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LITTLE ROCK — Businesses would not be penalized by state regulators for violating COVID-19 restrictions because of the behavior of their customers, under legislation passed by the Arkansas Senate.

Senate Bill 254 provides that during the public health emergency declared by the governor, businesses would not be liable for violations if they were the result of the behavior of patrons.

Also, SB 254 provides that businesses would not be penalized by state inspectors, such as officials of the Health Department or agents of the Alcoholic Beverage Control board, as long as the violation resulted from the behavior of customers.

If an ABC agent entered a restaurant and saw a customer not wearing a face mask, the agent would have to confront the customer and not the manager of the business.

The bill only governs violations of public health orders issued due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and no other health regulations. Also, the business would still be responsible for ensuring that employees follow public health directives. SB 254 passed by a vote of 32-to-1.

After a thoughtful debate, the Senate approved SB 289 to allow health care providers to refuse to perform procedures if they have objections based on conscience. They would not be civilly or criminally liable and could not lose their staff privileges or board certification. SB 289 passed by a vote of 27-to-6.

The Senate also passed SB 183, to prohibit a candidate from using campaign funds or carryover funds to pay fines for ethics violations. Under SB 183, using campaign funds to pay ethics fines would be considered the same as converting campaign funds to personal use. It passed by a vote of 31-to-2.

The penalty for racing on public highways would be more severe under SB 247, which the Senate passed by a 34-to-1 vote. A first offense would remain a class A misdemeanor but a second offense and any additional offenses would be Class D felonies.

SB 245 adds to the potential penalties for sex trafficking. If convicted offenders used a truck in committing the offense, they would be prohibited from holding a Commercial Driver's License. That means they could not legally drive a heavy truck.

After the Senate passed the Senate bills, they were sent to the House and referred to the relevant committee. Assuming they are advanced by the committees, they then will be voted on by the entire House.

The Senate passed a House bill, HB 1202, which requires counties to publicly post sample ballots in advance of elections. The sponsor said that 55 of the 75 counties in Arkansas already do so. The Secretary of State would post the sample ballots on an Internet page that would be easy for voters to find the correct ballot for their precinct.

HB 1202 originated in the House. It has been approved by both chambers and has been sent to the governor for his signature.

The Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor has advanced SB 6, to prohibit abortions in Arkansas except to save the life of the mother. It will next be considered by the entire Senate.

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