Arkansas Capitol Almanac

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas governor says preliminary research suggests 'heartbeat' abortion ban unconstitutional

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe says his office's preliminary research suggests a proposal to ban most abortions in the state is unconstitutional but isn't ready to say whether he opposes the legislation.

Beebe said Monday his office is still researching the legality of the proposal to ban most abortions if a heartbeat is detected but said the early research suggests it would have constitutional problems. The Senate last week approved the measure, which would ban abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Beebe said his office is also researching the legality of two other abortion measures. One would ban abortions at 20 weeks into a pregnancy and the other would ban insurers in the exchange created under the federal health care law from covering abortions.

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Bills to restrict abortions pass Ark. House

The Arkansas House has approved a bill that would ban abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy and another to prohibit insurers in the exchange created under the federal health care law from covering the procedure.

The House voted 75-20 to approve legislation that would ban abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the notion that a fetus is capable of feeling pain at that point. The proposal includes some exemptions for the medical health of the mother but not for rape and incest.

The House also backed legislation that would ban insurance coverage for abortions in the health insurance exchange. The measure passed on a 77-15 vote and includes exemptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.

Both measures now head to a Senate committee.

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Arkansas House backs Senate-approved measure to allow concealed weapons in churches

The Arkansas House has overwhelmingly approved a bill that allows concealed handguns in churches and other houses of worship.

The House voted 85-8 Monday on a measure that would leave it up to individual places of worship to decide whether to allow concealed handguns and who could carry them.

The bill already cleared the Senate last month on a 28-4 vote.

The legislation now heads back to the Senate for a vote on the addition of new sponsors to the bill before it goes to the governor's desk.

Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe has indicated he will likely sign the bill.

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Ark. House approves bill barring sex offenders from pools and playgrounds at state parks

The state House has passed legislation to prohibit certain sex offenders from swimming areas and playgrounds in state parks.

The House voted 90-0 Monday to pass a bill to make it a Class D felony for Level 3 and 4 sex offenders to be present at swimming areas or playgrounds within a state park. One member voted present on the bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Missy Irvin of Mountain View.

A Level 4 offender is considered a sexually violent predator. A Level 3 offender is considered a high risk to reoffend.

The House also voted to impose a $250 fee on new residents to Arkansas who are required to register as a sex offender.

Both bills have passed the Senate and are expected to be signed by Gov. Mike Beebe.

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Arkansas members of legislative black caucus say they're concerned about voter ID proposals

Members of the Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus say they're concerned that proposals requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls may disenfranchise some minority voters.

At their meeting on Monday, lawmakers in the caucus asked pointed questions of Republican Sen. Bryan King, who is pushing for tighter rules for voter identification at the polls. King says his bill and proposed constitutional amendment are needed to combat voter fraud and ensure the integrity of the voting system.

Arkansas ACLU Executive Director Rita Skylar countered that there is no evidence of problems with voter impersonation in Arkansas and said the voter ID law would make the state vulnerable to legal challenges.

The leader of the black caucus said the group had not yet taken an official position on the proposed measures.

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Halter calls on Ark. lawmakers to advance health care as they weigh Medicaid expansion

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Bill Halter says Arkansas lawmakers have a chance to advance health care in the state as they weigh whether to expand Medicaid's eligibility under the federal health law.

Halter told The Associated Press on Monday he would avoid talking about specific negotiations between Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe and Republicans on the proposed Medicaid expansion. But Halter said he believes turning down expanded coverage paid for by the federal government doesn't make sense.

Halter said he planned to run on a set of proposals that would improve education and job prospects and help advance middle class families. Halter is a former lieutenant governor who announced last month he was running for governor.

Halter said he's encouraged by the support he's received so far in his bid.

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Ark AG says agenda for legislative session includes human trafficking, execution bills

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel says a revision of Arkansas' lethal injection law and measures to combat human trafficking are part of his legislative agenda for this year's session.

McDaniel on Monday outlined the bills that he plans to support in this year's session. McDaniel said he'll appear before a Senate panel Wednesday to testify in favor of legislation that will revise the lethal injection law that the state Supreme Court threw out last year.

McDaniel said he backs a bill filed Monday by Republican Sen. Bart Hester that calls for using one drug in lethal injections. McDaniel said his office drafted the bill in conjunction with the Department of Correction.

McDaniel also said his office planned to testify in favor of laws targeting human trafficking before a House committee Tuesday.

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Quote of the day:

"Obviously, we don't want to pass unconstitutional laws and end up in court costing taxpayers tons of money."

Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who said Monday he was still researching the legality of the 20-week ban on abortions and banning the insurance exchange from paying for the procedure, but Beebe said preliminary research suggests that the "heartbeat" abortion ban is unconstitutional. Beebe stopped short of saying that he opposes the legislation.

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