This week marks an exciting and productive first nine months serving Maumelle and the communities of Marche, Oak Grove and Amboy as the District 39 state representative. I appreciate the offer to write a monthly column in the Maumelle Monitor and will highlight in this first column some of the legislation in which I was engaged as either a primary sponsor or co-sponsor.
The most high profile legislation I sponsored was Act 1469 of 2013 - a bill allowing home-schooled students to participate in interscholastic activities. This bill - commonly referred to as the “Tim Tebow law” - had fallen short of passage in the 2009 and 2011 legislative sessions. Though mostly seen as allowing home-schooled students to participate in athletics at their local public school, the full intent also allows participation in other extracurricular activities such as band, choir, drama, etc. The final bill was crafted in cooperation with the Arkansas Educational Administrators Association, the Arkansas School Boards Association and the Arkansas Activities Association and passed with wide bi-partisan support.
One significant act that received very little notice was Act 1156 of 2013 which amended current statutory language concerning awarding of joint custody in divorce cases. The original intent required that a family court judge begin with a presumption that joint custody was preferable and move from there based on testimony provided by either party in the divorce. After working with local judges and the Arkansas Bar Association, final language set in law that “an award of joint custody is favored” in the state of Arkansas. This language reverses previous findings that joint custody is not favored and has been a significant hurdle in allowing judges to award such custody arrangements.
Act 1219 of 2013 was sponsored in order to address an area of concern in the Oak Grove community regarding use of residential properties for manufacture and distribution of controlled substances. Existing statute allows the prosecuting attorney to file civil suits against the owners of property being used in such a fashion but the law now extends that right to neighborhood organizations such as a crime watch association. Protections are in the law to discourage frivolous filings by requiring the entity filing suit to pay attorney’s costs in a case that does not meet a reasonable standard of proof.
Act 1353 of 2013 was developed through conversations with the Southern States Police Benevolent Association and addressed areas of concern protecting confidentiality of emergency responders when seeking emotional or moral support as a result of job-related stress or an incident in which the emergency responder was involved while acting in his or her official capacity. This removes a potential barrier to emergency responders seeking peer support.
The 89th General Assembly will probably be called into special session soon to address a significant concern about increases across the state in teacher health insurance premiums. I welcome any input you wish to provide regarding this issue or any other concern by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In subsequent columns I will outline several study proposals I have initiated and other issues being addressed by the Legislature in the interim. I also invite constituents to visit my part-time legislative office in the Dean Files City Complex at 550 Edgewood Drive. The office is staffed on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. or by appointment by calling 837-5221.