The 91st Arkansas General Assembly adjourned on May 3rd after a legislative session that demonstrated the disturbing trend we’ve seen over the last two decades: attacks on civil rights and civil liberties and attempts to undermine democracy, transparency and the balance of power among the three branches of government.  The ACLU of Arkansas was in the halls of the state capitol every day fighting against an onslaught of unconstitutional and discriminatory legislation.  
 
Although we successfully stopped some bad bills from becoming law, lawmakers in Little Rock largely put their own extreme agenda before the rights of Arkansans.  Bills passed this session would force doctors to interrogate abortion patients, criminalize people who ask for help, undermine voting rights, and further shroud government operations in secrecy. All this while Gov. Asa Hutchinson pushed forward with an execution assembly line using failed drugs. 
 
This session was an uphill battle against an avalanche of harmful bills, but we did score some important victories, thanks to your support. Gov. Hutchinson answered our call to veto an unconstitutional anti-protest bill (SB550) and the legislature considered but ultimately did not pass the dreaded “bathroom bill,” targeting transgender Arkansans. We also won passage of important criminal justice legislation (SB42) that will prevent mentally ill defendants from languishing in jail while they await a psychological evaluation.  On these issues, it’s clear that the calls, emails and activism by our supporters made a difference. 
 
Here’s a roundup of the major developments during the legislative session: what passed, what didn’t, and what’s next for civil liberties in Arkansas.
 

Click here to view this report as a PDF.

First Amendment 

BILL SUMMARY ACLU Position STATUS
HB 1665 (Act 606) 
Targeting Whistleblowers
Act 606 represents a wholesale assault on our values by allowing companies to bankrupt whistleblowers and investigators who provide the public with evidence of unethical or illegal activities. This “ag-gag” legislation was billed as an attempt to protect farmers, but its broad scope threatens workers’ rights, consumer health and public safety, and jeopardizes the First Amendment rights of journalists, employees, and the public at large.
 
OPPOSED PASSED 
HB 1756 (Act 847) 
Begging Ban 2
The assault on free speech continued with a new “begging ban” that would criminalize Arkansans asking for help after dark. Last year, the ACLU of Arkansas successfully challenged a similar measure on the grounds that it violated the right to free speech.  This year, this unconstitutional policy came back as HB 1756, which says that any request for assistance made after dark is unlawful. The First Amendment does not expire at sundown. The ACLU has defeated these kinds of unconstitutional begging bans in court before and we won’t hesitate to do so again.
 
OPPOSED PASSED
SB 131 (Act 474)
Secret Police
This year, legislators took a buzz saw to Arkansas’ once-vaunted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). One of the most egregious examples of this attack on transparency is Act 474, which will allow the capitol police to operate in secret, without any obligation to disclose information about their activities to the public. 
 
OPPOSED PASSED
SB 12 (Act 541) 
Public Records Exemption
This bill exempts public school emergency and security records from disclosure under FOIA, including the names and number of security guards on staff at a given school.
 
OPPOSED PASSED
HB 1236 (Act 531)
Public Records 
HB 1236 exempts records depicting the death of a law enforcement officer from FOIA.
 
OPPOSED PASSED
SB 550 Anti-Protest
ACLU VICTORY!
In a win for free speech, Gov. Hutchinson vetoed a bill that would have targeted protesters, infringing on their rights to speak and assemble.
 
OPPOSED VETOED

Voting Rights

BILL SUMMARY ACLU Position STATUS
HB 1047 (Act 633) and HJR 1016
 
Photo ID 
Two years ago, we worked successfully to get Arkansas’ previous photo ID law struck down by the state’s highest court.  This year the attacks on voting rights came back with a vengeance. Desperate to stifle the votes of poor, elderly, disabled, and minority voters, legislators attacked from every angle. Despite opposition from the ACLU and others, Arkansas lawmakers passed Act 633, and referred to the ballot a constitutional amendment that goes before voters in 2018, in the hopes that, if one of these photo ID measures fail under a court challenge the other will survive.
 
OPPOSED PASSED 
(Act 1014)
 
Voting & Elections Transparency Act 
 
ACLU VICTORY!
Despite several setbacks for voting rights, the ACLU was successful in working with members of the General Assembly to make sure voters are notified and have some recourse when they are removed from the voter rolls. HB 2138 requires voters to be notified if their registration lapses (which happens after only two years of not voting) or if their names are purged from the rolls for another reason and gives voters the opportunity to challenge their removal from the rolls.  Amazingly, no such requirement existed until now.
 
SUPPORTED PASSED

Women's Rights & Reproductive Freedom

BILL SUMMARY ACLU Position STATUS
(Act 45)
Abortion Method Ban
 
This new law seeks to ban D&E, dilation and extraction, the safest and most common abortion method used in the second trimester of a pregnancy – an unconstitutional infringement on abortion access.
 
OPPOSED PASSED 
(Act 733)
Abortion Motive Ban
Billed as an attempt to prevent “sex-selection” abortions, Act 733 would force doctors to interrogate women about their motives for seeking an abortion and to obtain their medical records for unspecified reasons, but ostensibly to determine whether their motive is sex-selection. This is an undue burden on a woman’s right to receive an abortion, and therefore unconstitutional.
 
OPPOSED PASSED
(Act 383)
Abortion Clinic Fees and Requirements
 
Act 383 is a thinly disguised attempt to make clinics that perform abortions “safer,” but only makes it more difficult for abortion clinics to operate and more difficult for women to obtain abortions in the state.  This is a commonly used – and unconstitutional – tactic by anti-abortion legislators to chip away at reproductive freedom.  
 
OPPOSED PASSED
 
ACLU VICTORY!

HB 1628, which would have expanded the circumstances under which a healthcare provider may deny services based on their “conscience.”
 

OPPOSED DID NOT PASS
 
ACLU VICTORY!
SB 745 would have unconstitutionally banned abortion for women in state custody (including women in prison and jail and girls in foster care). 
 
OPPOSED DID NOT PASS
(Act 191)
Gender Discrimination 
Ironically, in addition to sponsoring the bill to prohibit “sex-selective abortions,” needed because, as the abortion bill says, “women are a vital part of our society and culture and possess the same fundamental human rights as men,” Rep. Charlie Collins got a bill passed that impairs the ability of women to sue their employers for sexual harassment.  
 
OPPOSED
PASSED 
 

Immigrant Rights

BILL SUMMARY ACLU Position STATUS
(Act 980)
Foreign Laws
 
Disguised as an effort to protect Arkansans from foreign laws, Act 980 is actually an unnecessary measure intended to stoke fear and intolerance against Muslim Arkansans and immigrants in general.
 
OPPOSED PASSED 
HB 1042 and 
Sanctuary Policies 
 
ACLU VICTORY!
The ACLU and other groups successfully opposed measures that would have punished municipalities and higher education institutions that refuse to cooperate with Trump’s deportation force. While these bills did not pass, they succeeded in stirring up anti-immigrant sentiment and instilling fear among our immigrant community. We won because we fought from the start of the session to the end with YOUR help! We must continue to work against discriminatory attitudes and policies that put our immigrant communities at risk.
 
OPPOSED DID NOT PASS

LGBT Rights

BILL SUMMARY ACLU Position STATUS
Anti-LGBT Legislation  
 
ACLU VICTORY!
 
The legislature considered numerous bills that would have discriminated against LGBT Arkansans – from legalizing discrimination under the guise of religious freedom to prohibiting transgender people from using the bathroom corresponding with their gender identity.  While the mere existence of these bills sent a terrible message about our state, their failure to pass is a testament to the many Arkansans who made their voices heard for inclusion and equal protection under the law.
 
OPPOSED DID NOT PASS 

Separation of Powers

BILL SUMMARY ACLU Position STATUS
 
Judicial Independence 
 
The legislature referred to the ballot a constitutional amendment that erodes the separation of powers by giving the Legislature authority to approve and set court rules, a task historically performed by the Supreme Court. 
 
OPPOSED
PASSED
 

Criminal Justice

BILL SUMMARY ACLU Position STATUS
 
SUPPORTED DID NOT PASS
 
 
Death Penalty
Bills were introduced to prohibit the execution of people with severe mental illness and to prohibit the death penalty altogether. Another required that guilt be proved “beyond ‘any’ doubt.” While these bills didn’t make it across the finish line this year, we remain determined to end the barbaric and unjust practice of capital punishment.
 
SUPPORTED DID NOT PASS
SB 42 (Act 472)
 
Mentally Ill in the Criminal Justice System
 
ACLU VICTORY!

For almost 20 years, the ACLU has been campaigning to ensure fair and humane treatment for the mentally ill who get caught up in the criminal justice system. In 2002, the ACLU won a legal challenge to the state’s practice of violating the rights of mentally ill inmates by allowing them to languish in jails without court-ordered evaluations and treatment.  But enforcement has been an uphill battle. This new law is the result of years of cooperative efforts orchestrated by the ACLU with the help of the Arkansas Bar Association. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, sheriffs, mental health providers and others agreed on procedures to address the problem where it starts. This law will, among other things, separate out defendants who are not fit to proceed (with being charged, and jailed, and so on), and who must receive treatment immediately.

This is a GIANT victory in a quiet battle fought for those who are too often completely forsaken.
 

SUPPORTED PASSED

 

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