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Arkansas Legislature considering real estate regulation, illegal immigration

By: 3 March 2011 2 Comments

Hideous font in honor of the great David Hudson.

As any Arkansan who has been paying attention knows, the state Legislature is in session and considering a slew of new laws.

While we at First Arkansas News would love to keep our readers well informed about what the Legislature is considering, the fact is we only have the time and resources to write about a couple of bills that grab our attention. If you’re a political junkie, head on over to TalkBusiness.net or TolbertReport.com for all the political wonkery you can handle.

That said, here are a few bills that have gotten our attention for various reasons:

HB1615 — Minimum Real Estate Services

In a trend that has developed around the nation, Arkansas has it’s own bill to establish the minimum set of services that a real estate agent must provide buyers and sellers. What prompted this bill? Arkansas Real Estate Commission Executive Director Gary Isom — who identified the bill as “one of ours” — said the issue at hand stems from real estate brokers who put homes in multiple listing services (MLS) for a flat fee and do little else.

An MLS, of course, is essentially a large database in which Realtors place listings. Isom said most of the people engaged in taking a fee to put a home in an MLS are primarily working outside of Arkansas. Here in the Natural State, the rules are pretty simple — so long as an agent holds and Arkansas license and is also a member of the National Association of Realtors, that individual can gain membership in an Arkansas MLS and place listings there.

Isom was quick to point out that requiring real estate licensees to offer a minimum set of services to clients might be considered anti-competitive by the U.S. Department of Justice if the applicable law is overly restrictive. In other words, a law outlawing “flat free brokerages” in Arkansas might result in action from the federal government, so Isom said the proposed law is written in such a way that it does not discourage new business models.

How is that achieved? Buyers or sellers can elect to waive some services referenced under the law, but Isom said it is in the public interest to make sure that those services are explained and consumers know exactly what services are offered and which ones they can waive.

“It does two things. It accommodates some new business models and allows them to exist in Arkansas,” he said of the law. “We cannot regulate out new business models. … At the same time, it insures that consumers are making knowledgeable choices and know what services they are or or not getting.”

Click here to look at HB1615 for yourself. The bill was introduced in the House on Feb. 25 and is in committee.

SB636 — punishing non-licensees who sell real estate

What can the Real Estate Commission do to people who are engaged in the business of representing buyers and sellers but don’t hold a real estate license? According to Isom, not much.

SB636, he said, could change all that. People who are not licensed but sell real estate anyway could be found guilty of a Class D felony should the bill become law. Specifically, the bill would give the Commission the authority to punish unlicensed individuals engaged in real estate activity — essentially representing other people and making money from selling or leasing real estate.

Naturally, people are allowed to dispense of their own real property as they see fit. The trouble, of course, comes from people who represent others in buying or selling real estate to such an extent that they are viewed as doing the job of licensed agents.

What constitutes real estate activity under the law? Read SB636 for yourself by clicking here. The bill was introduced in the Senate on Feb. 28.

HB1013 — punishing contractors who knowingly hire illegal immigrants

Watching unions, some members of the business community and a few Republicans scrap over this one has been more fun than viewing that weird, rambling and self-destructive Charlie Sheen interview the other night on ABC’s 20/20 (face it — Sheen is completely bonkers).

What is HB 1013? In short, it’s a bill that will — if passed — give the state Contractors Licensing Board the authority to punish those contractors who knowingly employee people who aren’t in the country legally. A contractor who knows a subcontractor employs illegal aliens but hires that subcontractor anyway can also be punished under the law. The punishment? License suspension or revocation.

The fight over this one seems to be over whether the bill will actually provide more work for Arkansans (something we all want) or punish people who had no idea they were hiring people who can’t legally hold down jobs in the United States. It’s worth mentioning that the bill is pretty specific in pointing out punishments will be dealt out against contractors who knowingly hire illegals or knowingly retain subcontractors who employee illegal immigrants.

Click here to read HB1013. The bill passed the House on Feb. 7 and has been in a Senate committee since.

Of course, we’ll keep you good people updated on the status of these bills in the weeks to come.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.

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