LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe signed a new Arkansas school choice law Tuesday that would remove race as a factor in student transfers between school districts.
In a ceremony at the Capitol, Beebe also signed into law Senate Bill 630, which allows authorities to seize money and other assets intended for acts of terrorism and would create a civil cause of action against terrorists to allow victims to recover damages and attorneys’s fees.
SB 65 by Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, was signed into law as Act 1227 of 2013. In addition to removing the racial component from a school choice law that a federal judge declared unconstitutional last year, the new law also caps the number of transfers allowed from one district in a year to no more than 3 percent of the district’s student population.
It bars transfers that would conflict with an existing desegregation order. The law went into effect immediately. Transfers approved before Tuesday are exempt.
The bill is a response to a federal judge’s ruling last year that the state’s 1989 school choice-law is unconstitutional because of a provision based on race. That ruling was appealed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and arguments were heard in January.
Act 1227 stipulates that the new school choice law expires on July 1, 2015, to allow lawmakers to review the legislation in light of the 8th circuit’s eventual ruling.
Senate Bill 630, now Act 1295 of 2013, is known as “Andy’s Law” in honor of U.S. Army Pvt. William “Andy” Long of Conway, who was shot and killed outside a west Little Rock recruiting center in 2009. Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula of Jacksonville was wounded in the shooting rampage.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway.
Abdulhakim Muhammad, a Memphis, Tenn., native born Carlos Bledsoe who converted to Islam, pleaded guilty to capital murder and attempted capital murder in 2011 and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Muhammad, who identified himself as a terrorist carrying out an act of jihad, had traveled to Yemen and Somalia before the shooting.
Muhammad’s father, Melvin Bledsoe of Memphis, attended the bill signing ceremony, along with Robert Rice, brother-in-law of Andy Long.