Cable franchise agreement bill approved by Senate


LITTLE ROCK — A measure intended to minimize advantages larger cities have over smaller communities in negotiating franchise agreements with cable television operators passed the Senate on Wednesday.

The Senate also voted to extend the legislative session until mid-April.

Senate Bill 101 by Sen. Jakes Files, R-Fort Smith, would create a uniform cable TV franchise agreement for all municipalities. Files said it also would prevent two companies providing service in the same city from having different agreements.

“This is a uniform franchise agreement that all cities will be able to operate under,” Files told reporters after the bill, known as the Arkansas Video Service Act, passed the Senate 20-9. “Big city, small city, it kind of removes that distinction.”

Files said his bill would eliminate cases in which cable providers negotiate different terms of operation in every municipality it provides service. He said the legislation, which has been approved in about 12 other states, is supported by the Arkansas Municipal League.

Sen. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, spoke against the bill on the Senate floor. The former West Memphis mayor said his hometown currently has a franchise agreement that requires its cable provider to carry Little Rock station KATV so University of Arkansas football games can be viewed in the Delta.

Ingram said Arkansas residents who live in border cities may have cable service provided by operators in neighboring states — Louisiana, Tennessee, Missouri, Texas or Oklahoma — that have no obligation to carry Little Rock stations.

Files told reporters later that local channels on cable fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission, but he said there are some provisions for local authority in the bill that would address Ingram’s concern.

SB 101 now goes to the House.

Also Wednesday, the Senate approved House Concurrent Resolution 1003, which sets an April 19 recess of regular business of the legislative session. Under the measure, which passed 35-0, the session would formally adjourn May 17. The House previously approved the resolution.

By law, legislative sessions in odd-numbered years are limited to 60 days unless the Legislature votes to extend them. The current session began Jan. 14.

The Senate passed House Bill 1043 by Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, which would provide for cash rewards to state employees who blow the whistle on government waste and fraud. The bill passed 35-0 and goes to the governor.

Under the bill, a state employee who reports government waste or fraud under the Arkansas Whistle-Blower Act would be entitled to a reward in the amount of 10 percent of the amount of money saved through action resulting from the report.