the bill. Sens. Sullivan and Hammer were particularly keen on trying to trip up members of the public, though most individuals were unfazed by the “gotcha” attempts. The most damning testimony came from Holly Dickson of the ACLU, who succinctly demonstrated how the bill violates the first amendment and the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment, making it unconstitutional. Senators cared not, and the bill passed unanimously with a voice vote. It now moves to the Senate floor. 

Action item: Call your senator and ask them to vote against SB43 

Bills filed to punish banks for having “woke” political stances 

A few bills have been filed that would penalize financial institutions for having progressive stances on hot button issues. One bill in particular, SB62, would bar public entities from doing business with certain banks. The legislation comes from outside of Arkansas and is modeled after bills passed in Texas, West Virginia, and Oklahoma, where lawmakers punished banks for supporting green energy.  These proposed AR bills would allow our state to cut ties with banks they feel are too “woke,” thereby jeopardizing accounts critical to Arkansans’ livelihoods, like police pensions and teacher retirement plans. The move fits with an emerging 2023 Arleg theme: Attack woke ideology but ignore helpful policy — or in Sen. Gary Stubblefield’s words about businesses sponsoring drag shows, “Go woke, go broke.” 


Gov. Sanders reverses Gov. Hutchinson’s position on mask mandate lawsuit 

In a confusing press release this week, Gov. Sanders announced her office was retaining the Attorney General’s office in the suit against the mask mandate. “What mask mandate?” you may be thinking, to which we’d reply, “Exactly.” A while back, some Arkansas parents filed suit against the state’s mask mandate ban; Gov. Hutchinson’s office obtained outside counsel, essentially siding with the plaintiffs that the mask prohibition was governmental overreach. The AG’s office appealed, and the suit has been sitting at the Arkansas Supreme Court. Fast forward to 2023 when mask mandates are no longer a thing: Gov. Sanders’s office made a fuss to the press about her anti-mask mandate stance and decision to retain AG office counsel for the appeal. Weirdly, the suit is likely to be dismissed by the Court as mask mandates are moot. If you’re still tracking, this whole thing stinks because 1) the suit the governor’s office is tied to will likely be dismissed; 2) new Attorney General Tim Griffin knows this; 3) making a statement that you disagree with your predecessor via a press release is quite something; 4) none of this really matters legally. So why the political rigmarole? Perhaps to placate the extremists while risking nothing in court. 

Still no teacher pay raise bill 

As of 1/19/2023, 267 bills have been filed but not one bill addresses teacher pay raises. We do expect to see a big omnibus education bill via the governor, but no word on when. For AR People and members of the Pay AR Teachers coalition unanimously support a stand alone educator pay bill. If you’re frustrated with your reps, and the governor, let them know. Remember to be respectful when contacting members. 

New Abortion bill filed

What addition could one possibly make to Arkansas’s abortion law? In Rep. Womack’s opinion, amending the criminal code, specifically repealing provisions that “may allow a person to solicit, advise, encourage or coerce a pregnant women to abort her unborn child.” Yes, you read that right: it could become a crime in Arkansas to simply advise a woman to seek abortion care. 

A lot of stuff happened, but not much actually got done in the way of proposing laws that help Arkansans. Hopefully lawmakers start addressing real issues really soon.