Senate OKs fee hike, teacher ethics bills


LITTLE ROCK — The Senate approved legislation Thursday to raise fees on companies that store hazardous waste and to create an ethics violation for a teacher found to have had an inappropriate relationship with a student.

The House approved a bill asserting that life begins at conception as far as state criminal and wrongful death statutes are concerned.

House Bill 1886 by Rep. Andrea Lea, R-Russellville, would raise the annual fee that companies pay the state Department of Emergency Management annually when reporting their chemical inventory stored at their facilities. The fee would double from $25 to $50. Fees for filing additional reports and for filing reports after a toxic chemical release also would rise.

The bill passed 22-11 and goes to the governor.

Presenting the bill on the Senate floor, Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, said that while fee increases are not something she generally supports, the fee increases in SB 1011 were necessary to support the hazardous materials program and training in the state.

State Emergency Management Director David Maxwell said later the fee increases would generate as much as $130,000 a year, and the money would go toward training local hazardous materials units across the state.

“We do the bulk of the hazmat training for the state, all of the hazardous materials training, volunteers, local units, we do all that training,” Maxwell said.

“There is a cost associated with the Department of Emergency Management, dealing with hazardous materials and the procedures that occur … it’s not free,” Irvin said in an interview.

The Senate also passed SB 1011 by Irvin, which would establish a specific violation of the code of ethics for educators suspected of being involved in an inappropriate relationship with a student.

The bill passed 34-0 and goes to the House.

Under the bill, a teacher suspected of being involved in an inappropriate relationship with a student could be referred to the Professional Licensure Standards Board or the State Board of Education, even if the teacher is not prosecuted by law enforcement.

“It could very well happen that no charges are pressed, or the family decides not to press charges. The teacher is then given an opportunity to resign from the school and they go to other schools for employment,” Irvin said after the vote. “While it’s not considered child abuse, the very least it should be an ethics violation.”

She said the ethics violation would be on file with the state or the licensure standards board.

“It would be part of a data base open to the public, and when an administrator goes to hire someone, they can do a criminal background check … and check for an ethics violation,” Irvin said.

Meanwhile, the House voted 75-4 to approve SB 417 by Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, which would make a person who harms a fetus at any point from conception to birth subject to criminal charges and wrongful-death lawsuits. Current law allows criminal charges and civil suits against a person who harms a fetus 12 weeks or later into a pregnancy.

The bill goes to the Senate for concurrence in two House amendments.

The House rejected SB 1075 by Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith,which would raise the excise tax on alternative fuels from 5 cents per cubic foot to 21.5 cents per cubic foot. The increase would be phased in gradually over the next four years.

The bill initially passed in a 52-26 vote, but after the vote several members asked to sound the ballot, a procedure requiring members to be in their seats for their votes to be counted. The second count was 50-26, so the bill failed. It needed 51 to pass.

The House approved a motion by Rep. John T. Vines, D-Hot Springs, to reconsider its Wednesday vote rejecting HB 1938 by Rep. Randy Alexander, R-Fayetteville. The bill, which would impose a two-year moratorium on school district mergers related to enrollment, had failed Wednesday in a 46-26 vote. It failed again Thursday in a 49-20 vote.

The House approved several other bills, including:

—HB 1489 by Hammer, under which a student who receives a lottery-funded scholarship and fails to earn any credit hours in the first semester of the school year would not receive funding from the program for the second semester. The bill passed 76-3 and goes to the Senate.

—HB 1737 by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, which would limit the size of a voting precinct to 3,000 registered voters. The bill passed in a 54-13 vote and goes to the Senate.

—HB 2090 by Rep. Mary Broadaway, D-Paragould, under which the interest rate in a contract that does not specify a rate would be 6 percent per year. The bill passed 54-26 and goes to the Senate.

—HB 1448 by Rep. Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren, which would give courts discretion to issue extended no-contact orders in cases involving egregious crimes such as rape, kidnapping and murder. The bill passed 84-1 and goes to the Senate.

—HB 2108 by Rep. Stephanie Malone, R-Fort Smith, which would assess a $25 fee on anyone convicted of an offense involving domestic violence, with the money going to fund crisis shelters. The bill passed 74-3 and goes to the Senate.

The Senate also passed:

—HB 1355 by Rep. Butch Wilkins, D-Bono, 29-3. The would align the state’s penalties related to violations of lead-based paint rules with those required by federal law. The bill passed 29-3 and goes to the governor.

—HB 1867 by Hammer, which would require that a public servant or public official found guilty of certain offenses repay his or her debt and a portion of his or her salary. The bill passed 26-1 and goes to the governor.

—HB2145 by Hammer, which would make a church immune from civil lawsuits over things that happen at the church while it is being used as a polling place during an election. The bill passed 28-1 and goes to the governor.

Elsewhere Thursday, the House Revenue and Taxation Committee approved an amendment to HB 1966, House Speaker Davy Carter’s bill to reduce the state’s capital gains tax. The amendment by Carter adds language that would increase the standard income tax deduction from $2,000 to $2,400.

Carter, R-Cabot, said he worked on the amendment with Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock. Sabin has filed a bill that would raise the standard deduction from $2,000 to $5,000.