LITTLE ROCK — Voter ID, Internet sales tax collection and constitutional amendments are among the items expected to receive debate in the seventh week of Arkansas’ legislative session.
A bill to require voters to show photo ID at the polls is on the Tuesday agenda of the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee.
House Bill 1047 by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, would allow a voter who does not show photo ID to cast a provisional ballot. As originally filed, the bill would allow the provisional ballot to be counted if the voter shows photo ID to the county clerk or county election board by noon on the Monday after the election.
Co-Sponsor Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow, filed an amendment for Lowery last week that Lowery said is intended to ease the process for voters to verify their identity if they do not show photo ID when casting a ballot. Under the amendment, a voter who casts a provisional ballot would be given the option of signing a sworn statement, under penalty of perjury, that the voter is who he or she claims to be.
The county clerk would compare the signature to the signature on the voter registration card issued to that person, and if they match, the provisional ballot would be counted without the voter having to go to the clerk or the election board.
Lowery said the amendment also would allow a person submitting an absentee ballot to sign a statement that could be used to verify the person’s identity if no photo ID is submitted.
Lowery acknowledged that amending the bill in the Senate adds a new hurdle for it, because if the bill passes in the Senate, it will have to go back to the House, where it has already passed, for a new vote to concur in the amendment.
“But I think its the right thing to do, especially if it improves the bill,” he said.
Opponents of a voter ID requirement say it would disenfranchise some eligible voters and address a nonexistent problem. Supporters say it would give voters faith in the integrity of elections.
Internet sales tax
The House Revenue and Taxation Committee’s agenda for Tuesday includes consideration of a bill on Internet sales tax collection that the panel previously rejected.
Senate Bill 140 by Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, would require large out-of-state sellers with no physical presence in Arkansas to collect sales taxes on purchases in the state. A current, little-followed state law requires Arkansans to submit to the state a customer use tax on their online purchases.
The largest online seller, Amazon, said Feb. 10 it would begin collecting sales taxes on purchases in Arkansas. Files has said his bill is still needed because other online sellers are not collecting taxes in the state.
The bill has cleared the Senate, but it was blocked in the House tax panel last week by the Democratic members, who make up half of the committee. The vote came after Democrats unsuccessfully proposed amending the bill to direct Internet sales tax revenue to needs such as early childhood education and rural police and fire departments.
Files said Friday he believes a compromise is possible.
“The things that they’re looking for, I’ve talked with the governor and some other legislative leaders, and hopefully we can come to some agreements on things that are needs and move forward together. I feel confident that if we can reach an agreement, there won’t have to be something in the bill” to direct revenue to specific needs, he said.
Files said he opposes amending his bill to direct revenue to specific needs because that would “muddy the waters” if the measure were to be challenged in court and because it would hurt the bill’s chances of passing on the Republican-controlled House floor.
“It’s going to be a tough vote on the floor either way,” he said.
Some opponents of the bill say it effectively would create a new tax. Supporters say it merely would require collection of a tax already on the books.
In each regular session, the Legislature can refer up to three proposed constitutional amendments to the ballot for the next general election. Last week, the Senate approved Senate Joint Resolution 8 by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, which would cap damages and attorneys’ contingency fees in civil suits and require legislative approval for court rules. The measure still needs House approval.
No proposed amendment by a House member has been sent to the House floor yet, but the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee could do so this week.
Among the proposals House members have filed are ones that would bar courts from ruling that public schools are not adequately funded; require the Legislature to meet only in odd-numbered years and do away with fiscal sessions in even-numbered years; require the Legislature to hold a regular session every year; and make the state Highway Commission a state agency under the executive branch of government.
Other proposals would end elections for Supreme Court justices and replace them with a selection process; require a vote of the people to raise sales taxes; bar a constitutional amendment from bestowing privileges to a specific person or company identified by name; require voters to show photo ID at the polls; write victims’ rights into the constitution; and require a petition signed by 200,000 registered voters to place a monument or statue on the Capitol grounds.
Other measures drawing attention include a bill to allow college faculty and staff to carry guns on campus and a bill on bathroom access.
HB 1249 by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, would eliminate a provision in current law that allows public colleges and universities to decide whether to allow faculty and staff who have concealed-carry permits to carry concealed handguns on campus. The schools would have to allow concealed handguns under the bill.
The House has passed the bill, but the Senate last week amended it to add a training requirement, which Collins opposes. The Senate has not yet voted on the bill.
Sen. Greg Standridge, R-Russellville, filed a bill last week, SB 346, that he said will be fleshed out later to require that people use public bathrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has called on lawmakers to reject any such legislation.