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   Arkansas State Representative, District 4

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

 

 

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 Arkansasís 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 Arkansasís 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 oneís 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. Tennesseeís 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 farmersí market.

Farmersí 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.

Farmersí markets foster appreciation for Arkansasís 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 farmerís 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 farmersí 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 farmersí market vendors derive their sole source of income from the market.

USDA reports that produce prices are farmersí 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 stateís 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.

Arkansasís 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 donít 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 ďBoys StateĒ and ďGirls StateĒ nominate members of their individual parties to be candidates for the various city and county offices. By weekís 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 yearís 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.


Arkansasís 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 itís 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. Youíll 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 ďroughing it.Ē
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 Devilís 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 Ė both public and private.

Itís 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 oneís 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 Educationís 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 15Ė 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 stateís 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 individualís 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 stateís 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 Paulís Law from 2009. Paulís 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 anotherís 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 Driverís 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 weíre 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 driverís 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.

Weíve 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.

Arkansasís budget process is rather unique. The budget is enacted by the Revenue Stabilization Act (RSA). The RSA provides the mechanism for distributing the stateís 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 Driverís 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 bachelorís degree would be $31,400 a year. For a new teacher with a masterís 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 Governorís 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 Governorís 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 Lauraís 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 stateís constitution. Our state constitution was written in 1874. But a governmentís 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 driverís 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 Governorís 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 Governorís 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 yearís 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 Governorís State of the State address, he asked for the legislatureís 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.