LITTLE ROCK – State government had an eventful year in 2021, and much of the activity occurred in the Arkansas Senate.
In January the legislature convened in regular session and approved a list of bills to lessen the impact that public health orders had on individuals and businesses. Act 311 allows the families of Covid-19 patients to visit them in the hospital, as long as they follow protocols.
Act 401 prohibits the state from penalizing businesses if customers, rather than employees, disregard public-health guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic.
Act 559 provides immunity for businesses and employees from claims of exposure to the virus. Act 353 allows employees to file workers’ comp claims for contracting Covid-19 on the job. Its effective dates are from March 11, 2020 until May 1, 2023.
Act 510 codifies two executive orders by the governor that protect health care providers with immunity from civil suits caused by Covid-19 claims.
Act 1030 defines a vaccine passport and states that “The use of a vaccine passport shall not be a condition for entry, travel, education or services” and that government agencies at all levels shall not require people to use a passport for any purpose.
Act 154 is a tax cut for people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Unemployment benefits will not be taxed by the state, saving Arkansans about $59 million in state income taxes.
Act 248 will save Arkansas businesses $33 million this year and $179 million next fiscal year through tax exemptions on income that people and businesses received through numerous disaster relief programs, such as the popular Paycheck Protection Program.
More than 43,000 Arkansas businesses received more than $3.3 billion through PPP loans.
Act 403 allows a majority of the legislature to terminate a public health emergency declared by the governor. In August, both chambers affirmed the Covid-19 emergency declared by the governor.
Also in August, during a special session the legislature did not repeal or amend Act 1002, which prohibits school districts from requiring masks. However, the act is not being enforced because a judge issued an injunction against it when a group of parents challenged it in court.
One of the high-profile bills approved during the regular session is known as the “Stand Your Ground” law. It is Act 250, which repeals the prior obligation to retreat from a confrontation if you could do so safely. Now, you can respond with deadly force.
Act 309 prohibits abortions except to save the life of the mother, with no exception for rape or incest. Act 949 requires abortion clinics to be licensed by the Health Department and prohibits abortions at hospitals unless it is to save the life of the mother.
Act 626 prohibits sex-change surgery or hormone therapy for minors who want to change genders. Act 461 prohibits transgender women from competing in female sports, in effect, by allowing lawsuits against a school if it has a policy that allows transgender girls to compete.
Act 1052 sets housing standards that landlords must follow when maintaining residential rental property. If the property is not kept up to the standards, renters may cancel their lease after proper notification to the landlord. It also eliminates the requirement that renters put up a deposit in order to file a complaint.
In December the legislature passed reductions in state income taxes that will save Arkansas families and businesses almost $500 million a year when they take effect.