UPDATE Challenge delays House vote on voter ID bill


LITTLE ROCK — A Senate bill to require voters to show photo identification at the polls was referred Tuesday to the House Rules Committee for a ruling on whether it needs more than a simple majority for approval.

The Senate on Tuesday approved a bill to exempt the names of children involved in automobile accidents from the state Freedom of Information Act.

House speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, sent Senate Bill 2, the voter ID bill, to the rules panel after Rep. Jim Nickels, D-Sherwood, questioned whether the bill was properly before the House.

Nickels contends that the proposal would change Amendment 51 of the state constitution, which establishes requirements for voter registration, and therefore would require a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate. SB 2 passed the Senate on a 23-12 vote, one vote shy of a two-thirds majority in the 35-member body.

The bill does not mention voter registration, but Nickels maintains that requiring voters to show photo ID is “a de facto registration requirement” beyond those set out in the constitution.

Carter did not call a special meeting of the committee Tuesday. It is next scheduled to meet Wednesday.

The House Rules Committee is comprised of the House speaker’s hand-picked members. Carter told reporters Tuesday he has no opinion on whether the Senate properly passed the bill.

“You’ve got a legal question now, and I don’t think an attorney arguing on either side would get laughed out of the courtroom. I don’t think there’s an easy answer to it,” said Carter, a lawyer.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, has said he is confident his bill is on firm procedural footing after conferring with the Senate’s legal counsel, the House parliamentarian and legislative research staff.

Supporters of the measure say it would discourage voter fraud. Nickels and other opponents contend the legislation is unnecessary and could disenfranchise segments of the population if it becomes law.

With little comment, the Senate approved SB 225 by Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, which would keep the names of children involved in automobile accidents from being released to the public. The bill passed 35-0.

Williams, who presented the bill on the Senate floor, said he received complaints last year from the parents of children who were in a school bus wreck. The parents said they were contacted by lawyers and chiropractors who had found the names of their children in police reports.

Other bills passed by the House on Tuesday included:

—SB 330 by Sen. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, which would permit dog races to be held at Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis on Sundays. The bill passed 66-8 and goes to the governor.

—SB 357 by Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, which would allow a law enforcement officer to test a driver’s saliva to determine whether the driver is under the influence of drugs. The bill passed 93-0 and goes to the governor.

—SB 277 by Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, which would prohibit insurance companies from charging co-pays or deductibles for treatment by physical therapists, occupational therapists or speech pathologists that is greater than the co-pays or deductibles they charge for treatment by physicians. The bill passed 85-0 and goes to the governor.

—SB 426 by Sen. David Sanders, R-Little Rock, which would require a ballot question or legislative question committee to report the total campaign expenditures of an agent hired to work on its behalf. The bill passed 81-6 and goes to the governor.

—SB 427 by Sanders, which would require constitutional officers, judges and employees in their offices to wait one year after they leave their state job before they can register as a lobbyist in Arkansas, as legislators are required to do under a 2011 law. The bill passed 91-0 and goes to the Senate for concurrence in a House amendment that added a co-sponsor.

Other bills passed by the Senate on Tuesday included:

—HB 1369 by Rep. Homer Lenderman, D-Brookland, which would require pawn shops and pawn brokers to electronically upload records of their transactions to a database accessible to law enforcement agencies. Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, who presented the bill on the Senate floor, said the legislation would help law enforcement in investigating crimes.

The bill passed 35-0 and goes to the governor.

—HB 1267 by Rep. Allen Kerr, R-Little Rock. Under the bill, if a health insurance company denies a patient coverage for a product or medical device that is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as experimental or investigational, the company must allow a surgeon to present medical evidence supporting use of the product or device for the patient.

The bill passed 35-0 and goes to the governor.

—HB 1216 by Rep. Kelley Linck, R-Yellville, which would make Internet publication the primary means of publishing state agency reports. The bill passed 35-0 and goes to the governor.

—HB 1466 by Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, which would require a county clerk to note on a voter’s voter registration record when that person casts an early vote in an election.The bill passed 35-0 and goes to the governor.

Elsewhere Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee gave a “do pass” recommendation to HB 1470 by Rep. Darrin Williams, D-Little Rock, which would allow judges to send some criminal defendants to rehabilitation programs as an alternative to prison, in an effort to ease prison overcrowding. The bill goes to the House.