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Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signs bill toughening sentencing standards, building new prison

By Sarah May on
 April 16, 2023

Making good on several of the priorities she announced at the start of her first term as Arkansas governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday signed legislation designed to toughen criminal sentencing for several categories of offense, as the Associated Press reports.

The provisions of Senate Bill 495 – also known as the Protect Arkansas Act – mandate that those found guilty of any of 18 distinct violent crimes will serve the full length of their prison sentences without the eligibility for parole that they may have been afforded in the past.

Governor signs overhaul

In addition to the truth-in-sentencing chances applicable to the aforementioned class of violent offenses, another aspect of the legislation provides that individuals convicted of certain other types of crimes will be required to serve no less than 85% of their terms of incarceration, and other classes of offenders having to serve at least 25% or 50%, depending on the nature of their crimes.

During a formal bill signing ceremony this week, Sanders said, “No more letting violent offenders back on the street without serious prison time.”

Amid a spike in violent crime, particularly in the state capital of Little Rock, Sanders has also advocated for the addition of 3,000 new prison beds within the corrections system, and $330 million has been earmarked for that purpose, according to the AP.

In the meantime, prison officials intend to open another 500 beds statewide to help alleviate the current strain.

“Aggravated death by delivery”

It was also on Tuesday that the governor signed into law the Fentanyl Enforcement and Accountability Act – a measure creating a criminal charge of “aggravated death by delivery” for those who provide or deliver fentanyl to another and, as a result, causes death, as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Those convicted under this statute would face possible sentences of between 20 and 60 years, and perhaps even life in prison, depending on the facts of the case.

Under the law, someone convicted of “predatory marketing of fentanyl to minors” by presenting the drug in packaging likely to appeal to children, for example, could face life imprisonment and a fine of $1 million.

While advocating for the measure's passage earlier this year, Sanders said regarding the fentanyl epidenic, “As a mom, it's hard to see all the lives that are lost, and my heart certainly breaks for every parent who has lost a son or daughter to an overdose, as Little Rock ABC affiliate KATV reported.

“We will step up”

Sanders' hardline stance on fentanyl traffickers was explained by the governor herself earlier this year when she laid at least partial blame for the worsening on the Biden administration.

“[President Joe] Biden's refusal to secure our southern border allows deadly drugs like fentanyl to pour in and kill Americans,” Sanders said.

“But we will step up where he has failed,” the governor added.

As such, she aggressively advocated for the legislation she said would “crack down on killer drug dealers and save lives,” to which she affixed her signature Tuesday.

Keeping promises

The laws enacted this week are just part of the commitment Sanders has shown when it comes to keeping the promises she made to voters during her gubernatorial campaign, as the New York Post explained earlier this year.

To that end, she has also signed a number of executive orders that are in keeping with her top campaign themes, including one that took direct aim at the expansion of critical race theory (CRT) in Arkansas classrooms, according to The Hill.

Sanders also banned the use of the term “Latinx” in state government documents, blasting the gender-neutral term favored by the progressive left, but which has never garnered much buy-in from actual Latino citizens, characterizing it as “ethnically insensitive and pejorative language, as CBS noted.

Cementing her status as a rising star in the GOP, Sanders was chosen to deliver her party's rebuttal to Biden's State of the Union address back in February, during the course of which she called for a “new generation of Republican leadership,” of which she clearly intends to be prominent member.