Two freshmen legislators from Southwest Arkansas, reflecting both sides of the major issues currently before the Arkansas General Assembly, are getting their political feet wet as the Lege chugs through the fifth week of a session fraught with questions.

Two freshmen legislators from Southwest Arkansas, reflecting both sides of the major issues currently before the Arkansas General Assembly, are getting their political feet wet as the Lege chugs through the fifth week of a session fraught with questions. While freshmen typically learn the lay of the land in Little Rock through the bulk of their first legislative session, State Senator Jim Hickey, R-Texarkana, has already passed major legislation out of the Senate that is likely to become law this week. Hickey's Senate Bill 92 completely eliminates the statute of limitations for most classes of sex crimes involving minors. The bill changes Arkansas Code 5-1-109(a) concerning the limitation of the period during which prosecutions can be commenced, thereby, making the crimes involved subject to prosecution at any point after the commission of the alleged act and irrespective of the age of the victim at the time the prosecution is commenced. “Currently, a prosecution has to be brought before the victim reaches 28 years of age,” Hickey said. “There was a case in the Miller County-Texarkana area that someone has since pleaded guilty. I had the Bureau of Legislative Research draft the bill with an attorney that works for the state.” The genesis of the bill stems from a series of incidents involving a youth baseball league coach in 1988 and 1989, who allegedly took a boy under age 18 across state lines for the purpose of a sexual encounter, according to published accounts of a victim in the case. Those allegations were subsequently tried in federal court, but could not be addressed in state court. Hickey's legislation will change that for the offenses of rape of a minor, sexual indecency with a child, first degree sexual assault, second degree sexual assault of a minor, incest with a minor, engaging children in sexually explicit conduct for use in visual or print medium, transportation of minors for prohibited sexual conduct, employing or consenting to the use of a child in a sexual performance, producing, directing, or promoting a sexual performance by a child, and first degree computer exploitation of a child. The change would also apply to endangering the welfare of a minor, third and fourth degree sexual assault, permitting the abuse of a minor and computer child pornography. The measure passed the Senate unanimously. Hickey expects it to become law this week. Hickey, who serves on the influential Joint Performance Review and Legislative Joint Auditing committees will be in the middle of Senate deliberations regarding how Arkansas handles a proposed expansion of Medicaid and whether the state will front some $60 million toward a $125 million bond issue to bring the Big River Steel Mill project to Arkansas. “We have to do our own due diligence on that,” he said. “It's my understanding that once we start the process, we have twenty days to make a decision.” As to the Medicaid expansion issue, Hickey thinks its too early in the session for any firm outcomes to be predicted. “The thing with the funds is that Medicaid was in a deficit; and, that part always concerns me,” he said. “We are going to have to get concrete information before we make a decision on that.” State Representative Brent Talley, D-McCaskill, is similarly concerned about both issues. “Last Wednesday, the House met for three hours in the committee of the whole to allow members to get more information about the Big River Steel Project that is requesting the use of Amendment 82 funds,” Talley said. “It is great to have projects like this actively pursuing Arkansas and I want to do all we can do to secure these jobs, this investment, and the projected revenue for Arkansas.” Talley sees the Big River deal as a model for economic development in the future. “I feel that if we can complete the process to solidify this deal for Arkansas that it will serve as an example to other investors that Arkansas is a competitive state for these economic development projects,” he said. Asked whether Arkansas can afford both Big River Steel and Medicaid expansion, Talley said they may not be mutually exclusive budgetary issues. “It is my understanding that a large part of Amendment 82 funds would be paid back before federal costs of Medicaid expansion was exhausted,” he said. “But, regardless, before I vote on this issue, I will have more information on these two important issues for Arkansas.” Talley, a Democrat, said that the “challenge” for the Medicaid issue will be whether enough of the majority Republicans in the House will vote for it. “With the information available, I still believe that expanding Medicaid will help District 3 and may of its citizens,” Talley said. “It will help support our rural hospitals, which are so important.” Talley, who serves on the House Education Committee and the House Aging, Children, Youth and Legislative and Military Affairs Committee, said he has yet to run a bill in the session because there are so many major issues to debate. “I have co-sponsored several pieces of legislation, and I have a meeting to discuss possible legislation that I will sponsor,” he said. “That language is not complete at this time. “I am pleased with the way the session is going,” Talley added. “It appears the freshman class is settling in and working hard. And, it's good to see legislators working in a bipartisan manner to address the important issues facing the state.”