Bill af­firm­ing jury-trial waiver falls in House panel

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - JOHN MORITZ

A bill deal­ing with jury-trial waivers stum­bled out of the start­ing block Tues­day, the first day of a spe­cial ses­sion that was sup­posed to fo­cus on leg­is­la­tion that would pass eas­ily be­cause it had a broad con­sen­sus.

The leg­is­la­tion, House Bill 1006, seeks to af­firm a pro­vi­sion of the Arkansas Con­sti­tu­tion that al­lows for mu­tu­ally agreed-upon waivers of a right to a jury trial by a per­son or en­tity. De­scribed as a “cleanup” bill that comes in re­sponse to an Arkansas Supreme Court de­ci­sion, the leg­is­la­tion states that such waivers, when writ­ten into con­tracts, are “pre­sump­tively valid, ir­rev­o­ca­ble, and en­force­able.”

A signer of the con­tract can­not get out of the waiver by claim­ing they did not “read, un­der­stand or agree to the waiver,” the bill states.

Law­mak­ers on the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee voted down the bill when they con­sid­ered it for the first time Tues­day.

Gov. Asa Hutchin­son, who is­sued the call for the spe­cial ses­sion Mon­day, had asked law­mak­ers to gather sig­na­tures show­ing sup­port from two-thirds of their col­leagues in or­der to have leg­is­la­tion in­cluded.

The gov­er­nor’s of­fice was track­ing down doc­u­ments show­ing the sig­na­tures af­ter copies were re­quested by the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette.

A com­pan­ion bill was filed in the Se­nate by state Sen. Jeremy Hutchin­son, R-Lit­tle Rock, the gov­er­nor’s nephew. Se­nate Bill 5 was amended Tues­day af­ter­noon to ap­ply only in “a con­tract to bor­row money or lend money,” which the sen­a­tor said he ex­pected would clear up some op­po­nents’ con­cerns.

The bill is sched­uled to be con­sid­ered to­day in the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee.

As for HB1006, spon­sor state Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, said “spe­cial in­ter­ests popped up” in com­mit­tee Tues­day to sink the mea­sure.

The Fam­ily Coun­cil, a con­ser­va­tive faith-based ad­vo­cacy group, was among those who came out against the bill.

“We found out about it and dived in front of it,” said Fam­ily Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Jerry Cox, who said he was con­cerned that the leg­is­la­tion would en­trap peo­ple who had un­know­ingly signed away their jury-trial rights.

Also, Arkansas Bar As­so­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent Tony Hil­liard said in a text mes­sage Tues­day that the group was meet­ing to­day to de­cide its stance on the bill.

Ballinger said he was not sure if he would seek to amend the bill in or­der to have it brought up again dur­ing the spe­cial ses­sion, which is ex­pected to end this week.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/STA­TON BREIDENTHAL

Rep. Bob Ballinger said his bill was de­railed Tues­day when “spe­cial in­ter­ests popped up” in the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. Ballinger said he was not sure if he will seek to amend the bill for the spe­cial ses­sion.

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