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   Arkansas State Representative, District 4

DeAnn Vaught
266 Dairy Road
Horatio, AR  71842
(870) 832-2638
deann.vaught@arkansashouse.org

 

 

June 15, 2018

 

Rep. Matthew Shepherd is now the Speaker of the Arkansas House.

We convened for a special House Caucus Friday morning. The House voted by acclamation to name Shepherd as Speaker for the remainder of the 91stGeneral Assembly.

Rep. Matthew Shepherd is serving his fourth term in the Arkansas House of Representatives. He is from El Dorado and represents District 6, which includes part of Union County.

He was previously elected as Speaker-designate and expected to be confirmed as Speaker for the 92ndGeneral Assembly which begins in January.

Rep. Shepherd is serving his second term as chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

Last week, Speaker Jeremy Gillam submitted his resignation letter to Governor Asa Hutchinson as he announced he has accepted an employment opportunity at the University of Central Arkansas.

Although we are not expected to go back into session for the remainder of the year, it is still essential that the House addresses this leadership position.

The Speaker is also in charge of overseeing all House management functions throughout the year.

During session, his or her duties include supervising and directing the daily order of business, recognizing Members to speak, preserving order in the House, deciding all questions of order, certifying all measures passed, assigning committee leadership, and naming members to committees.

Speaker Gillam was the 5th person in Arkansas history to serve two terms as Speaker. He says the years he served have been the greatest honor of his professional life. Speaker Gillam addressed members before stepping down saying, “I leave here knowing they will continue to bring out the best in Arkansas. I want to thank them for allowing me to serve as the Speaker. I also want to thank the people of District 45 who elected me to represent our district. It has been an honor.”

The caucus meeting can be found online atwww.arkansashouse.org

 

June 8, 2018

Although budget hearings for the next fiscal year do not begin until the fall, we frequently review revenue reports to ensure our budget is on track. This week, we received the General Revenue Report for May showing net available general revenue totals for the year at $4.9 billion.

After 11 months into the 2018 fiscal year, revenue is $159.9 million or 3.3% above this time last year. It is also $44.2 million more than had been previously forecasted.

July 1st is the beginning of a new fiscal year for state government in Arkansas. As we approach that date, state officials pay close attention the revenue forecast for the previous year and where our current budget stands in relation to that forecast. This gives insight into what they might expect for the upcoming fiscal year.

Arkansas’s two largest sources of general revenue are collected from a portion of the state sales/use tax and from the Arkansas individual income tax. Other general revenue sources include: taxes on alcohol and tobacco products; gaming and pari-mutuel betting on horse and dog racing; severance taxes on oil, minerals, gravel, and natural gas; corporate franchises and corporate income; and real estate transfers.

So far this year, individual incomes taxes and sales tax have generated more revenue than the previous year. Corporate incomes taxes are down.

Our unemployment rate now stands at 3.8%. The national rate is 3.9%. We rank 20th in the nation for the lowest level of unemployment. When more Arkansans are working, our economy strengthens. This is positive news as we approach the next year.

Our Tax Reform Task Force has been diligently studying ways to reform our tax structure. They are in the final months of drafting their recommendations. Positive revenue reports and unemployment rates help guide our decision making process. We will continue to update you on the progress.

 

June 1, 2018

Once a year, we get an incredible opportunity to see the future leaders of our state in action.

That opportunity took place this week as we greeted the participants of Boys State and Girls State in our Capitol.

Arkansas Boys State and Girls State is an immersive program in civics education designed for high school juniors across the state. Of the 99 members currently serving in the House, 24 participated in Boys State or Girls State the summer before their senior year.

Upon arrival, each participant is assigned a mock political party, city, and county. Throughout the week, delegates administrate this mock government as if it were the real government.

By week’s end, Boys State and Girls State have created their own state government including their own governor and staff of state officials. They establish their own Supreme Court and legislature.

The mock legislative session is held in the Capitol with many of our members assisting them through the bill presentation and voting process. The bills they present always give insight into the issues important to this generation. This year, Girls State presented bills aimed at combating opioid overdoses, preventing school shootings through mental health training for teachers, and implementing toll roads. Participants of Boys State presented mock legislation to require law enforcement officers to complete sensitivity and de-escalation training and a bill to increase the legal age to purchase cigarettes from 18 to 21.

Boys State and Girls State provides our students with an opportunity to learn how our government operates without using a text book. It teaches them through a real-life experience they will never forget.

If you know a young man or woman interested in serving, encourage them to visit with their high school guidance counselor who can provide information on how to participate in next year’s program.

 

May 25, 2018

It is estimated that for every dollar you spend at the grocery store, only 11 cents goes to a farmer. More than 30 cents of every dollar goes to pay for processing, packing, and transporting.
This summer, Arkansans have an opportunity to give our farmers a larger share of the profit all while accessing fresh locally grown produce.

There are more than 100 farmers’ markets across the state. While some operate year round, you will never have trouble finding one near you in the summer months.

The markets provide a low-barrier entry point for beginning farmers, allowing them to start small, test the market, and grow their businesses. Arkansas Farm Bureau estimates that 13 jobs are created for every $1 million of revenue from a market.

Farmers’ markets aren’t just an opportunity to buy food. They provide a family friendly opportunity to interact with your neighbors and community. Additionally, the social connections that are facilitated by farmers' markets allow producers and consumers to build relationships. Farmers’ market vendors educate their shoppers. In fact, four out of five farmers selling at markets discuss farming practices with their customers, and three in five discuss nutrition and how to prepare food.

Farmers’ markets have fruits and vegetables at the peak of the growing season. This means produce is at its freshest and tastes the best. The food is typically grown near where you live, not thousands of miles away or another country.

In the summer, Arkansans can find locally grown strawberries, blackberries, peaches, and watermelons just to name a few.

Because of the nutrition and affordability, many vendors have now started accepting EBT cards from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. In some cases, SNAP recipients can double their purchasing power at a participating market.

Arkansas is home to more than 43,000 farms. 97% of those farms are family owned. Take the time this year to support our state’s number one industry.

You can find a farmers’ market near you by visiting www.arkansasfarmersmarketassociation.com
 

 

 

May 18, 2018

A vast majority of recreational vacations are water-related, and Arkansas is ready. With more than 600,000 acres of lakes, there's plenty of space for fishing, swimming, sailing, boating and more.

Before you head out on the water this summer, we want to remind you of a few of the laws we’ve passed to keep our lakes and rivers a safe place for you and your family. Anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1986, and of legal age to operate a motorboat or sailboat, must have successfully completed an approved Arkansas Game and Fish Boating Education Course and carry proof while operating a motorboat or sailboat on Arkansas water.


The traditional method is an instructor-led class. These classes may be a couple of hours each night for three to four nights or a full-day Saturday class. In 2017, the General Assembly passed Act 1072 which ensured that the course may be taken on line. Boat Arkansas is the official online course of Arkansas Game and Fish. You can study and take the test from the comfort of your own home at www.boat-ed.com/arkansas. There is a fee of $24.50.

To operate a personal watercraft, a person must be 16 or older, be 12 to 15 years old and be under the direct supervision of a person at least 18 years old, or be under 12 and be under the direct supervision of a person at least 21 years old.

Personal watercrafts include brand names such as Jet Ski, Wave Runner, or Sea-Doo. The 87th General Assembly passed Rachel’s law raising the minimum age for operating a personal watercraft without direct supervision from 14 to 16. The law is named after a 15 year old girl who was killed in an accident while operating a watercraft.

And finally, we want to remind everyone that it is mandatory for anyone under the age of 12 to wear a life jacket when they are in a moving boat. Act 517, which passed in 1995, also states there must be a life jacket on board for every single individual regardless of age.

We hope you enjoy everything the Natural State has to offer this summer. If you aren’t certain of all of the rules and regulations check out the Arkansas Game and Fish website at www.agfc.com.

 

May 11, 2018

The Arkansas Preferential Primary Election and Nonpartisan General Election is scheduled for May 22. Early voting began on May 7. In the first week of early voting, more than 31,000 Arkansans had cast their ballot.

If you have not voted yet, we want to remind you to make plans to do so. We also want to remind you that this year voters will be required to verify registration. Act 633 of 2017 states voters must present a document or identification card that:

(a) Shows the name of the person to whom the document or identification card was issued;

(b) Shows a photograph of the person to whom the document or identification card was issued;

(c) Is issued by the United States, the State of Arkansas, or an accredited postsecondary educational institution in the State of Arkansas; and

(d) If displaying an expiration date, is not expired or expired no more than four (4) years before the date of the election in which the voter seeks to vote.

Documents and identification cards that will be accepted as verification of voter registration include without limitation: A driver’s license; A photo identification card; A concealed handgun carry license; A United States passport; An employee badge or identification document issued by an accredited postsecondary education institution in the State of Arkansas; A United States military identification document; A public assistance identification card if the card shows a photograph of the person to whom the document or identification card was issued; A voter verification card.

Voters who do not possess a valid form of identification may obtain a free voter verification card at their county clerk’s office. To obtain this voter verification card, voters will be required to complete an affidavit stating they do not possess such identification, and must provide documentation containing their full legal name and date of birth, as well as documentation containing their name and residential address. Please contact your county clerk for information regarding acceptable forms of documentation.

Voters unable to verify registration at the polls may cast a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots will be counted the voter completes a sworn statement at the polling site stating that he or she is registered to vote in this state and if the county board of election commissioners does not determine that the ballot is invalid and should not be counted based on other grounds.

Voters who cast a provisional ballot also have until noon on the Monday following the election to present identification to the county board of commissioners to have their ballot counted.

A person who is a resident of a long-term care or residential care facility licensed by the state of is not required to verify his or her registration but must provide specified documentation from the administrator of the facility.

If you have questions, contact your county clerk before heading to the polls.

 

May 5, 2018

It is never lost on us here at the Capitol that a teacher’s day does not end with the bell. We know they spend countless hours at home grading papers, preparing for tomorrow’s lesson, and thinking about how to reach that challenging student who is falling behind.

We want to thank teachers for their relentless commitment to our children, seeing their full potential when no one else can and restoring their confidence. We also thank them for inspiring the next generation of teachers.

Teacher Appreciation Week is May 7-11. This is a great time to show our thanks to the more than 33,000 teachers across the state.

The Arkansas Department of Education created a Teacher Appreciation page on its website :http://www.arkansased.gov/divisions/educator%20effectiveness/teacher-appreciation. On the page you will find a teacher appreciation certificate and notecard that can be downloaded and used, as well as a short toolkit with ideas.

We also encourage you to share your photos and videos on social media using #TeachersInspireAR and #TeachArkansas.

Arkansas has many amazing teachers who show their commitment to student-focused education. Teachers deserve to be appreciated and celebrated every day.

You can show your appreciation for teachers throughout the school year by serving as a volunteer in the classroom or on a field trip, or by collaborating with others to fund special projects, supplies or field trips. Teachers love to provide amazing learning experiences for their students. Find out what needs you can help meet in the classroom.

By the time a student graduates from high school, he or she will have spent about 17,000 hours at school being instructed by more than 40 teachers. That's why almost everyone has a story about a teacher who has touched his or her life.

Teachers love to hear how they’ve made a positive impact on a student. Share your story this week.

 

April 27, 2018

In 2017, State Revenue Offices served more than 2 million in-person customers. Although the process has been streamlined over the years, we recognize a trip during business hours to get your tags or license rarely convenient for your schedule.

That is why we want to remind Arkansans about the services offered at www.mydmv.arkansas.gov . Just this year, the agency announced that you can now register new and used cars on the website and even order a duplicate driver’s license or ID.

The “Skip the Trip” campaign was launched in hopes of eliminating hundreds of thousands of visits to Revenue Offices across the state.

Other services available online include:

● Check Title Status Online – This service will help taxpayers to check the status of their application for title.
● Transfer Ownership – This service will help taxpayers to notify the Office of Motor Vehicles (OMV) if they have sold their vehicle to another individual or to a dealer.
● Print Duplicate Registration – This service will help taxpayers to print a duplicate registration online.
● Estimated Sales Tax Calculator – This service will allow taxpayers to calculate how much state tax they will owe for a vehicle before registration.
● Online Pre-Registration – This service will allow taxpayers to input specific Motor Vehicle details and receive a confirmation code for submission. The taxpayer should present the confirmation code and necessary documents to their local State Revenue Office clerk to complete the transaction with minimal data input.
● Pre-Registration for First Time License or ID card – This will allow those obtaining a first-time license or ID card the opportunity to pre-register online, reducing time spent in the Revenue Office.
● Enter Medical Information – This will allow Commercial Drivers the opportunity to enter required medical information online.
● Change of Address Notification – Arkansans may now update any change of address online. State law requires notification within 10 days of a change of address.
● Request Records – Requests for records including a driver’s license status/clearance letter and a license reinstatement requirements letter may now be performed online.

Arkansans can also renew their car tags, assess their personal property, pay their property taxes, order personalized license plates and download the voter registration form. Arkansas truck drivers can also find links to download the written CDL exam and take the online course to become a Certified Trucker Against Trafficking.

Visit mydmv.arkansas.gov to see how you can “Skip the Trip” this year.

 

 

April 24, 2018

Shade Trees on Playgrounds Program Accepting School Applications through May 18

STATEWIDE, ARK. – The 2018 Shade Trees on Playgrounds (STOP) program is accepting applications through May 18 for schools needing additional shade on playgrounds. Winning schools receive five shade trees, mulch, watering supplies, and planting guidelines. Officials with the Agriculture Department’s Arkansas Forestry Commission (AFC) plant trees during a ceremony with students each fall. Find an online STOP application and program guidelines here.

Urban forestry staff began the STOP program fifteen years ago to help lower adult skin cancer risk by reducing childhood exposure to direct sunlight on school playgrounds. Since then, more than 100 Arkansas schools have received trees.The STOP program also provides teachers with a full curriculum about the environmental benefits of trees, how shade reduces skin cancer risks, and tips for keeping trees healthy.

“The STOP Program is one of our most rewarding initiatives because it gives us the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with students and teachers in an outdoor setting.” said Alison Litchy, AFC Urban Forestry Coordinator. “We strive to make the program a fun and memorable way to educate students about the many environmental and health benefits of trees, including the important protection they provide in reducing a child’s risk of adult skin cancer.”

Trees are chosen by AFC staff to fit the unique region and conditions of each playground. Lacebark elms, oaks, tulip poplars, and black gum trees are common candidates for the program. To participate in the STOP program a school must meet the criteria below:

Lack shade on a school playground

Participate in a STOP workshop to be held in Little Rock on September 4

Use provided curriculum materials to emphasize the importance of trees during the week leading up to the tree planting event
Involve students in tree-related projects that culminate with a tree planting ceremony

Hold a tree planting ceremony prior to October 31, 2018

Be willing to maintain the trees planted

Learn more about urban and community forestry services and programs, here. The Arkansas Agriculture Department is dedicated to the development and implementation of policies and programs for Arkansas agriculture and forestry to keep its farmers and ranchers competitive in national and international markets while ensuring safe food, fiber, and forest products for the citizens of the state and nation. Visit www.aad.arkansas.gov.

 

April 20, 2018

This week, several members were updated on the current status of the Arkansas lottery. The director of the lottery informed the Lottery Oversight Subcommittee that revenues are on track to be the 2nd or 3rd highest since the lottery’s inception in 2009.

Year to date net proceeds are $6.2 million more than this time last year. This is $5.5 million more than budgeted. For March alone, net proceeds are $1,740,865 more than March 2017. That is a 28.1% increase.

Net proceeds from the lottery fund the Arkansas Academic Challenge which awards more than 30,000 scholarships each year.

This year, excess lottery proceeds will fund the Arkansas Workforce Challenge Scholarship. This scholarship was created in the 2017 Regular Session.

It is available to Arkansas residents who are enrolled in an associate or certificate program in one of the following high demand fields: Industry, Health Care, or Information Technology. The scholarship is funded at the lesser of $800 a semester or the cost the program of study, such as tuition, fees, textbooks, and equipment or other course materials.

Since the lottery began, more than 250,000 Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarships have been awarded to students seeking both four and two-year degrees. The deadline to apply for the Arkansas Academic Challenge is June 1.

To be eligible, one must be a traditional incoming freshman, a current college student or a non-traditional student; must have a minimum ACT score of 19; must still be in pursuit of one’s first baccalaureate degree; and maintain a 2.5 grade point average.

Scholarships are awarded based on a tiered system. Students enrolled in four-year institutions can receive $1,000 for the first year. Those who stay in school are rewarded thereafter with $4,000 for sophomore and junior years, and $5,000 for the senior year. At two-year institutions and approved nursing schools, students receive $1,000 for the first year and $3,000 for the second.

Information and applications for scholarships are found at the Department of Higher Education’s website, which is scholarships.adhe.edu.

 

April 16, 2018

Arkansas House members have been meeting in the current chamber at the State Capitol since 1911. The desks and chairs were moved from the Old State House the night before the first session here began.

While modifications have been made over the last 100 years, the desks that architects had designed in 1914 specifically for our chamber were never actually built.

In the last twenty years, House leadership has made a continuous effort to honor the historical integrity of this chamber. This should be a place that honors not only our forefathers, but our descendants.

An extensive restoration was completed 4 years ago to restore the stained glass dome, a water damaged ceiling, and the Chamber chandelier. In in the last two years, construction crews have renovated our four committee rooms where the bulk of legislation begins.

Now, crews are working to remove the current desks and flooring in the House Chamber. Representatives have been using the current desks since the 1960’s. The last renovations for the floor took place in 1986.

But the current project is not to simply replace outdated material. It is a restoration project to build what architects back in 1914 had in mind for this structure. The project will also include integrating some modern advancements such as replacing the current analog voting machines with digital ones.

Clements and Associates are the architects of the project. The project is expected to be complete by the end of this year.

This House is not just ours, it is yours. We are certain when the project is complete, it will be a House we are all proud to call our own.

We invite you to follow our progress. We will be periodically posting pictures to the House Facebook page at facebook.com/arkansashouse and on twitter @arkansashouse.

 

April 9, 2018

The primary is one of the most important phases of any election. It gives the public the ability to decide the best candidate of each party. But far too often, voters skip the primary and vote only in the general election in November.

In 2016, more than 1.1 million Arkansans voted in November. The voter turnout was 64.65%. However, in the May primary only 644,523 Arkansans voted. The turnout in the primary was 38.39%.

We encourage you to make plans now to vote in the upcoming primary. It will be held on May 22. Early voting begins May 7.

The deadline to register to vote is Monday, April 23.

The ballot for the upcoming primary will vary in districts across the state and vary between political party.

In a primary election, you must state the party primary in which you wish to vote. If you don’t wish to cast a party ballot, you may choose to vote in the nonpartisan races only (which may include judicial and prosecuting attorney races, and other local issues such as tax increases).

The Secretary of State’s office says that before considering yourself a registered voter, you must receive an acknowledgment of your registration from the county clerk.

Unfortunately each Election Day, many would-be first-time voters in Arkansas do not have their votes counted because they are not actually registered to vote. Many believed they had registered months before, but failed to follow up when they did not receive a voter ID card from their county clerk. The process of voter registration is convenient, but it also places responsibility on the registrant to ensure the process is completed.

Feel free to call your county clerk and inquire about the status of your application.


You may also check your voter registration status and find your polling location online by visiting www.voterview.org.
 

 

April 6, 2018

Arkansas Agriculture Department Urges Response to Census of Agriculture

LITTLE ROCK, AR – The Arkansas Agriculture Department joins the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in urging Arkansas agricultural producers to respond to the United States Census of Agriculture by April 30, 2018. The Census of Agriculture is a survey sent to producers across the country every five years to look at land use and ownership, operator characteristics, production practices, and income and expenditures. The Census of Agriculture is the only source of uniform, comprehensive, and impartial agriculture data for every state and county in the nation.

“Agriculture is our state’s largest industry contributing over $21 billion to our economy each year. Our diverse agricultural production ranges from livestock, poultry, aquaculture, row crops, specialty crops, and forestry. It is important that we have reliable data to quantify the many ways that our diverse production contributes to the economy. The Arkansas Agriculture Department takes our obligations to our state’s largest industry very seriously. The Census of Agriculture, and other annual surveys conducted by NASS, provides invaluable data that helps us to understand how to best serve our farmers and ranchers throughout the state” says Arkansas Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward.

According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Arkansas has currently completed 50.91% of Census inquiries compared to the national figure of 54.10%. Producers can choose to respond via online survey, which offers new timesaving features, at www.agcounts.usda.gov, or by mail. Everyone who received the 2017 Census of Agriculture questionnaire is required to complete the survey even if they are not currently farming. The first few qualifying questions on the form will determine whether completing the entire questionnaire is necessary. A full Census resource guide is available here with frequently asked questions, instructions, and more.

“We are working to ensure that Arkansas farmers, ranchers, and all landowners understand the requirements of the Census, and how to have their information included among results,” says Eugene Young, Regional Director USDA-NASS. “This data informs state and national leaders about how to make the best possible decisions regarding policy, funding, and programs for our agricultural industry. All commodities should take this opportunity to be represented seriously, and we are here to make the process as simple and convenient as possible,” he said.

NASS is required by federal law to keep all information confidential, use the data only for statistical purposes, and only publish in aggregate form to prevent disclosing the identity of any individual producer or farm operation. Find the 2012 Census of Agriculture Report, here. Findings from the 2018 Census of Agriculture are predicted by NASS to be available by the spring of 2019.

The Arkansas Agriculture Department is dedicated to the development and implementation of policies and programs for Arkansas agriculture and forestry to keep its farmers and ranchers competitive in national and international markets while ensuring safe food, fiber, and forest products for the citizens of the state and nation. Visit www.aad.arkansas.gov.

 

 

March 30, 2018

During the recent Fiscal Session, the federal government informed our state officials that we received approval to have a work requirement as part of our Medicaid program known as Arkansas Works.

Arkansas will be the first state in the country to actually implement this requirement.

As of March 1, there were about 284,000 Arkansans receiving health coverage from Arkansas Works. Arkansas Works enrollees ages 19-49 will be subject to the requirement. If you are one of them, you will receive a letter from the Department of Human Services (DHS) outlining the steps you need to take to continue coverage.

This requirement is designed not to reduce the number of Arkansans receiving coverage, but rather help people move up the economic ladder.
It requires Arkansas Works beneficiaries who are 19-49 to work, go to school, do job training/searching/certificate classes, or volunteer for at least 20 hours each week – or 80 hours a month – in order to keep their health care coverage. One hour of most educational classes will count for more than one hour toward the requirement.

People who have dependent children in the home, who are disabled, who already work the equivalent of 80 hours a month, who are caring for an incapacitated person, or those in drug or alcohol treatment are exempt from having to report work activities. If you do have an exemption, it is important that you report to DHS which exemption applies to you ataccess.arkansas.gov.

There are ways the state can help you find jobs or activities to meet the work requirement. You can get free job search help at any Arkansas Workforce Center across the state. Arkansas JobLink lets you post your information and skills for employers to see and search for current openings atwww.arjoblink.arkansas.gov. There are also job training, certificate programs and other assistance available.

During 2018, the requirement does not apply to anyone who is 29 or younger. Enrollees who are 19-29 year olds will be phased in in 2019.

Those who are subject to the work requirement will have to begin reporting based on their renewal month. Clients will receive a notice the month before their requirement takes effect. The first 9,100 will be notified in May. They will have to report their work activity by July 5th and then the 5th day of every month from then on. If you fail to report your work activities for three months in a calendar year, you will lose your coverage.

For additional information call 1-855-372-1084.

If you are non-compliant for 3 months in one calendar year, your insurance will stop at the end of that third month and will not be able to resume Arkansas Works coverage for the rest of that year.
People who are subject to the work requirement must report their work activities ataccess.arkansas.gov.

 

March 23, 2018

This year was the first year the share of female legislators nationwide reached 25%. There are now 1,866 women serving in legislatures nationwide, 18 of them serve in the Arkansas House.

As all of us recognize the achievements of women during Women’s History Month, it is a perfect time for us to share the stories of those who made history here in our State Capitol.

In 1917, the Arkansas General assembly gave women the right to vote in primary elections. In 1919, Arkansas became the twelfth state in the nation and the second in the South to approve the Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the right to vote in all elections.

Frances Hunt of Pine Bluff was the first woman to serve in the Arkansas legislature. She was appointed by Governor Thomas McRae to fill a vacancy in the House in 1922. Later that same year, she and Erle Chamber of Little Rock successfully ran for their respective House seats and won. The two served the next two years together.

Rep. Chambers was the first woman to graduate from the Law Department of the University of Arkansas in 1912. However, women were not allowed to practice law in Arkansas until 1917. Rep. Chambers never practiced law but she did serve two terms in the House where she helped to create a commission to care for the blind and cosponsored legislation with Rep. Hunt to improve conditions for women and children.

Rep. Hunt took the lead in Arkansas’s vote to ratify the Child Labor Amendment. Arkansas was the first state to vote for ratification of the amendment which would have allowed Congress to regulate working condition for those under the age of 18.

From 1919 to 1982 only 25 women held seats in the Arkansas House.

The first woman to chair a committee in Arkansas was Bernice Kizer. Rep. Kizer served from 1959 to 1973. She also became the first woman to serve on the Arkansas Legislative Council.

Vada Sheid was the first woman elected to serve in both the House and the Senate.

Irma Hunter Brown was the first African American woman to be elected to serve in both the House and the Senate. Rep. Brown served in the House of Representatives from 1981 to 1999. In 2003, she was sworn as a State Senator.

In all, 120 women have served in the Arkansas House. They are still making history in the Arkansas legislature today. Just last year, Rep. DeAnn Vaught became the first woman to chair the House Management Committee.

Check out our website arkansashouse.org for all their photos and more information.

 

March 16, 2018

Over the course of the last week, the House officially adjourned the Fiscal Session, elected the Speaker-designate, convened for a special session, and sent more than a dozen bills to the Governor’s desk.

On Monday, shortly after adjourning the 2018 Fiscal Session, members elected Rep. Matthew Shepherd of El Dorado as Speaker-designate. At the beginning of each Regular Session, a motion is made to confirm the Speaker-designate as the Speaker of the House. Rep. Shepherd is serving his 4th term in the House and currently chairs the House Judiciary Committee.

On Monday, we also received the official call from the Governor to convene for an Extraordinary Session (often referred to as a special session).

The Governor listed several items to be addressed including highway funding, environmental permits, and pharmaceutical benefits.

During the session, the following bills passed both chambers:

HB1001/SB4-Prevents Arkansas from losing millions in federal highway funding by aligning state law with federal law when it comes to open containers of alcohol in motor vehicles.

HB1003/SB1- Addresses when the operator of an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) can use a public street or highway. This loosens restrictions when drivers are trying to get from one off-road trail to another or back to their property.

HB1005/SB7- This legislation concerns the design and construction of certain trail projects that are donated to and managed by the State Parks, Recreation, and Travel Commission.

HB1007/SB8- Addresses liquid animal waste management system permits issued by ADEQ. The bill states an existing state permit that is in good standing is not subject to review or third-party appeal for location issues that were not raised during the review or appeal period at the time the permit was issued.

HB1008/SB6- Makes changes to the 529 savings plan in an effort to make it more compatible to the federal tax code. The new federal tax plan allows funds to be withdrawn for K-12 education in private schools.

HB1009/SB3-Amends the law concerning the limit on school choice transfers under the Public School Choice Act of 2015. This bill addresses confusion about how sibling groups are to be counted to avoid exceeding the maximum amount of transfers allowed.

HB1010/SB2- Creates a licensing process for pharmacy benefit managers (PBM) to do business in Arkansas. This bill allows the Arkansas Insurance Department to regulate the industry. PBMs process prescription claims for insurance companies and often determine the rate of reimbursements.

SB5 creates an avenue for lenders and borrowers to agree to waive their rights to a jury trial in the event of a lawsuit.

You can find a complete list of the bills and watch the debates on the House floor at arkansashouse.org.

 

 

March 10, 2018

The 2018 Fiscal Session is now winding to a close. In the final week, members voted on legislation detailing the state budget for the next fiscal year. The fiscal year begins on July 1, 2018.

The $5.6 billion balanced budget includes a $172.8 million, or 3.1% increase, in spending from the current fiscal year.

The increases in spending are as follows:

· $1.3 million for the public school fund

· $3.5 million for the Department of Correction

· $1.7 million for the Department of Community Correction

· $12 million for 2 and 4 year colleges showing productivity in student retention and achievement

· $7.3 million for foster care

· $4 million for county jail reimbursements

· $8 million for performance raises for state employees

· $137 million for traditional Medicaid and Arkansas Works

The majority of the Medicaid increase is directed to traditional Medicaid. There are close to 700,000 Arkansans on traditional Medicaid, most of the recipients are children. There are approximately 285,000 Arkansans on Arkansas Works (Medicaid Expansion). The federal reimbursement rates for both programs are decreasing in the next fiscal year.

Before we took a vote on the Medicaid appropriation, we learned that the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) approved the state’s request to implement a work requirement for Arkansas Works enrollees.

Arkansas Works enrollees who are 19 to 49 years old will be subject to the work requirement. The requirement will be phased in on the 30-49 year-olds first over a four-month period beginning this June. Individuals subject to the requirement must report 80 hours of work activity every month or show that they are exempt. A work activity can include job training, job searching, school, health education classes, or volunteering/community engagement. Activity must be reported online.

There are several exemptions including for those who are medically frail, going to school full time, or those caring for young children in the home.

The House will adjourn Sine Die on Monday, March 12. Upon adjournment, members will elect the Speaker-designate to serve as Speaker in the 92nd General Assembly.

The Governor has indicated he will call for a special session to address issues that need immediate attention. We will update you on the developments.

 

March 3, 2018

As we approach the 4thweek of the 2018 Fiscal Session, the Governor has signed nearly 200 budget bills into law. The legislature could vote on all remaining bills over the next several days.

This week, the House addressed budget items impacting public safety.
The House approved an increase of $3.5 million in general revenue for the Department of Correction. This increase is part of the Governor’s balanced budget proposal.
The House also approved an amendment to the appropriation for the Department of Community Correction which adds $203,000 to their appropriation for 3 new positions and a drug court in Franklin County.

Members approved a re-appropriation for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission which includes $800,500 to fund the panic button system in public schools. The system provides classroom teachers, principals and other school personnel with a console enabling them to alert first responders to crises including an active shooter, medical emergency, fire or on-site disruption. It can also guide designated emergency personnel to the precise location of the event. The funds we approved for the panic button are provided by general improvement funds.

In other developments this week, members approved a supplemental appropriation of $17,000 for the University of Arkansas Monticello and a supplemental appropriation of $13,000 for Arkansas State University in Beebe. The funds for both of these supplemental appropriations come from the Educational Excellence Trust Fund to fulfill scholarship obligations for this fiscal year.

The House has approved several appropriations for state offices including those for the State Board of Election Commissioners, the Office of Attorney General, Department of Information Services, and the Department of Health. Those appropriations do not include any increases in funding.

Upon adjournment of the fiscal session, the House will vote to determine the Speaker of the next General Assembly. In Arkansas, the Speaker of the House contributes greatly to shaping the agenda for legislative sessions. The Speaker decides which committee will vote a on a particular bill. He or she also assigns members to standing and select committees. Other duties include recognizing members to speak on the House floor, preserving order in the House, and certifying all measures passed.

Each candidate for Speaker will be given 15 minutes to address the members on the House floor. Members will then vote by secret ballot.
When the final day of session is determined (known as Sine Die) it will be posted on our website. You can also watch the Speaker-designate election and all House proceedings live at www.arkansashouse.org.

 

 

February 23, 2018

In the second week of the 2018 Fiscal Session, the House passed two measures aimed at addressing prison and county jail overcrowding.

One of the appropriations passed will help fund the crises stabilization units across the state. HB1128 is a supplemental appropriation for $1.4 million to fund the centers in Craighead, Pulaski, Sebastian, and Washington County.

Crises stabilization units are short term clinical facilities that provide treatment for individuals with behavioral health conditions. The primary goal of our investment in the units is to effectively treat the individual and reduce the number of people with behavioral health issues from being sent to jail.

The House also passed HB1134 which appropriates $4.5 million from surplus to the Department of Correction. The additional funds will be used to reimburse county jails for holding inmates when there is insufficient space in the prison.

Both HB1134 and HB1128 are supplemental appropriations. Supplemental appropriations are effective before July 1 and usually needed immediately for the current fiscal year.

Supplemental appropriations add to an existing authority or address a previously unforeseen need. If the agency also needs funding these funds usually come from a surplus.

Other supplemental appropriations passed this week include one directing $386 thousand dollars to the Arkansas Supreme Court for legal fees. Another directs $150 thousand in surplus to the Arkansas School for the Blind for renovation purposes.

In another development at the Capitol this week, we learned the Governor will soon be calling a special session to address two pressing issues.

In response to a letter from the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro-Tem, Governor Hutchinson announced he will call a special session to address the regulation of pharmacy benefit managers and an issue affecting highway funding as it relates to our laws concerning open containers of alcohol in a vehicle. The proposed special session is an effort to keep the fiscal session focused on budget bills.

While the legislature is making progress, there are still several significant funding decisions still ahead. We expect to be addressing funding for education, health care, and child case workers in the next several days.

You can watch all the House floor proceedings live and recorded sessions on our websitewww.arkansashouse.org.

 

 

 

February 9, 2018

As we approach the 2018 Fiscal Session, we want to remind Arkansans how the budget process in our state works.

Although we may pass hundreds of appropriations for various agencies, those bills do not necessarily dictate the budget. The appropriation is the authority granted by the General Assembly to spend money under the control of the State of Arkansas. Almost all appropriations require a ¾ majority in both chambers.

The budget itself is guided by the Revenue Stabilization Act which is typically one of the last items passed every session.

To craft the Revenue Stabilization Act, the legislature with consultation with the Governor:

• Determines the maximum general revenue support to be distributed over the next fiscal year

• Determines the maximum amount each general revenue fund is to receive from general revenues for the next fiscal year

• Determines the number of priority categories (A,B,C…)

• Sets the minimum level of support required for each general fund and designate it as “A”

• Sets the next level of support for each fund and designates it as the next priority (A-1 or B)

• Continues the steps until the maximum level is reached


As revenues flow, agencies are funded in order of program priorities, with category A being funded first.
In the event that A priorities are fully funded, revenues begin to flow to the next category and so on.

In the event that state revenues fall short of expectations, the chief fiscal officer can order any cuts. Any budget cuts would begin in reverse order.

The state adopted this method of budgeting in 1945 as a way to prevent deficit spending, reduce funding instability due to a changing economy, and assure agencies had an even cash flow.

We will keep you updated throughout this session. When the RSA is drafted, it will be posted on our website.

You can watch all of the House floor proceedings live at www.arkansashouse.org. You can also find previous recorded sessions on our website under the Video Library section.

 

February 2, 2018

More than 200 appropriation bills have now been filed in preparation for the upcoming Fiscal Session.

The General Assembly will convene on February 12 at noon. This will be the 5th Fiscal Session to be held in Arkansas since the passage of Amendment 86.

In November 2008, 69% of Arkansas voters approved legislatively referred Proposed Constitutional Amendment 2, which became Amendment 86 to the Arkansas Constitution. Amendment 86 reduced the period for which appropriation bills are valid from two fiscal years to one, requiring the General Assembly to meet in a fiscal session during even-numbered years.

Each fiscal session begins the second Monday in February of even-numbered years. The fiscal sessions are intended to be brief as it cannot exceed 30 days. It requires a ¾ vote of both the House and the Senate in order to extend. An extension can only last an additional15 days.

In order for non-appropriation legislation to be introduced, a concurrent resolution substantially describing the bill must be approved by a 2/3 vote in both chambers.

Annual sessions for state legislatures are now the norm in the United States with 46 states meeting annually, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Fiscal sessions have allowed us to make adjustments when the economy has fluctuated. This year, the legislature is being asked to consider increases for higher education, the Department of Human Services (DHS), and the Department of Correction.
The proposal for DHS includes increases for Medicaid and funding for 65 new child welfare case workers.
All appropriation bills require a ¾ majority in the both chambers.
The latest revenue report shows year to date revenue is $121.8 million or 3.9% above levels one year ago.
January net available general revenue was $47.3% or 8.8% above levels one year ago.

We expect the Governor to address the General Assembly on the opening day of the session. You can watch that address and the House floor sessions through the remainder of the session at www.arkansashouse.org.
 

January 26, 2018

The IRS has announced it will begin processing tax returns on January 29. Before you begin preparing your returns, we want to make you aware of a few of the changes made in recent sessions impacting your Arkansas return.
 

The following legislation is in effect:
 

Capital Gains Exemption (Act 1173 of 2015): For tax year 2017, the exemption for net capital gains is 50% for the entire year.

Teacher Classroom Investment Deduction (Act 666 of 2017): Beginning with tax year 2017, a deduction is allowed for a qualified classroom investment expense by a teacher as defined in this Act. The deduction is limited to $250 per taxpayer or $500 for married filing jointly if each taxpayer is a teacher.

Community Match Rural Physician Recruitment Program Incentives (Act 763 of 2017): Beginning with tax year 2017, income received by a taxpayer under the Community Match Rural Physician Recruitment Program is exempt from income tax.

Tuition Savings Account Deduction Carry-forwards (Act 481 of 2017): Beginning on August 1, 2017, if total contributions to the Tax-Deferred Tuition Savings Program exceeds $5,000 per taxpayer in any tax year then the amount over the limit of $5,000 may be carried forward to the next succeeding four tax years.

Non-Arkansas Tuition Savings Programs (Act 883 of 2017):
Beginning with tax year 2017, a deduction of up to $3,000 is allowed for contributions to a Tax-Deferred Tuition Savings Program established by another state under if the amount is not deducted in the other state or on the other state’s income taxes.

While we are constantly striving to simplify our state tax codes, we recognize the need many have for assistance in preparing their taxes and filing returns. This week, we would also like to remind you about the free services offered to many Arkansans.


Many Arkansans can utilize the IRS’s Free File program. This web-based program is a free federal tax preparation and electronic filing program for the approximately 70% of taxpayers who earn less than $60,000 in annual adjusted gross income. Eligible consumers can go to IRS.gov and choose from multiple private companies that will file federal returns at no charge.

If you cannot afford to pay for tax preparation assistance, you may also be eligible to receive free help through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA). Consumers can call (800) 829-1040 for information about VITA volunteer locations near them. Additionally, seniors can contact AARP at (888) 227-7669 to find the nearest TCE Tax-Aide site.
 

January 19, 2018

With several schools across the state closing their doors for severe weather recently, you may have been hearing about something called alternative methods of instruction or AMI.

The legislature has passed a few laws in recent years giving schools more options to make up time rather than simply extending the year into the summer. Alternative methods of instruction is the latest option.

Act 862 of 2017 allows a public school district and open-enrollment public charter school to develop a plan for alternative methods of instruction to be used on days when the superintendent closes school due to exceptional or emergency circumstances.

As stated in the legislation, the Commissioner of Education may grant up to the equivalent of ten student attendance days for public school districts that have an alternative instruction plan approved by the commissioner. The alternative methods can include virtual learning online or even packets that are sent home ahead of time.

Schools can make use of the alternative methods for snow days or even when schools need to close for a contagious illness outbreak or utility outage.

The public school district’s alternative instruction plan shall demonstrate how teaching and learning in the public school district will not be negatively impacted by the use of alternative methods of instruction.

In the application, schools must describe how technology and resources will be available to the students if needed. Schools must also detail teacher responsibilities, how attendance will be determined, and how the district will communicate the expectations with parent and students for an AMI day.

So far,175 districts in the state have had their plans approved.

This is just one more way to ensure our students have the most instruction time possible before taking standardized tests in the spring. We look forward to hearing how the legislation is impacting our students in the months ahead. To learn more about the program visit www.arkansased.gov

January 12, 2018

The Joint Budget Committee spent this week reviewing projections for the next fiscal year and recommendations by the Governor for spending.

The revenue forecast presented by the Department of Finance and Administration shows an expected net available revenue of $5.6 billion. This is $237 million (4.3%) more than what is expected for the current fiscal year. The state’s fiscal year begins on July 1.

The revenue forecast also predicts moderate job gains and rising wage income. The Arkansas economy remains near the national average growth rate.

Arkansas law requires the Governor to submit a balanced budget proposal and present the proposal to the General Assembly before every session.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson began the hearing by presenting a $5.6 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2019.

The proposed increases in this budget include an additional:

· $1.3 million for the public school fund

· $3.5 million for the Department of Correction

· $1.7 million for the Department of Community Correction

· $4 million for county jail reimbursement

· $10 million for higher education

· $142 million for Department of Human Services (DHS)

The increase for DHS includes increases for Medicaid and funding for 65 new child welfare case workers.

His proposal also projects to provide a surplus of $64 million. He is requesting that $16 million be used to match federal grants for highways and the remaining be set aside in a reserve fund to be used only in the event of an economic downturn.

Agency heads then presented their individual request before the committee. Members were able to ask questions about expenses and upcoming needs.

All of the information presented this week will aid in drafting appropriation bills. Members can now begin filing bills to be considered.

Just as your household budget reflects your priorities, the state budget does the same. We will be working diligently over the next few weeks to ensure we craft a budget that meets the needs of Arkansans while being efficient in our spending.

The Fiscal Session begins February 12.

 

January 5, 2018

By law, Fiscal Sessions can only last 30 days (45 days with a ¾ vote to extend), so members work weeks in advance drafting appropriation measures in order to ensure our sessions are brief.

That preparation begins in budget hearings. Beginning January 9, the Joint Budget Committee will hold a series of meetings designed to begin the process of outlining a budget for the next fiscal year. The Fiscal Session begins February 12.

Budget hearings will begin with the Department of Finance and Administration presenting its annual forecast and recommendations for a balanced budget by the Governor.

Over the course of the next few days, the committee will hear budget requests for Higher Education Institutions, Department of Education, the Department of Human Services, Department of Health, Department of Correction and the Department of Community Correction, commonly referred to the “Big 6”.

In the following weeks, members will review budgets for all state boards, commissions, and agencies.

Six months into this fiscal year, general revenue is now $74.5 million or 2.8% above this time last year. The most recent general revenue report showed revenue for December 2017 was 11.5% more than December 2016. This report and revenue forecast from economists will help us guide our decision making process in the months ahead.

Although legislation during the Regular Sessions typically attract more attention, it is important to remember the impact our budget making process has on our day to day lives.

The decisions we will be making show the priorities we make as state. Appropriations fund everything from classrooms to health care.

Members can begin filing appropriation bills and identical resolutions on January 8. As a reminder, the legislature cannot take up any non-appropriation bills during the Fiscal Session unless 2/3 of the body votes in favor of a resolution.

You can find a list of daily meetings as well as a link to keep up with the most recently filed bills on our website atwww.arkansashouse.org.

We will keep you updated on this process as it continues.

 

December 30, 2017

The Arkansas Department of Health is now reporting that 12 Arkansans have died as a result of influenza.

Last week, Arkansas reported “Widespread” activity to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for geographic spread of influenza, and “High” or 10/10 for Influenza like Illness (ILI) intensity.

Since October 1, 2017, over 7,000 positive influenza tests have been reported to the ADH online database by health care providers. 70 counties in Arkansas have reported influenza cases.

The Department of Health is urging Arkansans to stay home if they have a fever or other symptoms that could be flu-related. They also remind everyone to practice good hand hygiene, get a flu shot, and to think of flu if there is fever or cough to prevent the spread.

Going to work, school, or even holiday events while contagious could spread the flu. People are generally contagious one to two days before symptoms start and five to seven days after symptoms start.

Flu symptoms include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, muscle or body aches, fatigue and a headache. Symptoms may also include vomiting and diarrhea in children. Influenza antiviral prescription drugs, like Tamiflu, can be used to treat or prevent influenza if started soon after symptoms begin.

The twelve flu-related deaths this flu season in Arkansas all occurred with people over the age of 65. People who are at a higher risk for complications from the flu include:


·Children aged two years old and younger

·Adults aged 65 years and older

·Pregnant women, or women up to two weeks after delivering a child

·People with a suppressed immune system

·People with chronic health problems, like asthma, diabetes, cancer and heart disease

·Residents of nursing homes or other chronic care facilities


It is recommended that everyone aged 6 months and older get the flu shot every year. It is especially important for pregnant women and others at high risk for complications. The flu shot is available in Local Health Units located in every county and many doctor’s offices. Pharmacies also have flu shots available but do not give flu shots to children younger than seven years of age.

For more information visit www.healthy.arkansas.gov.

 

December 23, 2017

When a bill is passed in the state legislature, if it does not have an emergency clause, it will take effect 90 days after we adjourn. But there are occasions when a specific date is written into the bill. This year, we passed several bills that will take effect January 1, 2018. These impact everything from taxes to school buses.

Below are a number of the acts being enacted in the new year:

Act 141 exempts military retirement and survivor benefits from income tax. This legislation also defines unemployment compensation as gross income for purposes of taxation.

Act 616 requires reports from political action committees, exploratory committees, and independent expenditure committees or individuals to be filed electronically. This legislation also designates the Arkansas Ethics Commission to approve the format and permits paper filing in certain circumstances.

Act 375 requires that a school bus that is purchased new or leased after January 1, be equipped with seat belts if a petition signed by at least 10% of a school district’s qualified electors is submitted and voted upon at the annual school election.

Act 910 sets the date of annual school elections to be the date of the preferential primary election or the general election.

One section of the Criminal Justice Efficiency and Safety Act (Act 423) regarding sentencing guidelines also takes effect on January 1, 2018.

You can find a full summary of all the legislation passed in 2017 atwww.arkansashouse.org. If the legislation takes effect in 2018 it is written in the description of the bill.

The General Assembly will convene for the Fiscal Session on February 12, 2018. Budget hearings begin on January 9. We will continue to update you throughout 2018.

 

December 16, 2017

There are more than 300 occupations in our state that requiring licensing. In many cases, these licenses require examinations and fees. These occupations range from hair dressers to commercial truck drivers.

There are a total of 83 authorities in our state, from stand-alone boards or commissions to state agencies, with supervising authority over these occupations.

The Arkansas General Assembly is now working to make sure our state is not creating unnecessary barriers for the hard working men and women who contribute to our economy daily by practicing their skills and trades.

After submitting an application earlier this year, Arkansas was accepted to participate in a national consortium of 11 states examining the issue of occupational licensing. Three members of the House, three members of the Senate and three representatives from the executive branch make up the core team of Arkansans working with delegates from other states to study issues surrounding occupational licensing and potentially develop reforms both nationwide and for individual states.

With financial support from the U.S. Department of Labor, the Occupational Licensing Policy Learning Initiative is a joint project of the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices. Its purpose is to:

•Improve understanding of occupational licensure issues and best practices
•Identify current policies that create unnecessary barriers to labor market entry
•Create an action plan that focuses on removing barriers to labor market entry and improves portability and reciprocity for select occupations

It is our hope that by participating in this consortium we will have a better view of what ideal occupational licensing practices look like. Earlier this month, representatives from Arkansas met with individuals from the 10 other states participating. They will continue share information over the course of the next 3 years.

We want Arkansas to be known as a place where business owners do not feel burdened by red tape and consumers will continue to feel protected. We believe both can be accomplished if we take the time to study the issue comprehensively. We will continue to update you the progress we make.

 

December 9, 2017

The Tax Reform and Relief Legislative Task Force met twice this week as they continue to study the impact of tax reform in other states across the country.

In addition to lowering the income tax rate for Arkansans making below $21,000 a year, The Tax Reform and Relief Act of 2017 created the task force to explore future tax reform. The task force is required to complete a report by September 1, 2018. The report will include proposals for tax cuts and job growth.

This week, the task force reviewed an extensive report comparing tax rates in Arkansas to those of surrounding states and those with similar populations and economic factors.

The first area compared was that of personal income tax.

Arkansas has 6 income tax brackets. For comparison, the state of Missouri has 10 income tax brackets, while Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi have 3.

Eight states across the country have a flat tax rate. Flat rates range from 3.07% in Pennsylvania to 5.499% in North Carolina. Remaining states have a progressive tax with income brackets like Arkansas.

When it comes to sales taxes, Arkansas’s rate is at 6.5%. Surrounding states range from 4 to 7%.

When it comes to state corporate income taxes, most states (31) have a flat rate ranging anywhere from 3% to 9.9%.

Arkansas has 6 brackets for state corporate income taxes. The rates range from 1% to 6.5% depending on the income.

Since 2008, 18 states including Arkansas have cut their individual income taxes and 15 states have reduced their corporate income taxes. Several others have fundamentally remade their tax codes.

The task force heard extensive testimony from officials in North Carolina and Indiana where extensive reform has been made in recent years.

All of this information presented this week will be considered as the task force studies what is best for Arkansans. Any proposals made would likely be considered in the 2019 Regular Session.

 

November 22, 2017

Currently, there are 375 children in Arkansas waiting to find a permanent family. November is National Adoption Month, an initiative designed to bring attention to the need for permanent families for children in the foster care system.

For a child, there is nothing more important than having a parent to protect, love, and care for them. We know there are families in Arkansas capable of providing the stability, safety, and commitment they deserve.

Several of our members know firsthand the joys adoption can bring. Six representatives currently serving in the Arkansas House have adopted children.

To successfully adopt a child, who is registered on the Department of Human Services, a parent must have the ability to:


•make a commitment

•deal with rejections

•provide stability

•laugh

•provide safety

•accept differences

•set realistic expectations

•look at progress in small steps

•handle stress and change

•learn new parenting skills

•reach out for help/support

•advocate for the child

Qualified adoptive homes are needed for children of all nationalities, sibling groups and children with special needs to include children with emotional, mental or medical needs.

Many of the children currently available for adoption were removed from their birth family or legal parent due to neglect, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.

An adoption cannot take place unless the birth parent or legal parent’s rights have been terminated by the court. The adoption process can take up to 6 months to complete. It includes a home study and background check.

Financial assistance may be available in form of monthly support for the child, one-time reimbursement for expenses related to initial adoption expenses, and a federal tax credit for the year in which the adoption takes place.

We invite you to visit www.projectzero.org which features a collection of beautiful photographs of waiting children and teens, taken by professional photographers from every corner of our state.

Adopting one child may not change the world. But for that one child, the world will change.

If you are interested in adoption or would like more information visit www.humanservices.arkansas.gov.
 

November 17, 2017

Arkansas is at its best when each of us is making a commitment to help our neighbors. As you prepare the holidays, consider making this winter a season of giving. Giving to an organization you care about is a powerful way to celebrate the holiday season.

Observed on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving and after the widely recognized shopping events, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable giving season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.

Last year, more than 30,000 organizations in 68 countries came together to celebrate #GivingTuesday.

#GivingTuesday is philanthropy’s response to the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping. Through the launch of #GivingTuesday in 2012, millions of people have been able to experience the unique compassion that the holidays provide. #GivingTuesday encourages people to add their community to their holiday gift list. You can give of your time, share your talent or donate dollars to a cause. The important thing is to GIVE.

Sometimes small acts of kindness can make the biggest difference. You can donate canned goods to a food pantry or make a donation to a charity in someone’s name this holiday season. And don’t forget the importance of volunteering. Surveys on volunteering in our state put the economic impact at $2 billion a year. Your time and energy are valuable resources that could be of great benefit to a charity in your neighborhood.

There are more than 700 non-profits and faith-based organizations based in Arkansas listed on the givingtuesday.org website. The website also provides a search tool to find the organizations nearest you. You are also encouraged to use the hashtag #GivingTuesdayAR to promote the event in our home state.

As a global movement, #GivingTuesday and #GivingTuesdayAR unites us all by sharing our capacity to care for and empower one another.

For more information visitwww.arkansasnonprofits.orgor www.givingtuesday.org.

 

November 10, 2017

Soybean oil finds its way into food products such as margarine, salad dressings and cooking oils. In fact, soy beans are now found on almost every aisle of the supermarket. The journey to many supermarket shelves began right here in Arkansas.
Grown in more than 50 percent of the state, soybeans are the largest row crop in Arkansas, covering more acres than rice, corn, sorghum and wheat combined. Soybeans, sometimes called “miracle beans,” deliver essential nutrients and high-quality protein to people and farm animals.

Recently, the Governor declared November as Arkansas Soy Bean month. Arkansas ranks 10th in the nation for soybean production. And recently for the first time in state history, Arkansas achieved a state yield average of 50 bushels per acre.

In 1925, Jacob Hartz Sr. planted and harvested the first recorded crop in Arkansas. Today soybeans are among Arkansas’s most valuable crops. The 3.1 million acres harvested last year in 41 of Arkansas’s 75 counties yielded 145.7 million bushels valued at $1.4 billion.

In 1971, the Arkansas General Assembly established the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board to provide producers in the state with an organization that works to improve the soybean industry. The board consists of nine unpaid soybean producers nominated by various agricultural organizations within Arkansas and appointed by the governor.

Wrapping up the 2017 harvest, the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board (ASPB) is partnering with Arkansas-owned restaurants across the state during Arkansas Soybean Month for their educational food program, the Kitchen|Fields Table Tour. Developed to raise awareness about the soybean industry in Arkansas, the Kitchen|Fields Table Tour encourages Arkansans and all who visit the restaurants to eat soy foods and soy-fed protein, such as pork, beef, turkey and chicken because of the essential nutrients and high-quality protein received in their diets.

During the month of November, Kitchen|Fields Table Tour partner restaurants serve a featured dish dedicated to Arkansas soybean producers. For more information about Arkansas’s soybean industry, the Kitchen|Fields Table Tour partners and the versatility of soybeans, visit www.TheMiracleBean.com.

 

November 3, 2017

We owe all of our veterans a debt we can never fully repay.

As Veterans Day approaches, we want to thank all of you who have served and who now continue to live and work in Arkansas.

We are home to over 225,000 veterans. Of those, 186,000 served in time of war.

Whether they served in time of war or peace, our veterans all share a common bond - their unwavering belief in the cause of freedom, a belief so strong they were willing to give their lives, if need be, in its defense.

Last week, we updated you on the progress of the new veteran’s home in North Little Rock. This week, we want to remind you about more recent legislation passed to keep our state a place where veterans and active military feel appreciated.



Act 141 will exempt military retirement benefits from state income tax beginning next year. We join 13 other states in doing this.

Around 26,000 Arkansans are currently receiving retirement pay.

We have also passed legislation to provide tuition assistance for soldiers and airmen of the Arkansas National Guard.

Act 741 allows a soldier or airman of the Arkansas National Guard to attend a state-supported institution of higher education tuition-free.

Act 204 requires the medical board, nursing board, pharmacy board, and dental board to waive annual renewal fees for active military members.

Act 131 states the driver’s license of military member will not expire while the individual is living out of state if he or she applies for an extension of the expiration date.

And Act 807 allows the Department of Veteran Affairs to create a data collection system to locate veterans and military families living in Arkansas. The information would be used to make sure they have access to information and resources available to them.

Our work on veteran affairs is a continual process. In the months ahead, many of us will be looking at new proposals to introduce in the next regular session.

The Arkansas House is very proud to say that 16 of our representatives have served their country. We will be sharing their photos and stories on our social media sites over the next several days.

 

October 27, 2017

Veterans living and working in our state have a $4.5 to $5 billion impact on our economy. We are constantly working to make Arkansas a better place to live for our veterans. One major focus in recent years has been in the area of long-term care.

This week members of the Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs Committee were given a tour of the new veteran’s home located in North Little Rock.

This is not your typical long-term care facility. There are 8 separate cabins called Hero Homes. Each home has 12 individual rooms with private bathrooms. When you enter the door, you walk into an open gourmet kitchen. There’s a living area with a fireplace and a table long enough to accommodate the all the residents of one unit and staff.

There is one staffer to every 3 residents and most staff are either veterans themselves or they have a veteran in their immediate family.

In 2013, the General Assembly passed legislation which paved the way for this facility. At that time a veteran’s home in central Arkansas had recently closed its doors due to extreme disrepair. Members that year also appropriated $7.5 million from state surplus to help match money from the federal government.

A growing aging veteran population increases the need for quality long-term care. Close to 40% of veterans in the country are over the age of 65.

We have more work ahead. Our state has just two veteran homes. The other home, located in Fayetteville, is in need of upgrades. The Arkansas Department of Veteran Affairs will continue to update us on possible solutions in the months ahead.

In the meantime, we want to alert you to two events taking place in the state. Veterans and their families are encouraged to attend the following events to see what benefits may be available to them:

Little Rock Eligibility Fair October 28, 2017 9a-1p
Pulaski County Regional Building
501 West Markham
Little Rock, Arkansas

Pine Bluff Eligibility Fair November 4, 2017 9a-1p
Pine Bluff Convention Center
One Convention Center Plaza
Pine Bluff, Arkansas

You can learn more atwww.veterans.arkansas.gov.

 

October 21, 2017

 

On the 4th floor of the Capitol on the House side hangs a photo of 98 men and 2 women taken in 1923. The women are Frances Hunt and Erle Chambers, the first women to ever serve in the Arkansas House of Representatives.

Every woman who has served in the House since that time has had these two women serving as examples.

That role model for leadership is the concept behind a new initiative launched this week by the 18 women who currently serve in the House.

ARGirls Lead is a movement is to promote positive self image and leadership for young girls across the state.


This is an opportunity for female lawmakers to use their own experiences and stories to help the next generation.


The stories are being shared in person in their districts and through videos released on social media. Each of the women are asked to share what they wish they would have been told at a young age. By sharing their stories, someone may see their own struggle and know those can be overcome.

There are some statistics in Arkansas we aren’t proud of. We have the 7th highest poverty rate for women in the United States. And we continue to be one of the top 5 states for teen pregnancy.
While we look for legislative solutions to these problems, we can also serve as a personal example to someone.

Changing perceptions give hope. They can have an impact on reality. And that’s what we want to accomplish with ARGirls Lead.

You can find all of the information regarding ARGirls Lead on our website www.arkansashouse.org.
We have also created an Instagram, Facebook and Twitter page. The links to all of them are on our website. You can also search for the hashtag #ARGirlslead.


When you meet people doing amazing things in a similar field to yourself, it reminds you that you can get there too. We are asking our schools, churches, organizations, and all Arkansans for ideas on outreach and how to grow this initiative.

 

October 14, 2017

Drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths in the U.S., exceeding vehicle fatalities by 50 percent. More than 143 people in America die each day due to a drug overdose. In Arkansas, 1,067 people have died from a drug overdose in a 3-year span (319 in 2013, 356 in 2014, and 392 in 2015).

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control shows Arkansas has the second highest opioid prescription rate in the country.

This week, we want to remind you of a statewide effort aimed at reducing prescription drug abuse.
Law enforcement agencies across the state will be collecting old or expired prescription drugs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, as part of the 14th National Drug Take Back Event. All locations can be easily found at www.artakeback.org by left-clicking on the Collection Sites/Events & Dropboxes tab, which includes a Google map and search by Zipcode or Collection Site Name.


The abuse of medicines by teens often results in medical emergencies or fatal overdoses. Many teens get the drugs from a friend or relative. A safe medicine take-back program gets potentially dangerous leftover drugs out of our homes.

Leftover medicine is toxic waste. It poses a danger to people, pets, and the environment if it’s not disposed of properly. If flushed or thrown away it can get into the waterways, affecting our drinking water. Just as we don’t put used motor oil or leftover paint thinner in the trash, we should not put toxic leftover medicines in the garbage. Unwanted medicines should be disposed of properly like other household hazardous waste.

If you cannot make it to a take back event on the 28th, check the website for a permanent collection site near you. There are dozens of permanent collections sites across the state.

Our efforts as a state do not end with the take-back events. This year the legislature passed Act 820 which mandates that prescribers of dispensed opioids enter information on controlled prescription drugs into the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PMP) database. It also requires the Department of Health to contract with a vendor before 2019 to make the PMP interactive and provide same day reporting if funding is available.

As we continue to review ways in which legislation can help eliminate this epidemic, we encourage you to check the artakeback.org website to see what resources are available in your community. In addition to collection sites, the website also provides valuable information drug abuse and maps to nearby recovery centers.

 

 

October 7, 2017

It is estimated that this year alone, more than 2,000 Arkansans will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Statistics also tell us 420 Arkansans may die as a direct result.

Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women.

As many of you know, October is breast cancer awareness month. It is a good time to remind Arkansans of the importance of mammograms for early detection and life style changes that could help prevent cancer.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that if you are 50 to 74 years old, be sure to have a mammogram every two years. If you are 40 to 49 years old, talk to your doctor about when to start and how often to get a screening mammogram.


Can’t afford a mammogram? If you have a low income or do not have insurance and are between the ages of 40 and 64, you may qualify for a free or low-cost mammogram through CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. To learn more, call (800) CDC-INFO. This year we passed legislation in hopes of increasing the accessibility of new technology that could help save even more lives. Act 708 requires insurance companies to cover the cost of a breast ultrasound or 3-D mammogram without charging a co-pay or deductible.

While traditional mammograms are effective for many women, the ultrasound can detect changes in women with dense breast tissue. States that have demanded that insurance companies treat ultrasounds and 3-D mammograms the same as traditional mammograms have seen a reduction in deaths and the number of biopsies needed.

Not all clinics in the state currently offer the technology, so ask your doctor about the possible benefits for you and accessibility. When it comes to lowering your risk of breast cancer, the Center for Disease Control recommends the following:



• Keep a healthy weight.

• Exercise regularly (at least four hours a week).

• Don’t drink alcohol, or limit alcoholic drinks to no more than one per day.

• Avoid exposure to chemicals that can cause cancer (carcinogens).

•Breastfeed your babies, if possible.

•Try to reduce your exposure to radiation during medical tests like mammograms, X-rays, CT scans, and PET scans.

•If you are taking, or have been told to take, hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives (birth control pills), ask your doctor about the risks and find out if it is right for you.


Thanks to earlier detection and better treatments, a woman's risk of dying of breast cancer dropped 38 percent between the late 1980s and 2014, translating into 297,300 fewer breast cancer deaths during that time. We look forward to even more progress in years to come.

 

 

September 29, 2017

During the last flu season, the Arkansas Department of Health recorded more than 15,000 positive influenza tests. Of those, 62 Arkansans lost their lives.

Each year in the United States, 25-50 million infections are reported, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized and 23,600 die due to seasonal flu.

With flu season just around the corner, we want to remind you of the importance of the flu vaccine and how readily available it is to all Arkansans.

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year. The vaccine takes one to two weeks to start working and is 70 to 90 percent effective in preventing the seasonal flu.

The Arkansas Department of Health has taken an aggressive approach to ensure the vaccine is available to everyone. Mass clinics are being held in every region of the state. Several of the clinics have already begun.

In the coming days, the department will be visiting school districts in the state offering the vaccine. Parents will need to fill out the appropriate paperwork.

The flu shot is not required for children to attend school, but it is highly recommended.

If you have insurance, ADH will ask your insurance company to pay for the cost of giving the vaccine. If you do not have insurance or your insurance does not pay for vaccines, there will still be no charge to you.

Following the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, only the injectable form of the flu vaccine will be available at all flu clinics in the state this year including school clinics. There will be no nasal mist vaccine available.

For extra safety, people you live with or spend a lot of time with should also get a flu vaccine. You are less likely to get the flu if the people around you don't have it.

For a complete list of clinics in your area visitwww.healthy.arkansas.gov.
 

 

September 22, 2017

In 2015, there were 3,700 sudden unexpected infant deaths in the United States.

In an effort to find out what contributes to sudden infant death in Arkansas, the committee for Aging, Children and Youth, and Legislative Affairs is given an annual report from the Arkansas Infant and Child Death Review Program. This report was presented earlier this month.

The Arkansas Infant and Child Death Review program was established in 2010. It consists of 10 local review teams that review unexpected deaths of Arkansas children ages birth to 17 years old. Teams meet and review cases quarterly to identify circumstances of unexpected deaths and make recommendations for prevention based on their findings.

Under Act 1818 of 2005, cases that are reviewable meet the following criteria:

a) Child was not under the care of a physician for treatment of an illness that is the cause of death.

b) Death was due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

c) Death was due to an unknown cause.

d) Death is not under criminal investigation or being prosecuted.

From 2010-2015, 283 cases have been reviewed. Of those cases, 20% involved motor vehicle accidents. And 10% of the cases reviewed were suicides.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and Sudden Unexplained Infant Death (SUID) are the leading cause of death in reviewed cases.

These deaths are frequently related to unsafe sleep practices, such as co-sleeping with parents, the placing of a child to sleep in an unsafe position or placing the child to sleep in an adult bed. Soft objects in the crib, such as pillows, blankets, bumper pads and stuffed animals are also indicated as contributing factors in many of these sleep related deaths as these types of objects can obstruct a child’s airway, which may cause asphyxia.

Through the review process, 123 (94%) of the infant cases reviewed as SIDS/SUID or asphyxia were determined to be sleep-related.

Often, more than one unsafe sleep practice was identified during the review process.

Among sleep-related deaths, co-sleeping was listed in 64 (52%) cases

In 55 (46%) of the cases, the infants were not placed on their backs to sleep. And 79 (64%) of the cases, the child died while not in an approved crib, bassinette or play yard.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome updated its recommendations on SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths in 2016. Highlights of the recommendations include (but are not limited to):

· Babies should be put to sleep on their back, not stomach or sides.

· Use a firm sleep surface with no soft objects or loose bedding

· Breastfeeding is recommended

· Room sharing (without bed sharing) for up to 1 year

· Offer a pacifier at nap and bedtime

· Avoid smoking, alcohol and illicit drugs during pregnancy and after birth

We will continue to review the most recent findings and recommendations to determine what new policies may be needed to reduce the number of child death cases in our state. In the meantime, if you would like more information and resources concerning SIDS, visitwww.cdc.gov/sids.

 

September 15, 2017

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), minorities in this country bear a disproportionate burden of disease, injury, and disability. For minority populations, health disparities can mean lower life expectancy, decreased quality of life and loss of economic opportunities.

That disparity is what prompted the creation of the Arkansas Minority Health Commission (AMHC) in 1991.

Legislators were recently provided with an update of the work of the AMHC during a meeting of the Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.

The Arkansas Minority Health Commission’s vision is that minority Arkansans have equal opportunity and access to health, health care and preventive well care.

To accomplish this, the commission focuses on addressing existing disparities in minority communities, educating these communities on healthier lifestyles, promoting awareness of services and accessibility within our healthcare system, and making recommendations to the state.


Last year more than 20,000 health screenings were provided to Arkansans as a direct result of the work of the AMHC. These screenings test for everything from high blood pressure to cholesterol checks.

Outreach efforts include community forums and a monthly call in radio show with health professionals.

The commission also helps to promote wellness and health fairs around the state. Last year alone, their efforts reached more than 33,000 Arkansans.

In order to identify areas of improvement for access to health care, the commission issues an extensive report on the health care workforce in our state. This year’s report identified 3 counties in our state that do not have a dentist. It also revealed there are 16 counties in the state without a specialty physician and 16 counties without an optometrist.

The report also indicates that the racial and ethnic diversity in the state’s population is not necessarily reflected in the healthcare system.

Annual reports like the one presented by AMHC help us to address disparities in the future legislative sessions. We’ve posted the entire report on our website www.arkansashouse.org.

You can also find a complete calendar of events hosted by the commission on their website www.arminorityhealth.com

 

September 8, 2017

Often times, it takes years to see the full impact on legislation we pass.

But then there are times, like this week, that we see how just a few changes in the law can make a difference in the lives of hundreds of children in a matter of weeks.

The Arkansas Department of Human Services just issued a report on the current state of foster care. The report is called Renewed Hope. In the report it shows in the last year alone, the number of overdue investigations has gone from 721 to 51. In addition:

· 82.1% of children in foster care have been placed in family-like settings. That is up from 77.6% in August, 2016.

· The number of foster families in the state has increased from 1,579 in August 2016 to 1,821 today.

· 28.8% of all children in foster care have been placed with relatives. That is up from 23.4% in August 2016.

Increasing the placement of foster care children with relatives was the result of a partnership of legislators and DHS.

Act 1116, passed this year, strengthened language in existing law identifying and vetting non-custodial parents and relatives as soon as the child is taken into foster care. This law helped to increase the sense of urgency to look for appropriate relatives. Act 1116 also clarifies that relatives receive preferential consideration for placement at all stages of a child welfare case, provided all relevant child welfare protection standards are met and such placement is in the child’s best interest.

Additionally, we passed Act 700 which expands the definition of fictive kin by including someone who played a positive role in the parent’s life, provided the child in foster care is an infant and the DCFS Director approves.

Legislation passed this year also helped to strengthen the workforce charged with the care of our foster children. The biggest change for the workforce has been the new state employee pay plan, which went into effect July 1, 2017. This increased the starting salary for family service workers and supervisors in an effort to reduce turnover.

There is still work to do. New goals for DHS include increasing the number of foster families to 2,000 and increase the percentage of children placed with relatives to 33%.

While we will continue to explore how changes in the law can provide more stable homes, this is an area where all of us can help make a difference. If you can help provide a home, visit www.humanservices.arkansas.gov to find out more.
 

 

September 2, 2017

This weekend, an additional 1,500 Arkansas National Guardsmen will be heading to Texas to assist with recovery and relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

The Governor announced this latest deployment on Friday morning. Their mission could last up to 30 days.

Arkansans have been on the ground helping since Tuesday. Several guardsmen of the 77th Aviation Brigade have been conducting search and rescue operations with Black Hawk helicopters.

And 15 members of the 61st Civil Support Team have been testing soil, water, and air samples in the impacted areas to determine levels of contamination.

Arkansas Game and Fish Officers have also been assisting with rescue efforts by boat.

All of this is in addition to the efforts by individuals, churches and non-profits from our state setting up their own donation sites and relief efforts.

When natural disasters have hit our state, we have consistently seen ordinary people doing extraordinary things. That continues now as we help our neighbors. The Arkansas Attorney General’s office is providing the following advice to Arkansans wishing to donate to hurricane relief funds.

Do your research. Get the organization’s name, address, website and phone number, or give directly to a known nonprofit of your choice. Make sure the nonprofit organization is registered with the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office.

•Use www.GuideStar.org to compare nonprofit organizations and to get more information.
•Ask the organization how it will spend your donation.
•Watch out for similar but different organization names as some con artists will use names like those of existing, reputable nonprofits in order to trick consumers.
•This weekend, an additional 1,500 Arkansas National Guardsmen will be heading to Texas to assist with recovery and relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

The Governor announced this latest deployment on Friday morning. Their mission could last up to 30 days.

Arkansans have been on the ground helping since Tuesday. Several guardsmen of the 77th Aviation Brigade have been conducting search and rescue operations with Black Hawk helicopters.

And 15 members of the 61st Civil Support Team have been testing soil, water, and air samples in the impacted areas to determine levels of contamination.

Arkansas Game and Fish Officers have also been assisting with rescue efforts by boat.

All of this is in addition to the efforts by individuals, churches and non-profits from our state setting up their own donation sites and relief efforts.

When natural disasters have hit our state, we have consistently seen ordinary people doing extraordinary things. That continues now as we help our neighbors. The Arkansas Attorney General’s office is providing the following advice to Arkansans wishing to donate to hurricane relief funds.

•Do your research. Get the organization’s name, address, website and phone number, or give directly to a known nonprofit of your choice. Make sure the nonprofit organization is registered with the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office.
•Use www.GuideStar.org to compare nonprofit organizations and to get more information.
•Ask the organization how it will spend your donation.
•Watch out for similar but different organization names as some con artists will use names like those of existing, reputable nonprofits in order to trick consumers.
•Do not give out financial or personal information over the phone or through email to an unknown entity. This information could fall into the wrong hands, or the scammers could use it to steal your money or identity.
•Never send cash. Make check or credit card payments for increased security and tax purposes.
•If you wish to donate through a text message, verify the organization’s number before doing so.

The work of recovery and rebuilding will be long term. Your help will be needed today and for several months to come.

Do not give out financial or personal information over the phone or through email to an unknown entity. This information could fall into the wrong hands, or the scammers could use it to steal your money or identity.


•Never send cash. Make check or credit card payments for increased security and tax purposes.
•If you wish to donate through a text message, verify the organization’s number before doing so.

The work of recovery and rebuilding will be long term. Your help will be needed today and for several months to come.

August 25, 2017

There were two pieces of legislation passed this year that were the direct result of high school students approaching their state legislator with an idea. One of the ideas was to declare an official state dinosaur. The other idea allowed local districts to hold an election if they wanted mandatory seat belts on school buses.

Even though students may not be old enough to vote, they are never too young to make a difference. We hope to strengthen the communication between students and their legislators every September in our annual #takeyourlegislatortoschool campaign.

In the 2015 Regular Session the Arkansas General Assembly passed a resolution designating September as annual “Take Your Legislator to School Month”. In addition to helping students learn more about the legislative process, this bipartisan initiative was also motivated by a need for members to fully understand the issues and challenges facing public schools in their districts. In addition, it gives districts an opportunity to showcase innovative solutions developed by our educators.

The resolution encourages public school districts to plan special events with their local legislators. Examples could include allowing legislators to visit classrooms, read to students, or present guest lectures. Districts could also sponsor panel discussions in which administrators, teachers, and students discuss issues facing their schools. We believe any activity that engages and involves legislators in the work of their public schools would be beneficial to both the district and to the legislator.

We devote over 43% of all net available General Revenue to K-12 education. Our education committee hears testimony hundreds of bills every session and studies our progress continually in the interim. Relationships with teachers can help provide us with the valuable insight needed to vote in a manner helpful to students and teachers.

On our website, www.arkansashouse.org, we have a section titled “Kids in the House”. There you will find all the materials your local school district will need to take advantage of this opportunity. In the materials we have included a spreadsheet listing the members who represent all 257 districts in our state.

We look forward to seeing your classroom soon. And students, be ready with your ideas. You just never know if your idea will be the next legislation to land on the Governor’s desk!

 

August 19, 2017

Encouraging Arkansans to pursue higher education is critical to the success of our future. That is why we are pleased to see efforts that have been taken to make sure students know what is available to them are paying off.

This week, a subcommittee for Arkansas Legislative Council which oversees the lottery received a report showing 30,883 applications were submitted this year for the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship. That is a 21% increase from the year before. This scholarship is funded by the statewide lottery.

In addition, the committee also heard from the Department of Higher Education and learned 4,859 Arkansans have applied for the new Arkansas Future Grant scholarship.

The Arkansas Future Grant was created in the most recent regular session. The purpose of this grant is to increase the education and skills of Arkansas’s workforce in an affordable manner. The grant applies to students enrolled in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) or regional high demand areas of study. The grant will cover tuition and fees for qualifying certificate and Associate degree programs at Arkansas’ public institutions for eligible students. The grant is available on a first come, first serve basis.

We hope the scholarship programs available not only allow more students to attend, but also help to lower student debt upon completion. The Institute for College Access and Success reported this year that 55 percent of college students and graduates in Arkansas have student debt which averages more than $25,000 per debtor.
While we celebrate more Arkansas students pursuing their education this fall, our work continues. We will be closely monitoring reports at the end of the school year to see how many students are completing the degree they are working to attain. Adjustments have been made to the Academic Challenge scholarship over the years to help incentivize continuation.

Arkansas ranks in the top 20 states in the nation for the percentage of high school grads going on to college. However, we lag behind when it comes to degree completion.

As colleges and universities across the state begin classes this week, we want to wish all of our students, faculty and staff the very best for a successful semester.
 

 

August 12, 2017

A one day survey conducted last year among Arkansas school bus drivers showed some startling results. The survey asked bus drivers from 100 school districts to record the amount of times they saw a motorist illegally passing their bus. They counted more than 700 instances.

If this was just one day, with fewer than half of school districts reporting, imagine how many times this occurs throughout the school year.

This year, more than 7,000 buses will transport approximately 350,000 Arkansas students to and from school.

To promote school bus safety, the Arkansas Department of Education and Arkansas Association of Pupil Transportation launched the fifth annual Flashing Red. Kids Ahead. school bus safety campaign.

While the three-week campaign began this week and concludes August 25, school bus safety is important year-round.
When the yellow lights are flashing, the bus will stop within 300 feet. When approaching the bus from the opposite direction, slow your vehicle to 20 mph or less.

Flashing red lights and stop sign out means kids are getting on or off the bus. Stop your vehicle at least 15 feet from the bus. Remain stopped until the flashing red lights end and the stop arm goes in.

After Bryant elementary student Isaac Brian was killed in 2004, the legislature passed Isaac’s Law the following year. Any motorist who illegally passes a school bus is guilty of a misdemeanor. If convicted, you can go to jail for 90 days, have your driver’s license suspended for a year, be assigned up to 400 hours of community service, and pay a fine of up to $1,000.

Drivers who kill a student could be found guilty of negligent homicide, a class C felony.

The Flashing Red. Kids Ahead. campaign provides resources, including bus safety videos, a copy of Isaac’s Law, safety tips for parents and fliers, as well as media outreach resources for districts to use. To access the resources, visit the Flashing Red. Kids Ahead. webpage at www.arkansased.gov.
ADE encourages students and schools to get involved in the campaign by sharing videos and pictures of why school bus safety is important. Videos and pictures can be posted to social media using #2017FlashingRed.

Remember: Flashing Red. Kids Ahead.

 


August 5, 2017

More than 1,100 pieces of legislation were signed into law in the Regular Session earlier this year. Many of the pieces of legislation we pass have what is called an “emergency clause”. That clause allows the bill to become effective the moment it is signed by the Governor. As a result, it takes a 2/3 majority to pass the emergency clause.

Other pieces of legislation have an effective date written into the text. For example, tax measures typically take effect on January 1.But what about the bills that do not specify the effective date?

Acts that do not contain an emergency clause or specified effective date become effective on the 91st day following the day the General Assembly adjourns sine die. For 2017, that date fell on August 1. More than half of the legislation passed this year took effect this week.

These impact everything from highways to the classroom.

One of the changes you may notice is the new name for the state highway department. What was previously known as the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department is now called the Arkansas Department of Transportation or ArDOT.

And speaking of roads, Arkansas drivers should be aware of a penalty increase for texting and driving. One of the pieces of legislation that took effect this week allows a fine of up to $250 for the first offense of texting and driving. The legislation passed this year also clarifies that reading or posting on social media while driving is prohibited.

Arkansans can also begin purchasing lottery tickets with a debit card. Act 876 allows, but does not require, retailers to accept a debit card for the purchase.

Another major change being implemented is called the Helping Our People Excel Act. This legislation allows Arkansas to opt out of a federal restriction which prohibits individuals with a felony drug conviction from receiving federal public benefits including SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

During the session, it was explained that 90% of individuals released from prison do not have reliable access to food. Several states including Georgia and Texas have opted out of this restriction in hopes of reducing recidivism rates.

Since it is difficult to summarize hundreds of pieces of legislation at once, we have posted a summary of all legislation on our website. The summary is divided into categories such as education and criminal justice to make it easier to search.

Visit www.arkansashouse.org to find out more.

 



July 29, 2017

Civic knowledge leads to increased civic participation. However, only 23 percent of eighth graders nationwide scored at a level of proficiency in civics, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ 2014 research.

A recent report from the Council of State Governments (CSG) discusses the connection between civic education and partisanship.

The CSG report suggest the lack of civic knowledge not only leads to greater political divide, but also has an impact on voter turnout in this country. The U.S. ranked 31 out of 35 countries for voter turnout among the nations that are part of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, according to the Pew Research Center.

Arkansas is one of a few states addressing the need for more civics in the classroom.

In the Regular Session, we passed Act 478. This requires students to pass the civics portion of the naturalization test, used by immigration services, before they can receive their high school diploma. The bill would require the student to answer at least 60 of the 100 questions correctly. It allows the students to take the test as many times as needed.

This act goes into effect for the 2018-2019 school year. Many schools will be preparing students this year.
Civic programs in schools such as mock trials and Boys State/Girls State also have significant impacts on voting after graduation. These courses may boost voting by enhancing students’ knowledge and allowing them to sense a feeling of membership and obligation.

But families do not have to rely on school districts alone. When people attend town meetings, sessions of state legislatures or hearings about proposed projects, they begin to see less political divide and more work on effective policy.

So if you are preparing to send your child back to school this fall, we encourage to think of ways to expose your child to civics lessons together as a family and outside of the classroom.

You can also practice the civics portion of the naturalization test at www.uscis.gov.

 

July 21, 2017

At one time, all bicycles were, really, “dirt bikes.” In cycling’s earliest days, wheelmen—and women--followed uneven gravel roads and rough paths to get from point “a” to point “b” and for the sheer joy of the ride. Today, many cyclists have rediscovered the fun and challenges of unpaved riding, and Arkansas’s state parks offer a variety of such opportunities.

You could spend a couple of days checking out all of the great Arkansas mountain biking trails.

There are trails rides for people of all skill levels—everything from good beginner mountain bike trails like the Fern Hollow Trail at White Oak Lake State Park in Southwest Arkansas to The Jackfork Trail at Pinnacle Mountain State Park, an advanced technical trail in Central Arkansas.

The Delta Heritage Trail, a state park venture, is a crushed limestone rail-to-trail path that when completed will offer a nearly eighty-five mile “gravel grinding” ride through the historic and scenic heart of the state’s southeastern quarter.

Two staffers at Devil’s Den State Park helped organize the state’s first mountain bike gathering, the Ozark Mountain Bike Festival, at Devil’s Den in 1989. Today, our state has a popular series of mountain bike races through the Arkansas Mountain Bike Championship Series.

We are reminded of our state’s mountain biking history and resources when we come to the Capitol. This summer, the Arkansas State Capitol’s first-floor galleries feature “Let’s Ride: Mountain Biking in the State Parks of Arkansas,” a celebration of adventurous cycling around the Natural State.

Created by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism in collaboration with the Secretary of State’s office, “Let’s Ride” highlights the state parks’ connection to the beginnings of mountain biking in Arkansas.

“Let’s Ride” includes scenes from and information about trails statewide. The exhibit also includes one cycle used in the 1989 Devil’s Den event.

“Let’s Ride: Mountain Biking in the State Parks of Arkansas” will remain on display in the Arkansas Capitol’s first-floor galleries through Labor Day. To learn more about mountain biking opportunities in the state parks, visit: www.arkansasstateparks.com/biking

 

 

July 14, 2017

The Arkansas Tax Relief and Reform Task Force met this week. This is the third meeting for the task force which was created in the last legislative session. The purpose of the task force is to identify areas of potential reform within the tax laws of the state and to recommend legislation for consideration during the 2019 Regular Session.

The task force is considering proposals to hire consultants to research the implications of tax overhauls in other states. In the meantime, members heard testimony from the National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL) comparing Arkansas’s current tax structure to surrounding states. Tax rates were compared to those of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Missouri and the U.S. average.



Currently Arkansas’s revenue relies:

· 23.4% on Individual Income Taxes

· 3.6% on Corporate Income Taxes

· 18.09% on Property Taxes

· 12.5% on Selective Sales Taxes (fuel, tobacco, etc,)

· 37.5% on General Sales Tax

· 5.1% on other taxes

The average of states nationwide relies:

· 22.9% on Individual Income Taxes

· 3.7% on Corporate Income Taxes

· 31.3% on Property Taxes

· 11.4% on Selective Sales

· 23.3% on General Sales Taxes

· 7.5% on other taxes



State economies vary making tax structures unique. That is why taking a look at surrounding states provides valuable information.

Among nearby states there is a common theme of a reliance of sales tax, low reliance on property tax and low to moderate excise tax rates.

In Arkansas, personal income tax is divided into 6 brackets depending on one’s income. In testimony presented this week, we learned Mississippi has three brackets for all income earners while Missouri has 10.

When it comes to selective taxes, motor fuel taxes in Arkansas rank just below the U.S. median with $0.218/gallon. Tennessee’s is slightly higher at $0.254/gallon and Oklahoma is the lowest among surrounding states at $0.17.

When it comes to cigarette taxes, Arkansas again falls below the U.S. median but higher than most surrounding states.

One area of study for the task force will be the implementation of tax cut triggers. Tax triggers are when tax cuts only take effect when revenue meets an established threshold. They have been used by states including Missouri and North Carolina.

We have posted a complete report of the findings on our website www.arkansashouse.org. As the final recommendations of this task force could have implications for many families and businesses in the state, we will continue to keep you updated on their research and findings.
 

 

July 7, 2017

For the first time since the end of the recession, a significant number of states find themselves facing budget shortfalls. In fact, a recent report from the National Conference of State Legislatures suggests 22 states are addressing budget shortfalls as their fiscal year comes to an end.

We are pleased to report that Arkansas is not one of them. This week, we received the end of the year revenue report and learned the state has ended the fiscal year with a surplus of $15.7 million. This is the 7th year in a row Arkansas has ended the year with a surplus.

The fiscal year ended above forecast as a result of improving growth in major categories of collections in the final quarter. In the month of June alone, revenue increased by more than $25 million of what had been previously forecasted.

Gross general revenue totaled $6.5 billion for fiscal year 2017. After tax refunds and special expenditures, the net general revenue totaled $5.3 billion. This amount was $19 million below fiscal year 2016.

The breakdown of the revenue is as follows:

· Individual Income Taxes totaled $3.2 billion. That is $66.5 million more than last year.

· Sales and Use Tax totaled $2.33 billion. That is $48 million more than last year.

· Corporate Income Taxes totaled $4.3 billion. That is a decrease of $52.9 million from last year.

Individual income tax refunds increased by 21% from last year. Corporate income tax refunds were down 2.1% from last year.

These numbers are not only useful for planning a state budget, they are a reflection of the day to day life of Arkansans. They show us if our constituents are doing better financially than they were the year before. They also show us where we can improve policy to ensure families continue to get the services they need without being overburdened by taxes.

To find more information about the revenue for the state or to check out monthly reports, visit www.dfa.arkansas.gov.

 

July 2, 2017

Earlier this year, we passed legislation designed to increase the amount of local food purchased by the state.

The Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act sets a goal for all state agencies, colleges, and universities that receive $25,000 from the state for the purchase of food. The goal outlined in the legislation is that by 2018, 10% of all the food purchased by the agency is either grown or packaged in Arkansas. The goal increases to 20% in the years following.

This summer, we invite you to increase the amount of local food you are bringing to the table by visiting an area farmers’ market.

Farmers’ markets connect consumers with where and how their food is grown. They create new economic opportunities for producers and draw young people back to rural communities.

There are over 400 local makers and producers selling their produce across the state. From Arkansas strawberries to locally made honey, Arkansans can purchase a variety of produce practically grown in their backyard.

Farmers’ markets foster appreciation for Arkansas’s farms and ranches. And they help to increase healthy food access in rural and urban communities across the country.

One study shows that shoppers have 3 times as many social and informational encounters at farmer’s markets than at national chain grocery stores.

The benefits to our economy are numerous. Growers selling locally create 13 full time jobs per $1 million in revenue earned. Those not selling locally create 3.

Locally owned retailers, such as farmers’ markets, return 3 times as much of their sales to the local economy as they do chain competitors.

And they help our farmers. 25% of farmers’ market vendors derive their sole source of income from the market.

USDA reports that produce prices are farmers’ markets are lower on average than grocery store prices.


You can find a list of markets around the state at www.arkansasgrown.org.

 

June 26, 2017

July 1st is the beginning of a new fiscal year for state government in Arkansas. It is during this transition time that state officials pay close attention the revenue forecast for the previous year, where the state’s current budget stands in relation to that forecast, and what they might expect for the during the upcoming fiscal year.

The June Revenue Report will be released at the end of this month reflecting end of year totals. From previous months reports we have a good indication of what will be reflected. The available general revenue at the end of May was $4.7 billion. That is $49.1 million or 1% below levels this time last year.

Arkansas’s two largest sources of general revenue are collected from a portion of the state sales/use tax and from the Arkansas individual income tax. Other general revenue sources include: taxes on alcohol and tobacco products; gaming and pari-mutuel betting on horse and dog racing; severance taxes on oil, minerals, gravel, and natural gas; corporate franchises and corporate income; and real estate transfers.

So far this year, individual incomes taxes and sales tax have generated more revenue than the previous year. Corporate incomes taxes are down.

The Official General Revenue Forecast was revised on May 2 resulting in a reduction of $70 million in the year end amount for Net Available revenue to $5.263 billion. Although revenue fell behind what was originally forecasted this year, the state was able to fund essential services.

As we look to Fiscal Year 2018, we have been given a report to expect revenue to increase another 3.6% or $190 million from this year. This is based on the assumption that new and expanded industrial projects including steel production and food processing will bring economic gains to areas outside of our larger cities.

We begin this next fiscal year with record unemployment in the state. We have the highest number of employed Arkansans since 2008. Our unemployment rate now stands at 3.4%. The national unemployment rate is 4.3%.
We now have the lowest unemployment rate in the South and the 14th lowest in the country.

When more Arkansans are working, our economy strengthens. This is positive news as we approach the next year. Although budget hearings for Fiscal Year 2019 do not begin until the fall, we are frequently reviewing reports to ensure our budget is on track.

We also have a task force currently looking at ways to improve our tax structure. We will continue to update you on the progress.

 

June 9, 2017

One area of focus for our education committee is exploring ways to increase reading proficiency for our students. Currently, Arkansas ranks in the lower third of reading scores compared to other states with just 31% of Arkansas 4th graders reading at a proficient level.

Although classes are dismissed, the summer months are still crucial to our efforts to improve. Numerous studies indicate that students who don’t read or read infrequently during their summer vacation see their reading abilities stagnate or decline. This effect becomes more pronounced as students get older and advance through the school system.

This summer, we want to direct your attention to programs made available in conjunction with the R.I.S.E. (Reading Initiative for Student Excellence) initiative launched earlier this year by the Arkansas Department of Education..

R.I.S.E. has three main goals:

· Increase the number of students in grades three through eight who meet the ACT Aspire reading readiness benchmark by 10 percent within three years;

· Rise above the bottom third in state comparisons within five years on the fourth-grade NAEP reading assessment; and

· Increase the number of graduates meeting The ACT reading readiness benchmark by 10 percent within five years.

#RISEArkansas Book Talks help promote a positive reading culture in Arkansas by suggesting interesting books for students to read and encouraging them to become lifelong readers and learners. All readers are encouraged to participate and post their book talk with the hashtag.

Students in grades K-12 are the primary audience. Students are encouraged to do their own book talks and post the videos to social media using the following hashtag: #RISEArkansas.

Another program available promotes literacy through your pediatrician or family doctor. Reach Out and Read promotes early literacy through well-child visits. Children are given a book and parents are given encouragement to read to their children. To find a participating health clinic, visit arkansased.gov.

On the website, you can also find more information about the Dolly Parton Imagination Library which provides free books to children from birth to age 5.

And be sure to remember all the resources available to you and your family at your local library this summer. You can find your nearest library location at www.library.arkansas.gov

 

 

June 3, 2017

Of the 100 members who serve in the Arkansas House of Representatives, 24 of them got their first real glimpse of public service right before their senior year of high school.

These 24 members participated in the Boys State or Girls State program.

This week, the House welcomed future leaders of our state when we opened the chamber to participants of the program for a mock session.

Arkansas Boys State and Girls State is a civics education program designed for high school juniors. For over 75 years the week-long camp has shaped the lives of notable leaders such as astronaut Neil Armstrong, President Bill Clinton, basketball star Michael Jordan, former Arkansas Governors Mike Huckabee and Mike Beebe, former Texas Governor Ann Richards and news anchor Jane Pauley.

In Arkansas, Boys State is held every summer at the UCA campus in Conway. Girls State is held at Harding University in Searcy.
Each participant is assigned a mock political party, city, and county. Throughout the week, delegates administrate this mock government as if it were the real government. Every phase of the program includes instruction on the duties and responsibilities both of a citizen and of public officials.

The citizens of each “Boys State” and “Girls State” nominate members of their individual parties to be candidates for the various city and county offices. By week’s end, the students have created their own state government including their own governor and legislature.

The mock legislative session is held in the House Chamber with many of our members assisting them through the bill presentation and voting process. The proceedings and streamed and recorded via our website arkansashouse.org.

In watching the debate and presentations this week, we have no doubt there are future leaders among this class of delegates. We look forward to seeing how they impact our state.

If you know a young man or woman interested in serving encourage them to visit with their high school guidance counselor who can provide information on how to participate in next year’s program.
 

May 26, 2017

From joining a guided hike to a bear cave on Petit Jean Mountain to relaxing on a sunset cruise on Lake DeGray, visitors to Arkansas State Parks have an abundance of options to enjoy the beauty of our state this summer.
On one summer weekend alone, park employees host and guide more than 100 events across the state. Visitors can take a tour of our rivers and lakes on a kayak or even learn the tricks to diamond mining.


Arkansas’s first state park was Petit Jean. It was established in 1923 with the passage of Act 276 which authorized the commissioner of state lands to accept land donations. The state then developed an agency to oversee the development of state parks in 1927.


Today the agency oversees 52 state parks. Our parks offer a wide diversity of facilities and outdoor offerings for your family. Each state park in the system provides a unique experience and each visit reveals new wonders. As much as there is to do, Arkansas state parks are wonderful places to relax, whether it’s in a lodge, cabin, campsite.
In fact, 32 of our state parks feature campsites. Sites are located in scenic settings showcasing the natural beauty and geological diversity of Arkansas. You’ll find campsites on the top of a mountain, the shore of a lake and many other locations to experience the best of the outdoors.


And for those who like a camping experience without the stress of setting up camp or buying equipment, there are the new camper cabins at Lake Ouachita State Park. Visitors there have an opportunity to camp without “roughing it.”
Beyond camping and outdoor activities, our state parks also offer lessons in the rich history of Arkansas. Learn about southern American history and life in the Arkansas Delta from the Arkansas Post Museum or visit exhibits about many of the archeological and historical sites in Arkansas - like Jacksonport State Park in the northeastern corner of the state, which was a thriving steamboat river port in the 1880s.

You can also catch a Civil War reenactment at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park, admire the finest examples of Civilian Conservation Corps architecture at Devil’s Den State Park or learn about how the west was mapped at Louisiana Purchase State Park.

So when planning summer vacations or just a day activity for the family, remember the resources we have in our own backyard. The website for Arkansas State Parks includes a complete list of parks and search capabilities to help you find cabins, lodges and campsites to fit your vacation needs.


Go to www.arkansasstateparks.com to discover more about our beautiful Natural State.

 

May 21, 2017

Next week several members of the legislature will take the first step in crafting new tax reform legislation.

When the General Assembly passed the Tax Reform and Relief Act of 2017 we not only reduced taxes for low-income families, we also laid the groundwork for future tax cuts and reform.

The legislation created the Tax Reform and Relief Legislative Task Force. The purpose of the task force is to examine and identify areas of potential reform within the tax laws of the State of Arkansas and to recommend legislation for consideration during the 2019 Regular Session.

There are 16 members of the legislature, including 8 senators and 8 representatives, on the task force. Appointments were announced earlier this month and are posted on our website.

The task force is charged with recommending legislation to:

(A) Modernize and simplify the Arkansas tax code.

(B) Make the Arkansas tax laws competitive with other states in order to attract businesses to the state.

(C) Create jobs for Arkansans.

(D) Ensure fairness to all individuals and entities impacted by the tax laws of the State of Arkansas.

By simply changing tax structures every year or every other year, states may miss an opportunity for reform that reflects structural economic change. Arkansas now joins several other states that have created a commission or task force to craft a comprehensive report.

The task force is required to file their first preliminary report of their findings and recommendations by December 1, 2017.

Their final report and recommendations to the Governor, Speaker and Senate President Pro-Tem is due by September 1, 2018.

This report will be instrumental in crafting legislation for the next regular session.

The task force is required to meet once every 2 months, but can elect to meet more often. The first meeting is May 22 at 10amin the MAC Building room A.

Future meeting dates will be posted at www.arkleg.state.ar.us

 

May 13, 2017

Extensive research shows that obtaining a college degree results in higher earnings and lower unemployment rates. In fact, the median income for young adults with a college degree is 50% higher than those with a high school diploma.

This week, we want to remind you about an important deadline that could have a significant impact for thousands of students preparing for their future.

The deadline to apply for the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship is June 15. The scholarship is funded by the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery and provides tuition assistance to students at every Arkansas college, university and two-year technical school – both public and private.

It’s important to understand that the Academic Challenge Scholarship is available to all who qualify. Eligibility requirements are simple: one must be a traditional incoming freshman, a current college student or a non-traditional student; must have a minimum ACT score of 19; must still be in pursuit of one’s first baccalaureate degree; and maintain a 2.5 grade point average.

More than 30,000 scholarships are awarded each fiscal year, including first-time recipients and renewed scholarships.

Scholarships are awarded based on a tiered system. Students enrolled in four-year institutions can receive $1,000 for the first year. Those who stay in school are rewarded thereafter with $4,000 for sophomore and junior years, and $5,000 for the senior year. At two-year institutions and approved nursing schools, students receive $1,000 for the first year and $3,000 for the second. In short, students are incentivized for staying and succeeding in higher education.

To date, more than 235,000 scholarships have been awarded to Arkansas students seeking both four and two-year degrees.

Applications are found at the Department of Higher Education’s website, which is scholarships.adhe.edu. There one will find a link to the YOUniversal Scholarship Application. There is also a free app for your phone.

So, remember June 15– the deadline to apply for the Academic Challenge Scholarship, a great first step toward securing your financial future.

 

 

May 05, 2017

The Governor has now signed into law several pieces of legislation passed by the General Assembly during the 1st Extraordinary Session of 2017.

The session was called to address health care, the state’s long term reserve fund, and to make technical corrections.

Act 3 directs the Department of Human Services to request a federal waiver to make changes to Arkansas Works. Arkansas Works uses Medicaid funding to provide health insurance to low-income Arkansans.

One of the changes is to lower the income eligibility from 138% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to 100% FPL.

Those making an amount in between 100% and 138% FPL who do not have affordable employer sponsored insurance available would be directed to the health insurance marketplace. There they are eligible for federal subsidies. Premiums would be capped at 2% of the individual’s income.

Arkansas is currently paying 5% of the cost for Arkansas Works. Our share gradually increases to 10% by 2020. The Department of Human Services estimates these changes will save the state between $67 and $93 million over the next 5 years.


Act 3 establishes a work requirement for those enrolled in Arkansas Works. This requirement is identical to the work requirement for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). An exception can be made for those receiving work training or enrolled in classes to obtain their GED.

This legislation also directs DHS and the Department of Workforce Services to study and analyze small employer health insurance coverage in this state. The purpose of the study is to determine how to strengthen employer-sponsored insurance and help small business employers offer more affordable coverage for their employees.

They are to submit their findings to Arkansas Legislative Council and to the Governor before October 1, 2018.

Act 4 provides more legislative oversight to the health insurance marketplace and calls for a study the future of the marketplace.

The other item we addressed was the creation of a long term reserve fund. Act 7 transfers $105 million from Healthy Century Trust Fund (funded by tobacco settlement proceeds) to a reserve fund.
This was done in an effort to improve the state’s bond rating and therefore lower interest rates and reducing cost for projects. The legislation approved requires 2/3 of a vote of either the Arkansas Legislative Council or the Joint Budget Committee before funds can be spent.

Members also approved two technical correction bills during the special session.

Interim committees begin meeting later this month. You can view the calendar and the agendas at www.arkleg.state.ar.us.


 

 

April 23,2017

With summer months approaching, more drivers are preparing to hit the road. Now is the perfect time to remind Arkansans of new laws hitting the books affecting our roadways.


During 2014 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported more than 3,000 deaths and more than 400,000 injuries caused by distracted driving.


That is why in the most recent session, we passed Act 706 which clarified Paul’s Law from 2009. Paul’s Law prohibited texting while driving. Act 706 changes the wording to include any use of a wireless device to write, send, or read a text-based communication and access, read, or post to a social networking site.

A driver is not in violation if he or she reads, selects, or enters a telephone number or name in a wireless device for the purpose of making a telephone call. An exemption is also made for drivers to use their navigation system.

Act 706 gives judges the discretion to fine up to $250 for a violation. The previous fine was capped at $100.

Act 615 addresses leaving the scene of an accident when property is damaged. This bill states a driver must take reasonable steps to locate a property owner if his or her vehicle is in an accident causing damage to another’s property. Leaving the scene without making an attempt to contact would be a Class A misdemeanor if the damage is less than $10,000. It would be a Class D felony if damage is more than $10,000.

Act 1097 allows the highway commission to increase the speed limit on interstates to 75mph. It raises the speed limit on other highways to 65mph where permissible.

And if you are looking for more convenience, remember that Act 157 allows the Office of Driver Services to issue a digital copy of an Arkansas Driver’s License upon request for a $10 fee. The digital copy of the license would be available for view until the expiration of the traditional license.

For more information on driving laws and safety measures on the road visit, the website for the campaign toward zero deaths on Arkansas roads at www.tzdarkansas.org

 

 

April 14, 2017

There are more than 250,000 veterans living in Arkansas. We also are home to more than 4,000 individuals on active duty. More than 9,000 Arkansans are serving in the National Guard.

Every session we evaluate the needs of our military and veterans. We pass legislation to make day to day life in Arkansas easier for those who serve and to make Arkansas a place veterans want to call home well after retirement.

In recent months we have passed tax cuts, tuition assistance, and enhanced our veteran services.

Act 141 will exempt military retirement benefits from state income tax beginning next year. We join 13 other states in doing this. Around 26,000 Arkansans are currently receiving retirement pay.

Creating tax relief for military retirees will not only make Arkansas a more military friendly retirement destination but we also hope this will encourage veterans to start their second careers or open a business right here in Arkansas. The new military retiree is between 38-44 years old.

We have also passed legislation to provide tuition assistance for soldiers and airmen of the Arkansas National Guard.

Act 741 allows a soldier or airman of the Arkansas National Guard to attend a state-supported institution of higher education tuition-free if the soldier or airman:

(1) is an Arkansas resident;
(2) has completed initial active duty training and is in good standing.
(3) has been accepted to and is enrolled in a state-supported institution of higher education as a student in good standing.
(4) submitted applications for federal and state grants and scholarships.
(5) is enrolled in a program of study leading to an undergraduate degree
(6) has not received a bachelor's degree.

More educated soldiers and airmen of the Arkansas National Guard would provide Arkansas an opportunity to attract more business and industry as a result of a more educated workforce. Many of our neighboring states have provided this benefit and we’re proud to bring forward this new opportunity to compete.

Act 204 requires the medical board, nursing board, pharmacy board, and dental board to waive annual renewal fees for active military members. This would make it easier for doctors and medical professionals to continue to practice while they are serving our country.

Act 131 states the driver’s license of military member will not expire while the individual is living out of state if he or she applies for an extension of the expiration date.

We’ve also passed legislation concerning military justice issues. One of the pieces of legislation extends the statute of limitations for a court martial from 3 years to 5 years. And another bill makes it a crime to pretend to be a member of the Armed Forces or National Guard.

And to ensure our veterans know about new legislation and changes, we also passed Act 807. This allows the Department of Veteran Affairs to create a data collection system to locate veterans and military families living in Arkansas. The information would be used to make sure they have access to information and resources available to them.

For more information on services, visit the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs Website atwww.veterans.arkansas.gov.

 

March 25, 2017

Among the pieces of legislation advancing from the House this week are measures which will impact elections, rental agreements, and veteran services.

On Monday, the House passed a bill to change the date of primary elections and fiscal sessions in Arkansas. HB1707 would move permanently move the preferential primary from May to the first Tuesday in March. The bill also moves the date of fiscal sessions for the General Assembly from the second Monday in February to the second Wednesday in April. Fiscal sessions are held in even-numbered years only.

The House also passed HB1166 which allows a tenant to terminate a lease agreement if the residential landlord fails to provide heating and air conditioning (if provided when signing the lease), functioning electricity, potable water, and a sanitary sewer system.

The House passed HB2198, which allows the Department of Veteran Affairs to create a data collection system to locate veterans and military families living in Arkansas. The information would be used to make sure they have access to information and resources available to them.

As the 2017 Regular Session is winding to a close, members are directing their attention to the budget for the next fiscal year.

Arkansas’s budget process is rather unique. The budget is enacted by the Revenue Stabilization Act (RSA). The RSA provides the mechanism for distributing the state’s revenue and is amended each year to reflect the actual budget. By law, Arkansas cannot pass a budget with a deficit. RSA is what keeps us operating in the black. Any appropriation not funded by RSA is essentially null and void. Although, it is needed for appropriations to become effective, RSA itself is not an appropriation bill.

Throughout the session we have been passing appropriation bills based upon needs we heard during the fall budget hearings.

Before we adjourn, we must pass the RSA to fund appropriations. By law, the proposed budget must be given to the members three (3) days before we are asked to vote on the legislation. As soon as the budget is given to us, the House will post the proposal on our website www.arkansashouse.org.

 

 

March 18, 2017

We are now in the final weeks of the legislative session. Committees and House floor proceedings have been meeting for extended hours the last several days to hear as many bills as possible before we adjourn.


This week, the House moved forward legislation impacting education funding, juvenile sentencing, tax deductions and even speed limits.


The House passed HB1729 which sets the funding for our public schools. This bill increases the funding from $6,584/per student to $6,713/per student for the next school year.


The House also passed legislation allowing teachers to take a tax deduction for out of pocket expenses for the classroom. HB1014 allows teachers to take a $250 deduction on state taxes if he or she pays for classroom materials, including books, school supplies and even food or clothing for his or her students.
This week, we also passed legislation which abolishes life sentences without parole for anyone under the age of 18.


SB294 would allow parole to be considered for a juvenile, tried as an adult, after serving 20 years for a non-homicidal offense, 25 years for a first degree murder conviction, and after serving 30 years for capital murder.


The House also passed SB428 which allows the Office of Driver Services to issue a digital copy of an Arkansas Driver’s License upon request for a $10 fee. The digital copy of the license would be available for view until the expiration of the traditional license.


The House also passed a bill impacting speed limits in the state. HB2057 allows the highway commission to increase the speed limit on interstates to 75mph. It raises the speed limit on other highways to 65mph where permissible.


And we passed the Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act. HB1839 sets a goal for all state agencies, colleges, and universities that receive $25,000 from the state for the purchase of food. The goal outlined in the legislation is that by 2018, 10% of all the food purchased by the agency is either grown or packaged in Arkansas. The goal increases to 20% in the years following.


As a reminder, the House streams all committee meetings in the Capitol and all House floor proceedings on our website www.arkansashouse.org.

 

 

March 13, 2017

This week, the House passed the Criminal Justice Efficiency and Safety Act. Days later it was signed into law by the Governor. We expect this bill to have a tremendous impact not only in our prison overcrowding situation, but also in the way we treat mental health for Arkansans in a crises.

Arkansas currently has the number one incarceration growth rate in the country. This is what prompted two legislative task forces to take action two years ago. After months of research and testimony, legislators drafted SB136 (now Act 423).
This bill reforms the probation and parole system in the state and provides more access to mental health treatment in the criminal justice system.

Currently, an average of 1,600 people are incarcerated because their parole or probation was revoked for a non-violent misdemeanor. This bill would allow for those who violate conditions of their parole by committing a minor violations (such as missing a meeting) to serve a 45 day program with the Department of Community Correction. Those who violate conditions by committing a non-violent misdemeanor would serve a 90 day program with the Department of Community Correction.
States that have implemented a similar program have seen lower recidivism rates.

The second part to this legislation is the mental health component.

Law enforcement will receive training in mental health crises intervention. This type of specialized training has shown officers are more equipped to identify a person having a mental health crises and give them the tools to deal with that person.
Experience has shown that officers with this type of training are able to de-escalate a situation on site 52% of the time. For those situations that cannot be de-escalated on site and where no serious crime has occurred, this bill establishes three crises stabilization units in the state. The centers will provide another place to take individuals have a crises other than the county jail. The governor has committed $5 million to support these facilities, which will provide evaluation and treatment.
The House is now entering the 10th week of the Regular Session. As a reminder you can watch all House committee meetings held in the Capitol and all House floor proceedings at www.arkansashouse.org
 

 

March 4, 2017

When it comes to K-12 education, this session the House has addressed everything from school bus safety to reading proficiency.

Act 246 increases the minimum amount a school district can pay a teacher. It increases the minimum amount by $400 for the next school year. School districts can pay more but not less than the minimum amount set by the state. The minimum starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree would be $31,400 a year. For a new teacher with a master’s degree the minimum starting salary would be $36,050.

The House passed SB328, which requires anyone who applies for a K-6 teaching license or a special education K-12 license to receive training and pass a test on the science of reading. This legislation is designed to improve the ways schools teach students to read. Currently, 63% of Arkansas third graders are not reading at grade level. This bill has passed both chambers but now in the process of amendment approval back in the Senate.

Act 173 allows a student who attends a private school or home school to enroll in an academic course within their public school district. The public school district that enrolls a private school or home school student would be entitled to 1/6 of the state foundation funding amount for each course.

The House passed HB1539 which requires students to pass the civics portion of the naturalization test, used by immigration services, before they can receive their high school diploma. The bill would require the student to answer at least 60 of the 100 questions correctly. It allows the students to take the test as many times as needed. This is awaiting approval in the Senate.

HB1144 allows images gathered from an automated school bus camera to be used in court. This technology could be used to investigate cases of drivers passing a stopped school bus. This bill is now awaiting the Governor’s signature.

HB1002 directs school district administration officials to calculate the cost of placing seatbelts on new school buses if 10% of individuals within the district sign a petition. This would then allow voters to decide if they want to pursue installing the seat belts at the next school board election. This bill is now awaiting the Governor’s signature.

The House Education Committee advanced legislation this week designed to help fund technical training programs for high school students. SB288 would allow a school district to join with cities, counties, vocational-technical schools, and even neighboring school districts to create workforce development centers. These centers would provide students, who may not want to pursue a degree, an opportunity to learn a technical skill such as welding. The sponsor of the legislation explained that many school districts cannot afford the state of the art equipment and facilities that are now needed to provide proper training. This would allow cities and counties to work together with the schools to develop new funding sources.

There are still more than 30 bills waiting to be heard before the House Education Committee. All House education meetings are held on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 10am. The meetings are streamed lived and also archived on our website www.arkansashouse.org.

 

February 25, 2017

This session, the House has passed a number of bills aimed at not only creating jobs, but sustaining them and ensuring our workforce is ready.

Act 166 creates a state matching grant for small businesses that have received a federal Small Business Innovation Research grant.

The federal Small Business Innovation Research Program encourages innovative small businesses to engage in federal research and commercialization that has the potential for technological innovation. Stimulating research and commercialization grows the economy by creating and retaining high-wage, high-tech jobs in moderately and highly skilled occupations.

Arkansas consistently ranks poorly among states in the number of federal Small Business Innovation Research grants awarded. Matching grants will encourage Arkansas businesses to apply for the federal grant and realize economic benefits of commercialized research.

To qualify , the business would have to be principally engaged in one or more of the following:

· Advanced materials and manufacturing systems

· Agriculture, food, and environmental sciences

· Biotechnology, bioengineering, and life sciences;

· Information technology

· Transportation logistics;

· Bio-based products.

The matching grant would be limited to 50% of the federal grant up to $50,000 for Phase 1 and up to $100,000 for a Phase II award.

Act 165, the Arkansas Business and Technology Accelerator Act, creates a $2 million accelerator grant program for startup companies. Similar programs throughout the country have been found to impact success rates of start up businesses. The Arkansas Economic Development Commission will seek out corporate sponsors to provide the matching funds.

And just this week, the House approved HB1442, the Personal Finance and Job Readiness Act. This legislation requires the Department of Career Education and the Department of Education to write standards for a curriculum to teach students skills such as how to create a household budget, credit management, and retirement planning.
It also requires that students learn basic job skills including resume building and how to fill out a W-4. It requires the instruction of soft jobs skills such as time management, communication and meeting basic employer expectations.

The legislation requires the classes to be taught to students before graduation.

The House now enters the 8th week of the Regular Session. Remember you can watch all House floor proceedings and House committee meetings held in the Capitol at www.arkansashouse.org.

 

February 18, 2017

According to the National Coalition for Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner.
In an effort to combat domestic violence in our state, we evaluate our laws throughout the year. The Regular Session provides us an opportunity to strengthen our existing laws and add new protections.
This week, the House passed two significant measures concerning domestic violence.
HB1420 directs an additional court cost of twenty-five dollars to be assessed if an individual is convicted of domestic abuse or is the respondent on a permanent order of protection. The money will be used to administer grants to domestic violence shelters.
Last year more than 11,000 Arkansans sought help in a domestic violence shelter. Arkansas has just 32 such shelters across the state. The number of people seeking assistance in shelters is increasing, but funding is not.
HB1420 paves a way to provide that additional funding without a cost to taxpayers. This bill places the cost on those committing the abuse.
The second piece of domestic violence legislation we passed this week was HB1534.
This bill allows a judge to issue an order directing a cell phone provider to transfer billing and rights of a cell phone number to the person seeking protection from domestic abuse. This legislation aims to not only provide victims of abuse with access to contacts of family and friends but it also protects records on their location. This legislation currently exist in 6 other states.
In the last Regular Session, we passed Act 873 which created Laura’s Card. This requires law enforcement officer to provide a resource of information to assist victims and their families when they are called out on reports of suspected domestic abuse.
We will continue to update you on legislation passed through the remainder of the session. Remember you can watch House proceedings at www.arkansashouse.org.


February 13, 2017

On Wednesday of next week, the House Constitutional Issues Subcommittee will begin hearing proposed amendments to our state’s constitution. Our state constitution was written in 1874. But a government’s needs can change over time. Arkansans have responded by approving 98 amendments.
In Arkansas, there are two ways to put an amendment before the voters. First, an individual or group can have the language of a ballot measure approved by the Attorney General and then collect the needed number of signatures. The second way amendments are put forth is by the General Assembly. Article 19 of the Arkansas constitution allows either house of the General Assembly to propose constitutional amendments.


Just this week, we approved a measure to change the way we select which amendments will be put forward. SCR2 specifies that the House will select one amendment and the Senate will select one amendment. It allows for a third amendment to be put forward only if 2/3 of both chambers agree. Previously, the State Agencies committees from both chambers would meet jointly to vote on proposed amendments and could refer up to three during a regular session. Although amendments will still have to be approved by both chambers before heading to the ballot, this will allow each chamber to determine its own priority.


The deadline to file proposed amendments was on February 8. Twenty-two proposed amendments have been filed in the House. Fourteen proposed amendments have been filed in the Senate. Proposed amendments are filed as Joint Resolutions. Those from the House will be numbered as HJR (House Joint Resolution) and the Senate as SJR (Senate Joint Resolution).


The amendments we put forward in this session will appear on the ballot in November of 2018.
The issues for the proposed amendments vary greatly. We have posted a link to the resolutions on our website www.arkansashouse.org.

 

February 4, 2017

The State of Arkansas is home to over 40 institutions of higher education, including 10 four-year universities, 22 two-year colleges, 12 private universities and 1 academic health center. Currently, the state supported institutions are funded based on enrollment. However, the Department of Higher Education has outlined several goals including increasing graduation rates, increasing the number of non-traditional students enrolling, and improving affordability by reducing the amount of time needed to graduate.

A change in the way we fund our colleges and universities has been presented as a way to help achieve these goals. In a vote of 87-10, with 3 members voting present, the House approved HB1209, a bill to adopt a productivity-based funding model for state supported institutions.

The model itself is not included in the bill, rather it directs the Higher Education Coordinating Board to implement a model based on the following priorities:

        · Differences in institutional missions;


        · Completion of students' educational goals;


        · Progression toward students' completion of programs of study


        · Affordability through on-time completion of programs of study;


        · Limiting the number of excess credits earned by students;


        · Efficient allocation of resources;


and graduation rates of colleges and universities by 10%. If this bill is signed into law, the department will present its funding formula policy to the coordinating board by April 2017. After approval by the board, the policy will be presented to the legislature.

The legislation also specifies that no institution can receive a cut of more than 2% in any given year.

Bills addressing higher education are presented first in the House Education Committee. The Education Committee schedules meetings for every Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 10am. These meetings are streamed live and also archived on our website: arkansashouse.org.

The committee has advanced several more pieces of legislation to the House to address next week.
We will continue to update you throughout the session.

 

January 28, 2017

The House began this week by passing an income tax reduction for Arkansans making less than $21,000 a year. In a vote of 90-2, with 5 members voting present, the House passed HB1159 also known the Tax Reform and Relief Act of 2017.

The legislation passed this week creates a legislative task force to explore future tax reform. The task force is required to complete a report by September 1, 2018. The report will include proposals for tax cuts and job growth.

The House passed two other tax-related measures this week. HB1157 makes clear that Arkansans have only one homestead property tax credit per year. And HB1156 requires that Arkansas corporate income tax returns be filed by April 15 beginning this year.

In the third week of the session, the House also passed legislation which makes clear that an individual can be charged with harassment for communication on an electronic device including communication through social media.

The House passed HB1032, the Arkansas Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act. The vote for this bill was 78-10 with 2 members voting present. The legislation prohibits the procedure known as dilation and evacuation (D&E). The legislation makes exceptions if the life and health of the mother is at risk.

Other bills heading to the Senate include HB1147 and HB11185.

HB1147 states the driver’s license of military member will not expire while the individual is living out of state if he or she applies for an extension of the expiration date.

HB1185 allows for a death certificate to be issued for a stillbirth occurring after 12 weeks gestation. Currently, one can only be issued after 20 weeks gestation or if the fetus weighs 350 grams or more. This bill does not require a certificate be issued, but rather upon the request of the parents.

In the upcoming week, we will be addressing legislation regarding funding for higher education and tax breaks for retired military members.

You can watch all House committee meetings held in the Capitol and all House floor proceedings on our websitewww.arkansashouse.org.

 

 

 

January 20,2017

Currently there are 3,000 Arkansans with intellectual or developmental disabilities waiting for community-based or in home services. The needs range from adaptive equipment at home to day treatment programs.

This week the House took the first step in an effort to eliminate this waiting list.

In a vote of 93-0, we approved HB1033. This legislation calls for the diversion of $8.5 million from the tobacco settlement fund to fund the needs of the waiting list. This money is currently not being used on any other program. The state funds would be then matched by $20 million in federal funds.

It is expected the funds will assist 500-900 of those on the list. This bill is now heading to the Senate.

Meanwhile, heading to the Governor’s desk is a bill that allows the Medical Marijuana Commission more time to implement rules for growers and dispensaries.

The Medical Marijuana Amendment passed by voters in November, gave the commission 120 days to be appointed and create all rules and regulations regarding growing and dispensing.

The sponsor of the bill said while rules can be passed quickly, 120 days did not allow enough time for public input and participation in the process.

HB1026 gives the commission 180 days. And it requires the commission to begin accepting application by July 1, which aligns with the start of the fiscal year. The date in the amendment approved by voters in November was June 1.

It has passed both the House and the Senate and is now waiting on the Governor’s signature.

The House Revenue and Taxation Committee has advanced two tax cut proposals. HB1159 targets tax cuts to those making under $21,000 a year. HB1161 provides an earned income tax credit for those who already qualify for the federal credit.

The full House will be considering these proposals in the third week of the session.

We will continue to keep you updated. Remember you can watch all House proceedings and committee meetings held inside the Capitol on our website.
 

January 13, 2016

As with every legislative session, one of the greatest challenges we face will be to balance a budget that does not burden tax payers while providing needed services.

This year, we will consider tax exemptions for retired military living in our state and competing proposals for other tax reductions.

Before we can begin any tax reform, we must have a clear picture of the current economic situation for the state.

That is why the House Revenue and Taxation Committee this week began with a review of the Revenue Stabilization Act and the current budget forecast.

Approximately 54% of our General Revenue comes from state income tax. Another 36% comes from state sales tax.

The current growth rate for revenue is 1.5%. Six months into the fiscal year, there is now $38.2 million more in revenue than this time last year. The forecast shows we will fund the current year’s budget and will have a $5.4 billion budget to balance for the next fiscal year.

All bills calling for tax cuts have been directed to the House Revenue and Taxation Committee. That committee is expected to begin running bills on Thursday of next week.

In the Governor’s State of the State address, he asked for the legislature’s support not only for his tax proposals, but for increases in funding for foster children in the state and for mental health centers.

He is also requesting the legislature to redirect portions of the tobacco settlement funds to help reduce the number of Arkansans on the waiting list for disability services.

Chairs of standing committees and members of Select Committees were announced moments after members were sworn in on Monday.

The House has posted a list of all committees including chairs and vice-chairs on the House websitewww.arkansashouse.org.

The House reconvenes on Tuesday at 1:30 pm. As a reminder, the House streams all committee meetings held in the Capitol and all House Chamber proceedings live. You can also find recorded proceedings in the Video Library on the website.

 

January 7, 2016

Work for the upcoming legislative session will begin just minutes after we are sworn in on Monday. The 2017 Regular Session begins at noon on January 9. With 200 bills already filed, we expect committees to begin hearing testimony on proposed legislation this week.

Although no one can say with certainty what issues will take the most time or gather the most headlines, we do know that education funding, criminal justice reform, and tax proposals will be on the agenda for the 91st General Assembly.

This week we received the monthly revenue report. It shows a net available general revenue of $2.6 billion so far for this fiscal year. Fiscal years begin in July. The report show revenues are $38.2 million or 1.5% above levels a year ago, but $8.8 million below what was forecasted.

We will take this information into consideration as we work to craft a budget for the next fiscal year. Several tax cut proposals are being brought forward. One bill has been filed that would lower income taxes for those receiving military retirement benefits.

Education has historically been the largest budget priority for the state. This year, we will once again be asked to approve increases in education funding. In its annual adequacy report, the Education Committee recommended of an increase of $45.6 million for the next fiscal year.

We also expect to consider a new funding formula for higher education.

The Criminal Justice Reform Task Force was created in 2015 to research ways to address prison overcrowding and ways to promote seamless reentry into society for inmates scheduled to be released. As a result of the work by the task force, we expect to see several pieces of legislation filed to address the issue.

On Tuesday, the Governor is expected to speak to the legislature in the House Chamber. In this speech, the Governor will describe his proposals and ideas for the upcoming session.

As a reminder, all House proceedings in the Chamber and House committee meetings held in the Capitol building are streamed live on our website www.arkansashouse.org.

We look forward to hearing from you in the weeks and months ahead.