LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – State legislators are racing against the clock at the State Capitol Thursday, hoping to wrap up their last full day of session.
Lawmakers plan to finish by the end of the week, though have had to work through dozens of bills to meet that end goal.
A major item on the agenda for them Thursday was the prison reform bill. It passed on the House floor after some debate from representatives.
Lawmakers on the Senate side will have to sign off on an amendment next, then it will go to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders for signature.
Another bill headed to her desk now is the Social Media Protection Act.
This requires social media companies to hire third-party platforms to verify the age of users in Arkansas. Anyone under 18 will need parental consent to have an account.
Senate Bill 480 also passed through the House Thursday afternoon. This allows people in Arkansas to carry concealed handguns without a license.
The House also passed several budget bills Thursday morning, including a Medicaid expansion appropriations bill and the Revenue Stabilization Act.
In their last hours of session, lawmakers from both parties told us that no one can argue this has been one for the books.
“In every session, there is going to be really big pieces of legislation,” House Speaker Matthew Shepherd (R-El Dorado) said. “This has been a little different, just from the standpoint of having a new governor.”
Shepherd said while there is a rush to get to the end of session, House members are still allowed to debate bills as normal and are paying as much equal attention to every bill left on the agenda.
The session was a significant one due to Gov. Sanders just taking office, according to Shepherd. He added that while some bills like the LEARNS Act got national attention, like any session, there were many bills passed that did not make headlines, but it will still be impactful to Arkansans.
For many Democrats, this session felt like an uphill battle with a Republican majority.
“It was challenging,” State Senator Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) said. “It was unique that there were two massive pieces of legislation – the LEARNS Act and Protect Arkansas Act – that slowed down other legislation.”
Lawmakers also decided on some other significant bills Wednesday night. The House passed SB549, which is the tax cut bill Gov. Sanders announced last week.
After lots of debate late Thursday night, the House voted down the affirmative action bill that had become controversial across the state for weeks.
Lawmakers are set to meet back at the Capitol Friday to finish off what is left.