Arkansas Legislative Sessions Adjourned
The Arkansas General Assembly ended the regular legislative session April 7 after 89 days of business. The 2023 Arkansas Legislative Session was a busy but positive one for AGC Arkansas.
The Arkansas General Assembly ended the regular legislative session April 7 after 89 days of business. Legislators will return to Little Rock to officially adjourn sine die on May 1. The 2023 Arkansas Legislative Session was a busy but positive one for AGC Arkansas. Notably, we saw passage of a work zone safety law, expansion of job order contracting, amendments to the construction manager general contractor law, and passage of a “fast-tracked permitting” measure. In addition, we were able to prevent several non-favorable bills from advancing. Also, as has become the trend, legislators filed a handful of licensing measures this session, including SB90, which created an “automatic” licensure for out-of-state contractors. We worked with stakeholders to get this bill amended favorably.
Below is a summary of AGC Arkansas issues and results.
Work Zone Safety
Improving the safety of our workers in highway work zones has long been a priority for AGC, and it was a top priority this legislative session. We began working on this issue following the last session, when proposed legislation was sent to interim study. We facilitated an interim committee meeting on the issue, bringing stakeholders together, including the Arkansas Highway Department (ARDOT). While we had sponsors ready to file legislation on our behalf, two other legislators (Sen. Kim Hammer – R-Benton and Rep. Charlene Fite R-Van Buren) filed separate bills, for which our team advocated. Rep. Fite's House Bill 1561, would have created criminal penalties for a driver who committed a traffic violation that resulted in the injury of death of a worker in a work zone. It passed the House, but received pushback on the Senate floor from a handful of members who felt the penalty was too tough, if applied to a minor moving traffic violation.
Senate Bill 481 by Senator Hammer received final passage. It will allow law enforcement to use an automated enforcement device to police work zones, without requiring that the officer be present in the work zone. This measure received significant initial pushback – particularly on the House side. (Some members worried that license plate data would be captured, or driver information would be stored.) Our team worked with ARDOT to educate members, reaching out to many House members individually and emphasizing the importance of the policy for not only protecting workers, but for making roads safer for the public. In the end, the bill received final passage in the House with 82 yeas.
Job Order Contracting
Another top priority for AGC this session was expansion of job order contracting. House Bill 1582 by Rep. Les Warren (R-Hot Springs) increased the cap on job order contracting used by higher-education institutions. Again, this took early outreach from our team, educating legislators about the importance of this program, and the need for a cap increase – particularly in light of recent inflation. The measure passed overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate.
AGC remains in close contact with ARDOT on the use of CM-GC, and we met early in the session with ARDOT leadership, committing our support for HB 1692 by Rep. Carlton Wing (R-North Little Rock), which extends the current pilot program and also increases the cap on the sum of costs for the five allowed CM-GC projects. The measure passed soundly in both chambers.
House Bill 1207, by Rep. Kendon Underwood (R- Cave Springs) “The Fast-Track Permitting Act” received final passage. It requires local governments to approve, deny, or request to revise a permit application within 60 days of receipt. The time period may be extended in certain scenarios (with written notice to the applicant), and the applicant can waive the “automatic approval process.” AGC voted early on to support the measure. Not surprisingly, given the climate of de-regulation/anti-red tape, the measure received broad support in both chambers and passed overwhelmingly.
Senate Bill 90 by Sen. Ricky Hill was filed early in the session, and in its original form, would have been an overly broad reciprocal professional licensure policy that not only raised significant public safety concerns, but also gave an unfair advantage to out-of-state licensees, while effectivle penalizing Arkansas residents. The business community, home builders, contractor community and other industries engaged early on, expressing opposition to the measure. The bill was amended six times, including to ensure individuals are required to take certain required exams and meet minimum competency and financing requirements.
We made AGC's early concerns clear to other stakeholders, as well as to legislators. Once amended, AGC was neutral. The bill passed easily in both chambers.
Early in the session, the business community began to hear from Sen. Ricky Hill (R-Cabot) that he would file legislation limiting or prohibiting an employer's ability to enter a covenant not-to-compete in the state. A coalition of stakeholders continued discussions with Sen. Hill, working to educate him on the wide use of these agreements in various industries, and the unprecedented infringement on private parties' right to contract that a policy of this kind would impose. Sen. Hill indicated his preference for legislation would be a complete ban on the agreements. While Sen. Hill did not end up filing this measure, Rep. Stephen Meeks (R-Greenbrier) did file a bill, HB 1628. Reportedly prompted by the situation of a local media personality, the bill would have banned the use of non-compete agreements with exclusions for the sale of a business, the use of a “non-solicitation agreement,” or agreements on “trade secrets” and confidentiality. After significant back-and-forth, including word from the sponsor that the bill would not run in committee, he presented the bill with just hours' notice to stakeholders. The business community rallied opposition, quickly reaching out to committee members to oppose. The bill did not get a motion in committee, and served as a deterrent for future measures.
Lighting for Public Works Projects
In the last stretch of the session, Rep. Richard McGrew (R-Hot Springs) ran HB1646, to amend the process by which lighting components of public projects could be contracted. It would have required additional bidding requirements. AGC initially voted to remain neutral on the issue, but after feedback from multiple members, the legislative affairs committee voted to oppose. The bill did not get out of Senate committee.
Covered Truck Loads
Senate Bill 120 by Rep. Fred Love (D-Little Rock) was filed early in the session. It would have required trucks carrying loads of sand, gravel, trash, or other products that may be “hazards” for users of highways to use a cover. The measure was ambiguous and would have made it hard and costly for AGC members to comply. We expressed our opposition to the sponsor early on, and also touched base with other stakeholder groups that also opposed. The bill never ran in committee.
Legislation from Engineers
The Arkansas chapter of American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) reached out mid-session with proposed legislation that would have significantly altered contractors' liability and ability to contract for indemnity. Broadly, from an insurance perspective, the measures would have also affected a public agency's ability to be added as an additional insured party in a professional liability or workers compensation. AGC met with ACEC and its lobbyist, bringing in experts from our membership, including our insurance folks. While we initially expressed opposition to one measure and neutrality to another, upon further review, some members remained uncomfortable with all of the proposed legislation, arguing it set a bad precedent for future litigation. We stayed in contact with ACIC and the bill sponsor, expressing our opposition. The measures did not advance, but instead were placed in interim study.
Constitutional Change through Legislation
Sen. Mark Johnson (R-Little Rock) filed SB445, that would have asked the General Assembly to amend the constitution, making clear that proceeds from Amendments 91 and 101 can be used to fund multi-lane highways (the subject of litigation). The legislation outlines the process by which legislators can arguably amend the constitution (with 2/3 approval from both chambers), outside of the voter-approved process. (Though the constitution states that a legislatively approved amendment is allowed, it has not been done, and most viewed this measure as a “test case.”) As such, many stakeholders expressed concern about the precedent this measure would set for future constitutional changes. While the bill passed the Senate, it was placed in interim study.
Recovery of Damages for Medical Care
House Bill 1418 by Rep. Marcus Richmond (R-Harvey), to establish recovery of damages for necessary medical care, treatment, or services rendered. A bill that the state chamber supported, and we supported the chamber on it. This bill died in committee.
Use of Refrigerants
House Bill 1440 by Rep. Bruce Cozart (R-Hot Springs), to amend the law concerning prohibitions and limitations on the use of certain refrigerants and to amend the powers of municipal corporations and the Hvacr licensing board in relation to the regulation of certain refrigerants. This was brought to us by an HVAC member who was in support of the bill. AGC supported our members on this bill. The bill passed in both chambers.
To amend the law concerning the procurement of professional services and to amend the definitions of “construction management” and “political subdivisions” for purposes of the procurement of professional services. HB1652 by Rep. Les Eaves (R-Searcy), this bill would open some doors to construction management and expand on entities that could use construction management as a delivery method. The bill passed through both chambers.
Eliminate Barriers to Starting New Business
House Bill 1669 by Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R-Knoxville) to eliminate barriers to starting a new business; to amend Arkansas income tax law; to allow certain new businesses to defer paying certain income tax and to create the Arkansas entrepreneur extension program. The bill could have had some adverse effects on the contractor licensing board and would have waived certain fees for new businesses in the state. AGC voted to oppose this bill and the bill died in committee.
Senate Bill 425 by Sen. Elizabeth English (R-North Little Rock) raised concerns from several of our members and our apprenticeship programs. It was to establish the Arkansas state apprenticeship agency act; to establish the Arkansas state apprenticeship agency; and to establish the Arkansas apprenticeship council. AGC along with ACEF opposed this bill. The bill died in committee.