ACEC/A Arkansas 2015 Legislative Session Summary

The 2015 Arkansas Legislative Session was very active with respect to ACEC issues. A total of 1007 bills were introduced in the House and 1055 bills were introduced in the Senate. Of these, the Government Affairs Committee actively tracked over 50 bills. Our basic approach was to:

  1. Review bills on a daily basis. We contracted with the Arkansas Legislative Digest Daily Report which was helpful in identifying bills that may be of interest to ACEC/A. The Legislative website provided access to the bills and specifics which we needed to evaluate the individual bills. Other sources such as the State Chamber Legislative e-mails were also very helpful.
  2. A tracking list was developed, updated, and sent out to the GA Committee on a weekly basis, usually Monday morning. Changes from the previous week were highlighted in yellow so that Committee members could easily track changes.
  3. When someone identified a bill of interest, it was sent to the entire GA Committee to review and evaluate. Bills identified for tracking included specific action items. Most communications were via e-mail although conference calls were used to discuss specific bills and resolve our positions. The ACEC/A Board made the final decisions on all positions.
  4. When needed, contacts were made with individual Representatives and Senators. Our Executive Director, Angie Cooper, also sent out several Calls for Action. Bert Parker, Angie, and others also attend several Committee meetings to represent our positions.

Of the hundreds of legislative items reviewed by ACEC/A during the 15-week long Session, the following represent some of the highlights of affected legislation introduced:

HB 1158
Richard (R)
Amends Arkansas law to provide for the right to engage in
Lawful occupation.

This bill was promoted as a right to work bill but actually removed all licensing requirements including those for engineers. ACEC/A joined a State Chamber coalition to defeat the bill. We made individual contacts with several state legislatures. It is interesting to note that Arkansas has significantly more licensing requirements than most other states. This bill was replaced by HB 2001.

HB 2001
Bart (R)
Requires a new occupational regulation to explicitly state that it supersedes a person's right to a lawful occupation that is established by this Act.

This bill replaced HB 1158 and specifically exempted engineers because they protect the health and safety of the general public but did not mention architects. We continued to support the State Chamber Coalition and the bill didn’t go anywhere but it was a continual fight.
HB 1392
House (R)
Douglas (R)
Provides architects and engineers immunity from damages
for personal injury, death, property damage or other loss
related to the person's errors or emissions in performance of voluntary professional service. Became Act 534

We first saw this bill as part of our daily review. In reading the bill, we determined that in spite of naming Engineers in the title, it did not specifically refer to engineers in the text. Angie contacted the architects who sponsored the bill and they graciously amended the bill to include engineers. It was a big win. Interestingly, we proposed a similar bill several years ago that was soundly defeated. Times do change.

SB 540 Files
Jake (R)
Mat (R)
Requires entities that receive funds from the state to use competitive sealed bidding for contracts to plan, design, build or repair water, wastewater or storm water drainage projects; sets standard for acceptable piping materials

This bill was known as the PVC Pipe Bill and has been introduced and defeated in a number of states. We received information on it from ACEC National, ACEC/Oklahoma, and other groups. When we first reviewed the bill, our initial concern was that it mandated the bidding on professional services – a direct threat to QBS. We had other concerns with the bill but thought we could live with them if we resolved the QBS issue. We contacted the author, voiced our concerns and got the bidding of professional services removed. Concerns still lingered with other parts of the bill and we finally determined that the entire bill needed to be defeated. The bill just wouldn’t die despite the efforts of ACEC/A and several other groups including a call for action to defeat the bill. Several folks wrote e-mails to legislatures asking for their support to defeat the bill. We were finally successful.

There were also a number of construction related bills that we remained neutral on. The contractors did contact us explaining their positions and asking for our support.

AHTD had several funding bills. HB 1436 which deferred a portion of severance tax revenue to AHTD for maintenance passed and became ACT 536. Most of the other bills didn’t pass.

The level of effort provided by the GA Committee and our Executive Director during the Session was tremendous. We estimate nearly 2000 manhours were expended by ACEC/A between the initial filing date in November 2014 and the Close of Session in April 2015. That’s almost one man-YEAR. And of that, nearly 2/3 was time volunteered by committee members and their respective Firms. This is not an easy task but it is a crucial one for the future of our companies. And as such, we need everyone to get involved in some way: as a committee member, by contacting legislators, or attending hearings. While we were successful in defeating some onerous bills this session we were spread thin and scrambling at times to make last minute committee meetings on the Hill where a sponsor was attempting to slip one “under the fence”. We know these bills, or ones like them, will be re-introduced and we need to be prepared. They will affect us all.