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Archive for the ‘Legislation’ Category

The Connecticut General Assembly has drafted legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry after the Connecticut Supreme Court held that the state constitution required the same.  Governor M. Jodi Rell has noted she will sign the bill.  For a full account of the story, click here.

Vermont has already passed legislation allowing same-sex marriages.  Massachusetts and Iowa permit same-sex marriages because of rulings by their high courts.

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For a discussion of the problems I found with the bill, click here.  For a discussion of the committee meeting regarding the bill, click here.

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Legislators have put forward HB 1611, which would allow house committees to broadcast their meetings over the internet, as a measure to increase transparency in committee meetings.  As a techno-nerd, I think this is a great idea (although with a $40,000 a year price tag, I’m not sure this is really the best time to invest in the technology that will probably be obsolete in a few years).  As an attorney, I have a few qualms.

Arkansas attorneys routinely have to argue about what a certain law means, and there are several methods of phrasing these arguments.  Generally, the best place to start is by talking about what the law says–the words used by the General Assembly in passing the law.  In other states, you could also go to the legislative history of the law, which is what members of the house and senate said about the bill when it was being debated.  Arkansas doesn’t have “legislative history” in this sense because there is no official publication of what’s said.

Occasionally, a person or group will record a debate or hearing in the house or senate and have that proceeding transcribed unofficially.  I’ve seen attorneys try to offer these unofficial transcripts as evidence of legislative history, but this kind of evidence is generally inadmissible.  First, it’s not official or sanctioned by the General Assembly.  Second, it’s not fair.  The group that is putting forward the unofficial version cannot provide the entire legislative history (not just one committee meeting or hearing) to opposing counsel to review.  The true legislative history of a bill is expansive and would contain all of the opposing viewpoints of the legislators as the bill moved through the General Assembly.  Having legislative history can only be fair if all of it is available to everybody.

Under HB 1611, a house committee can broadcast its meetings over the internet.  It sounds simple enough, but it could create the problem discussed above.  Although the proposed law doesn’t say that that the broadcast constitutes official legislative history, it would be very easy to argue this based on the existence of the law itself.  But there is no way to cure the fairness problem with allowing access to a minute excerpt of legislative history.  The bill addresses house committees only and does not provide access to any debates or hearings in the senate.  Further, the bill is discretionary.  A house committee can broadcast, or it can chose not to.

I still think this is a good bill, but I would add another sentence stating, “Broadcasting of any house committee proceedings is not intended to create legislative history.”  I think this language would solve the problems I’ve addressed above, while still allowing for transparency in house committee meetings.  Also, it’s likely that this bill is just the first step in making all proceedings in the General Assembly accessible to everyone (true legislative history).  Once the methods have been tested, and everyone has equal access, then the General Assembly could choose to make such broadcasting official legislative history.

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According to the complaint, the Pennsylvania legislature conspired with the executive and judicial branches to pass pay increases for all three branches.  When citizen groups challenged the law, their lawsuit was dismissed because of lack of standing.  Because the citizen groups were complaining of a “generalized, abstract grievance shared by all Pennsylvanians,” they could not show how the legislation had harmed them individually.  For the complete story, click here.

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The stated purpose of the Act is to change animal cruelty from a misdemeanor to a felony.  However, animal cruelty (mistreatment, killing, abandonment, etc.) is still only a misdemeanor.  Ark. Code Ann. 5-62-101.  Aggravated animal cruelty (torture) is now a Class D felony.  Ark. Code Ann. 5-62-104.  The Act changes the prohibition against dog fighting into a prohibition against animal fighting, which is still a first degree Class D felony.  Ark. Code Ann. 5-62-120.  Watching animal fighting is a second degree Class D felony.  Ark. Code Ann. 5-62-120.

The new Act was recently signed into law by Governor Beebe and will be added to the code soon.  For the full text of the Act, click here.

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