Attorney General announces legislative agenda

Friday, February 8, 2013

LITTLE ROCK -- Attorney General Dustin McDaniel announced this week his legislative priorities for 2013, an agenda that includes proposals to strengthen the State's human-trafficking laws and ensure the constitutionality of Arkansas's law on executing prisoners.

Other legislative initiatives include the elimination of parental rights for those convicted of rape, consumer protections for Arkansans considering enrollment in for-profit colleges, and a series of bills designed to increase public confidence in elections and the initiative process.

McDaniel was scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday in favor of a bill to be filed this week and sponsored by state Sen. Bart Hester. The bill would clarify the process by which the state carries out executions. The proposed measure is a response to last year's Arkansas Supreme Court ruling that the existing Methods of Execution Act was unconstitutional.

McDaniel said the bill addresses the constitutional concerns raised by the Court. The bill was drafted by the Attorney General's Office in conjunction with the Department of Correction.

"This bill establishes a clear blueprint to be provided by the Legislature for the Department of Correction to follow during an execution," McDaniel said. "Regardless of one's views on the death penalty, Arkansas juries have issued capital-punishment verdicts, and it is our responsibility to make sure those verdicts are carried out in a constitutional manner."

As to the human-trafficking bill, McDaniel's office has been working with a coalition of legislators since last year to create legislation to enhance penalties against those who would engage in human trafficking in Arkansas. National anti-trafficking groups have characterized the state's existing laws as among the weakest in the nation.

House Bill 1203, known as the Human Trafficking Act of 2013, by state Rep. David Meeks, would make it a Class Y felony to be convicted of trafficking if the person being trafficked was a minor at the time of the offense. In addition, someone who engages in sexual activity with a victim of human trafficking would be committing a felony offense.

An assistant attorney general was scheduled to speak in favor of HB1203 at a House committee meeting Tuesday.

One bill supported by the Attorney General has already cleared a House committee and is now before the full House. That bill, HB1002 by Rep. John Edwards, would prohibit a person convicted of rape from seeking parental rights related to a child conceived from the rape. An assistant attorney general testified in support of that bill before the House committee and will do so before a Senate committee as well, McDaniel said.

The Attorney General's Office will be committed to working with the Legislature throughout the session to ensure the state's school-funding system remains constitutional. However, the AG will not propose any specific education legislation.

"One of my main education goals has been to keep us out of court as it relates to how we fund our public schools," McDaniel said. "We have been true to the lessons of the Lake View case, and I hope we continue to be. Our office is ready to offer any assistance it can to the General Assembly to ensure we stay the course on education issues."

In addition, McDaniel said he is working with state Sen. Keith Ingram on several bills related to elections, including measures to improve transparency in the process of collecting signatures for initiated act proposals, so as to avoid fraudulent signatures on ballot petitions. Ingram is also expected to introduce bills to help prevent misconduct related to absentee ballots, and to require criminal background checks for people seeking elective office.

Further, McDaniel hopes the General Assembly will consider a measure to strengthen reporting requirements for the for-profit colleges that are located in Arkansas. Also, as the state's top consumer advocate, McDaniel pledged to stand against legislation that would be detrimental to Arkansas consumers.

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