UPDATE Senate overrides voter ID veto; House passes DOMA resolution


LITTLE ROCK — The Senate on Wednesday voted to override Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto of legislation to require voters to show photo identification when they go to the polls.

The House approved a resolution expressing support for the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman and has been the subject of oral arguments this week before the U.S. Supreme Court.

By a 21-12 vote, the Senate voided Beebe’s veto of Senate Bill 2, passed by the Republican-controlled House and Senate over the objections of opponents, including the Democratic governor, who argued the requirement is unnecessary and potentially an impediment to voting for the poor and elderly.

Supporters say the measure, sponsored by Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, would enhance the integrity of elections by deterring voter fraud at the polls.

The House is expected to consider an override motion Thursday. If the House follows the Senate, SB 2 will become effective Jan. 1, 2014, or when funding is available for the secretary of state’s office to implement a provision of the legislation requiring the secretary of state to equip and train county clerk’s offices across the state to produce photo ID cards.

The state fiscal office estimates start-up cost for the program at $300,000.

“I wasn’t surprised. I felt like the Republicans were for it and it looked like there wasn’t any Democrats … that stepped up and voted to override the governor’s veto,” King told reporters after the Senate override.

King said the governor and Democrats continue to argue that voter fraud in Arkansas doesn’t exist.

“We know this is going on,” he said. “The problem here in Arkansas is they are not pursuing it, that’s why they’re not finding it.”

King said he has been told by House members that the House will override the veto.

The Senate also approved SB 1067 by Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, which would amend state laws concerning absentee ballots. The 20-page bill adds a number of reporting requirements for those collecting absentee ballots, especially at nursing homes, and requires the nursing home administrator to sign absentee ballots that come from his or her nursing facility.

The measure passed 21-4 and goes to the House.

Meanwhile, the House approved House Resolution 1049, a non-binding DOMA support measure that the sponsor, Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, said would be sent to the Supreme Court and members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation “to let them know this is where Arkansas stands.”

On Wednesday, the nation’s highest court heard arguments in a challenging the law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 that, among other things, bars federal agencies from recognizing the validity of same-sex marriages in the states where they are legal and from according same-sex couples in those states hundreds of federal marriage benefits.

Several Democratic members spoke against the resolution.

“Let’s not stand on the wrong side of history today,” said Rep. Deborah Ferguson, D-West Memphis. “How do you want your grandchildren to remember you voted today? Please vote no on this resolution and stand up for love and tolerance and understanding.”

Speaking in support of the resolution, Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork, urged members to “send the U.S. Supreme Court and the nation today a message that we stand behind traditional marriage.”

The resolution passed in a voice vote.

School funding

The House voted 67-16 to approve SB 425 by Sen. David Johnson, D-Little Rock, which was filed in response to a November state Supreme Court ruling that school districts that receive property tax revenue in excess of the state-mandated school funding level can keep the excess money.

Presenting the bill in the House, Rep. Robert Dale, R-Dover, said districts would still be allowed to keep the excess tax revenue under SB 425, but the state Department of Education could provide less state funding to those districts than to others because of their lesser need.

Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, spoke against the bill. He said his district is one of eight that the bill would affect and objected to those districts being “singled out” for different treatment because they happen to have higher tax collections.

The bill passed previously in the Senate and now goes to the governor.

Feral hogs

In an 88-1 vote, the House passed HB 1478 by Rep. Walls McCrary, D-Lonoke, which deals with capturing, transporting and killing feral hogs.

Under the bill, a person could capture or kill a feral hog on his or her own land or on public land if given permission and if all applicable state or federal laws are followed. A captured feral hog could be transported to a facility for slaughtering hogs but could not be released into the wild.

The bill goes to the Senate.

Leash law

The House voted 77-1 to approve SB 910 by Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, which would allow a county quorum court to enact a leash law in a subdivision if it is requested by the residents. The bill goes to the Senate for concurrence in a House amendment that added a co-sponsor.

Water quality

Elsewhere Wednesday, the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee gave a “do pass” recommendation to HB 1929 by Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock, which would ease water-quality standards for streams that are not being used for drinking water but are currently classified for drinking-water use.

The bill would remove that classification and impose new, looser standards for the level of minerals, including dissolved solids, chlorides and sulfates, in the water.

The Arkansans Department of Environmental Quality, the state Department of Health and the Sierra Club oppose the bill.

ADEQ Director Teresa Marks called the bill “an unnecessary removal of water-quality standards” and said it proposes new criteria that are not meaningful. She also said it could put the state in conflict with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Davis said that although the bill sounds ominous, it is not.

“We’re really only talking about dissolved minerals,” he said.