UPDATE House OKs bill to make prosecutor elections nonpartisan


LITTLE ROCK — A bill to make prosecuting attorney elections in Arkansas nonpartisan cleared the House on Wednesday in a 63-24 vote.

House Bill 1855 by Rep. Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, is Shepherd’s second piece of legislation on prosecuting attorney elections. He filed HB 1855 after his earlier bill on the topic, HB 1412, failed in the House last month in a 40-50 vote.

The earlier bill would have made prosecuting attorney elections nonpartisan and would have required they be held in May, when nonpartisan judicial elections are held. It also would have called for runoff elections in both types of races to be held in June instead of November, when runoffs in nonpartisan elections are held now.

Shepherd told House members Wednesday that because of concerns raised about moving the date of judicial runoff elections, his new bill would leave all nonpartisan runoffs in November.

Speaking on the House floor, Shepherd asked, “What is the distinction between a Republican and a Democrat prosecuting attorney?”

Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison, asked what would happen to the filing fees that now are collected by the political parties from prosecuting attorney candidates. Shepherd said they would go to the state, as judicial filing fees do now, and that the first $100,000 collected each election cycle would go to the Trial Court Assistants Fund.

Rep. John Hutchison, R-Harrisburg, asked Shepherd, “Have you ever thought about maybe just splitting that money between the parties?”

Shepherd said it might not be workable “for the state to try and dole out money to political parties.”

Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway, said he believes there is a difference between Republican and Democratic prosecutors.

“Republicans tend to support the death penalty more than what Democrats actually do,” he said.

Rep. Nate Steel, D-Nashville, a co-sponsor of the bill and a former prosecutor, said he did not believe any prosecutor in the state viewed the death penalty in terms of party politics. He argued that the real reason the bill faced some opposition was because of pressure from the political parties.

“As H.L. Mencken used to say, when they say it’s not about the money, it’s about the money,” he said.

The bill goes to the Senate.

Also Wednesday, House members briefly considered Senate Bill 140 by Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, before Rep. Homer Lenderman, D-Brookland, who presented the bill in the House, asked that a vote be postponed.

The bill would require school districts to train their employees to prevent and respond to acts of violence, terrorism and natural disaster and would require them to hold drills to prepare for school violence. Lenderman asked to postpone a vote after members raised concerns that the bill would constitute an unfunded mandate if funding is not secured.

Irvin said later that the training would only be required if funding is available and that the drills would not cost school districts anything. She attributed the stalling of her bill to a “miscommunication” and said she would explain the situation to House members.

Elsewhere Wednesday, the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee gave a “do pass” recommendation to HB 2211 by Burris, which would prohibit a public building from being named for a living person who has been an elected official or government employee within the previous 10 years.

The bill includes exceptions for a person who has been a prisoner of war, a person who is at least 75 years old and retired, or a building that is paid for with at least 50 percent private funds.

The bill goes to the House.

The House Rules Committee endorsed HB 2087 by Rep. Mary Broadaway, D-Paragould, which would allow some cities to pass an ordinance allowing on-premises alcohol consumption without need for an election.

The bill would only apply to wet communities in which at least 100 permits allowing on-premises consumption of alcohol are active.

The bill goes to the House.