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   Arkansas State Representative, District 4

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

 

 

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.

 

December 30, 2016

You can never tell where a teacher's influence will end. Teachers inspire us and push us all to our fullest potential. There are over 32,000 such dedicated professionals inspiring our students every day in Arkansas.

But if we take a look at young people who are enrolling in educator preparation programs, we know we may be facing a shortage of teachers in years to come. To ensure excellence in our education, the Arkansas Department of Education is offering a quicker route to license renewal for those who have left the profession.

This program is available for a limited time to teachers who left the profession and no longer have a current license, those who received an initial license but did not convert to a standard license, and retired teachers who do not have a current license.

The Teach Again campaign began at the beginning of November and will last through March 31, 2017. While the current rules require 60 hours of professional development, the Teach Again program is waiving that requirement and allowing qualified individuals to complete 36 hours if they do so by the end of March.

Renewal requirements also include completing a licensure application, paying the $75 application fee and completing the required background checks. Free online professional development is available through Arkansas IDEAS.

Since the campaign began, more than 200 eligible candidates have started the process and 15 have completed the requirements. To get started, those interested should first fill out the contact form atwww.arkansased.gov . ADE will send the program application, background check instructions, and resources needed to complete professional development requirements.

Arkansas students need and deserve passionate, motivated and effective teachers. If you meet the requirements for the Teach Again program, consider re-igniting your passion for teaching.

And for those just beginning to consider a career in teaching, please know that the Department of Education offers numerous paths to licensure. Visit www.arkansased.gov to find out more.
 

December 17, 2016

When Arkansans voted in favor of a ballot issue to permit the use of medical marijuana in our state, they also voted in favor of substantial oversight in the distribution.


Issue 6, now Amendment 98 to the Arkansas Constitution, directed two state agencies and one newly formed commission to oversee the implementation and regulation.


Over the course of the next several weeks we will be following the rule making process closely. If there is a need for additional legislation, that can be addressed in the upcoming session.


The Medical Marijuana Commission held its first meeting this week and will hold another on December 20. Governor Asa Hutchinson appointed Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman to the commission. House Speaker Jeremy Gillam appointed Dr. Stephen J. Carroll, PharmD. and attorney Travis Story. Senate President Jonathan Dismang appointed a former state Senate Chief of Staff James Miller and Dr. J Carlos Roman, M.D. At the first meeting, Dr. Tillman was elected by members to serve as chair.
  

Members of the Medical Marijuana Commission will be working to adopt:


    • Rules for considering and renewing licenses for dispensaries and cultivation facilities


    • Operating, inspection and advertising requirements for dispensaries and cultivation facilities


    • Application and renewal fees for dispensaries and cultivation facilities.


The Amendment states there should be at least 20 but not more than 40 dispensary licenses issued. No more than 4 dispensaries can be permitted in the same county.


It also makes clear there should be at least 4 but not more than 8 cultivation facilities licensed.
And while the commission is considering its rules, the Department of Health and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board will also be working to implement the regulation required by the amendment.
  

The Department of Health will be working to adopt:


    • Rules for considering and renewing applications for Registry Identification Cards


    • Labeling and testing standards for marijuana distributed to qualifying patients


    • Rules for designated caregivers assisting a physically disabled person or minor.


The Alcoholic Beverage Control Division will be working to adopt:


    • Rules for considering and renewing applications of registry identification cards for dispensary and cultivation facility employees


    • The form and content of registration and renewal applications   


    • Procedures for terminating the registration of dispensaries or cultivation facilities and subsequent penalties


Amendment 98 states all of the rules must be adopted by early March and that the commission must begin accepting applications for cultivation and dispensary licenses by June.
One bill has been filed extend the deadline to July 1, which is also the beginning of the fiscal year for the state.


An additional piece of legislation has been filed to address the criminal background of those seeking a distribution permit.


The Regular Session of 2017 begins on January 9. We will continue to update you on the developments with the new rules and regulations. And as a reminder the House streams all House chamber proceedings and most committee meetings during the session. Streaming and updates are available at www.arkansashouse.org.
 

 

December 3, 2016

We are continuing to receive daily updates from the Department of Health concerning the mumps outbreak in Arkansas.  The Department of Health is reporting that 43 workplaces, 3 school districts, and 5 colleges/vocational schools have now reported cases. 

As of December 1, there were a total of 1,764 cases reported.  The counties with reported case include Benton, Carroll, Crittenden, Faulkner, Howard, Hot Spring, Madison, Pulaski, Saline, Sebastian, and Washington.

Arkansas is one of 6 states that has reported more than 100 cases this year to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Mumps is a viral illness that is transmitted by direct contact with respiratory droplets or saliva from an infected person. It is best known for painful, swollen salivary glands that show up as puffy cheeks and swollen jaw.

The majority of cases in Arkansas are among school aged children. Therefore the Department of Health is requiring any student who has a Mumps, Measles, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine exemption to be excluded from school for 26 days from the date of exposure or for the duration of the outbreak, whichever is longer.

Throughout this outbreak, 90% to 95% of school-aged children and 30% to 40% of adults involved in the outbreak have been fully immunized. The vaccine is not perfect. Two doses of the MMR shot are about 88% effective at preventing the mumps.

That means that if you have 100 people who are fully vaccinated, 88 of them will be fully protected. The remaining 12 will still be vulnerable to mumps. If it were not for the vaccine, however, we would be seeing many, many more cases of the mumps.

Also, we have only seen a few cases with complications such as swelling of the brain. This tells health professionals that even though some vaccinated individuals are still getting the mumps, they are experiencing mild disease. The vaccine remains the best protection we have against the mumps.  

The complete list of schools with reported cases along with more information about prevention can be found on the Arkansas Department of Health website www.healthy.arkansas.gov

 

November 26, 2016

In 2015, legislators filed more than 2,000 bills.  Before the session ended, more than a thousand amendments had also been filed. 

Although Regular Sessions can be extended with a vote by ¾ of General Assembly, they are originally scheduled to last 60 days.

One of the ways we expedite the legislative process is to allow is bill pre-filing. The pre-filing process allows bills to be prepared and introduced before regular session convenes. It increases the efficiency of the legislative process in several ways:

     • Legislative staff have more time to draft legislation.
    • The paperwork that is necessary for a bill’s official introduction—for example, gathering sponsor    signatures—can be completed early.
    • Presiding officers have more time to consider to which committee a bill will be referred.
    • Committees may begin work immediately when session convenes.

Arkansas is one of 35 states that allows bills to be filed in advance of the session.

Members began filing bills on November 15 for the 2017 Regular Session.  Since that time, more than 20 bills have been filed in the House.  The focus of the bills ranges from school bus safety to specific tax cuts.  We have provided a link to all of the legislation filed thus far at www.arkansashouse.org .  Once the bills are filed in the clerk’s office they are scanned into the system and available for review on the website within seconds.

The Speaker of the House assigns the bills to their appropriate committee.  He will send the bills that have been pre-filed to the appropriate committees on the first day of the session.  The Speaker will also his selection of committee chairs on that day.  The make-up of the committees was determined earlier this month and can also be found on our website.

The 2017 Regular Session begins on January 9.  The House streams all House committees held in the Capitol during session and all House floor sessions live. 

 

November 19, 2016

This year the Arkansas Department of Human Services oversaw the adoption of more than 700 children.


But the need for more loving homes is still great. There are another 600 children in our state currently available for adoption.
November is National Adoption Month. It’s a time to increase awareness and bring attention to the need for permanent families for children and youth in the foster care system.


Over the last year, DHS has seen a nearly 30 percent growth in the overall number of children in care, with the increase coming both from the number of children entering care and the slowed rate at which children are leaving care.


This rapid growth is a crises in our state. It is one we will be addressing in the upcoming session. But this is not an issue that can be solved by the government alone.


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. But what makes an adoption successful is a family that can make a commitment, deal with rejection, look at progress in small steps, and simply laugh.


In addition to the need for adoptive parents in our state, there is even a greater need for foster parents. There are currently 5,200 children in foster care and only 1,600 homes available to foster children. The most urgent need is for families willing to foster teenagers, sibling groups and children who need special accommodations to meet their unique challenges
Foster parenting is a serious commitment. It requires giving the gift of unconditional love to children and youth who may never have experienced love of any kind and who may not know how to accept it. But you don’t have to be perfect, to be a perfect parent for a child in care.


If you are interested in finding out more about the procedures visit the Department of Human Services website at humanservices.arkansas.gov.
 

November 13, 2016

The House welcomed the members-elect of the 91st General Assembly to the chamber on Thursday.

The body of newly elected members includes 19 new faces.  We will have 35 members serving a second term and 29 serving a third term.

For the first time in over 20 years, the House will have members serving a fourth term.  There will be 17 members entering their fourth term for the 91st General Assembly.

Previous term limits prohibited anyone from serving more than 6 years in the House, but a constitutional amendment passed in 2014 lengthened the amount of time one can serve.

The 91st General Assembly will include 74 Republicans and 26 Democrats.  A total of 18 women and 82 men will serve.  We will know more about the background of each member in the coming weeks.

Members-elect selected their seat in the chamber and then gathered with their respective district caucus to choose the membership of all 10 standing committees and certain select committees.  We have posted the list of the committees membership on our website www.arkansashouse.org.

Meanwhile, we are all working to prepare for the issues and challenges facing us in the next session.  Governor Asa Hutchinson presented his balanced budget proposal to members on Wednesday.  He is calling for a $50 million tax cut in the next session with increases in spending to foster care funding and higher education.
By law, the Governor is required to submit his proposal, but ultimately it is the legislature that will pass spending appropriations.  Our budget hearings will continue through the end of this month. 

Arkansans have set the tone for the approaching session by casting their ballot.  More than 1,122,000 Arkansans went to the polls this year.  That is a 63.78% turnout.  While the turnout percentage of registered voters is not the highest in recent history, the sheer number of Arkansas who voted set a new record. 

We want to thank all of you who voted and all of you who volunteered to make the process happen by working at the polls. We hope to provide you with every opportunity to stay engaged in the process long after the election.

 

 

November 6, 2016

There are a few important events for the House taking place just days after the election. These proceedings will have a significant impact on the 91st General Assembly and ultimately the next legislative session.


On Thursday, November 10, a House Caucus will convene in the chamber. The purpose will be two-fold. The first purpose is to determine seniority and seating of members, and the second is to determine who will serve on standing committees and certain select committees.


Bills begin and sometimes end in committees. Hearings from interest groups, state agencies, and the general public are held at the committee level. Committee members play key roles in floor debate about the bills that they foster. Committees help to organize the most important work of the General Assembly.


Standing committees maybe the most important type of committee because they consider and shape the vast majority of proposed laws.


The Arkansas House of Representatives has ten standing committees, The ten House committees are split evenly into A and B categories. All House Members serve on one “A” committee and one “B” committee.


The class A standing committees are:


Ø Education


Ø Judiciary


Ø Public Health, Welfare, and Labor


Ø Public Transportation


Ø Revenue and Taxation


The class B standing committees are:


Ø Aging, Children & Youth, Legislative & Military Affairs


Ø Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development


Ø City, County, and Local Affairs


Ø Insurance and Commerce


Ø State Agencies and Governmental Affairs


Each House District Caucus selects 5 members for each “A” committee and 5 members for each “B” committee. The Speaker of the House appoints a chairperson and vice-chairperson to each standing committee at a later date.


Each House District Caucus will also select 6 members and 2 alternates to serve on the House Budget Committee. The Caucus will also select 5 members to serve on Legislative Council and the Joint Auditing Committee.


This year we have two vacant seats in the current General Assembly that will be decided in a special election taking also taking place on November 8. Those two members will be sworn into the 90th General Assembly on November 16 in the House Chamber.


The 2017 Regular Session will begin on January 9.


We will be broadcasting Thursday’s proceedings live at www.arkansashouse.org .
 

 

10/31/2016

Some of the fastest growing occupations in our state are in the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEM jobs are also among of the highest paid professions in Arkansas.

The Department of Workforce Services estimates that we could see over 800 new jobs in computer system design alone in the next two years. And when comparing average salaries for those in their first year out of college, Arkansans with degrees in engineering, engineering technology, and computer science degrees are among the top 5 highest paid professionals.

This is why we were pleased to hear a report from the Arkansas Department of Education this week showing that 4th graders in our state were showing improvement in science test scores.

The National Center for Education Statistics released the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress results for 4th-grade and 8th-grade science. Arkansas’ 4th-grade results showed an increase from a score of 146 in 2009 to a score 150 in 2015. 8th-grade science results stayed the same.

In June 2015, the Arkansas State Board of Education adopted the Arkansas K-12 Science Standards for grades K-4 and 5-8. K-4 implementation is occurring this school year, with 5-8 implementation set for 2017-2018. ADE plans to present grades 9-12 standards to the State Board for approval in December, with high school implementation in August 2018.
For the first time, Arkansas’s science standards include engineering design principles, which help students build problem-solving skills.

Arkansas also is one of 13 states recently selected to participate in a three-year National Science Foundation grant program that will help states overcome challenges in providing equitable science education for all students.

When it comes specifically to technology, Arkansas is widely recognized as a national leader in computer science education. We were the first state to pass legislation to require computer science courses to be taught in every high school. We have since seen a 260% enrollment increase in students taking computer science.

We expect all of these combined efforts to be reflected in test scores in the future and lead to more graduates prepared for careers in the growing field of technology.
 

10/24/2016

More than 50,000 Arkansans registered to vote in the last 3 months. This brings the total amount of registered voters in our state to 1,754,243, a historic number for our state’s history. This is an increase of more than 140,000 registered voters in our state since the presidential election in 2012.

But the number of registered voters does not necessarily reflect how many Arkansans will go to the polls. In the 2012, voter turnout was 67%. The highest turnout in recent history was in 1980 when nearly 78% of Arkansans voted.

We hope everyone who is registered will exercise their right to vote in this election. In our state it is not uncommon for elections to be decided by extremely narrow margins, especially in local races or elections. In 2010, two candidates for sheriff in Stone County tied twice, both in the primary and the resulting runoff election. It took a special election called by the governor and subsequent court challenges to determine the party nominee. In a six-person race for mayor of Pine Bluff in 2008, the incumbent was just one vote shy of the majority required to win, forcing a runoff election. A 2005 local initiative in Hot Springs passed by only 89 of the 9,401 votes cast. In 1998, three municipal elections in Arkansas were decided by a single vote.

Early voting begins statewide on Monday, October 24. In many counties, early voting for all precincts is conducted at the county clerk's office. However, some counties have other “off-site” early voting locations around the county. The county clerk will post early voting locations, and local newspapers will often publish the designated sites.

If you are unable to be at your polling location you can vote by absentee ballot. For information about deadlines and submission visit the Secretary of State’s website www.sos.arkansas.gov .

On Election Day, November 8, polls will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Your precinct and polling site are assigned by your county election commission based on where you live. A voter registration card issued by your county clerk will show your precinct, or you can visit www.VoterView.org to find your registration details and polling site.
 

 

10/17/2016

This week we began a series of hearings designed to guide a great deal of our decision making for the next legislative session. Budget hearings allow members to hear the needs of every board and state agency funded with state tax dollars. The General Assembly currently directs 87 cents of every general revenue dollar to education and health and human services.

Arkansas’s two largest sources of general revenue are collected from a portion of the 6.5% state sales/use tax and from the Arkansas individual income tax.

The latest general revenue report released shows our year to date net revenue totals $1.3 billion. This is $4.3 million or .3% below levels this time last year, and $32 million or 2.3% below what had been forecasted. We will take this report into consideration as we approach fall budget hearings.
The committee will review budgets for 220 state boards, commissions and agencies. The first budgets looked at are for “cash fund agencies” meaning they generate their own money through fees or fines. An example would be a state board which regulates a specific industry. Then the committee will review agency budgets that are funded mostly from general revenue. That will include education, human services, and corrections. The Governor then submits his proposed balanced budget on November 9. That will include a forecast of what the state expects to see in the next year in terms of revenue. All of this information will help in drafting appropriation bills before the Regular Session begins on January 9. It takes a 2/3 majority vote to extend a session beyond 60 days. If we don’t begin drafting appropriation bills before the session begins, there would be little chance of us finishing our work on time.
The budget hearings will continue from now until November 21. All of the hearings will be held in the MAC building located behind the Capitol and are open to the public. Arkansas is noted for its strong fiscal restraint. The Arkansas state budget must be balanced as deficit spending is prohibited by law.
We will keep you updated on the process to balance next year’s budget.

 

10/10/2016

One of the best ways to truly experience a local culture is to try the food. Nearly every culture has its own flavors and customs influenced by nearby crops and often times religious tradition.

Our state’s cuisine is also heavily influenced by the imagination of our people. Just think about all the many ways Arkansans have served mouthwatering barbeque, crispy catfish, or spicy cheese dip.

If one of your experiences with great food in our state deserves recognition, you now have that opportunity.

The Department of Arkansas Heritage recently announced it will accept nominations for the inaugural class of inductees into the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame.

Public nominations are currently being accepted in each of these categories:

Arkansas Food Hall of Fame:
This award will recognize those long-standing restaurants that have become legendary attractions in the Natural State. Eligible restaurants must be owned and operated in Arkansas, and have been in business for at least 25 years. National chain restaurants need not apply. Each year, three honorees will be inducted.


Proprietor of the Year:
This award is designed to honor a chef, cook and/or restaurant owner in Arkansas who has made significant achievements in the food industry. To be eligible, the candidate’s restaurant must be owned in Arkansas and have been in operation in the state for at least one year. National chains are not eligible.
 

Food-Themed Event:
This annual award was developed to honor one of the many community food-themed events or festivals that make our state a great place to live. These events attract tourists and neighbors alike and serve up as much fun and hospitality as they do their signature foods. To be eligible, the event/festival must be held annually in Arkansas, and it must have been in existence for five years or more.
 

People’s Choice:
Individuals may submit their favorite Arkansas restaurant or food truck, and the people will determine the winner. To be eligible, nominees must be Arkansas-owned and operated, and have been in business for at least one year.

The deadline for nominations is Nov. 9, 2016. The winners of each category will be honored at a ceremony in early 2017.

For more information on how the winners are selected visitwww.ArkFoodHOF.com.

 

09/30/16

This November, Arkansas voters will be asked to decide on seven ballot issues that could impact everything from election terms to the use of medical marijuana.

This week we want to direct your attention to the first three issues you will see on the ballot. These are the issues that the 90th General Assembly voted to have placed on the upcoming ballot.

The first issue is titled “An amendment to the Arkansas Constitution concerning terms, election, and eligibility of elected officials”.

First, this amendment addresses the issue of unopposed candidates. It would allow the General Assembly to pass additional legislation that would declare a candidate elected for a particular office if that candidate was the only candidate for a position after all the deadlines had passed. If no other offices or issue is on the same election ballot, then an election would not be held.

The proposed amendment also defines the term “infamous crime”. Currently, our constitution states an individual is ineligible to hold office if convicted of embezzlement, bribery, forgery, or infamous crime. But over the years, courts have been left to determine what does and does not constitute an infamous crime. This amendment would define infamous crime as a felony, abuse of office (as defined under Arkansas law), tampering, a misdemeanor in which the defendant committed an act of deceit, fraud, or false statement.

And this amendment would lengthen the term of county elected officials from 2 years to 4 years.
If passed, the 4 year terms would not take effect until the general election of 2018.
The second ballot issue addresses the power of our Governor when he or she travels out of state. Currently our laws require that the Lt. Governor lead our state when the Governor is not physically in Arkansas.

Issue 2 would allow the Governor to retain his or her duties and powers when travelling. The provision for the Lt. Governor to assume the office in the event of death or impeachment of the Governor would remain in effect.

Issue 3 on the ballot is a measure designed to spur economic growth. It would remove the limitation on the principal amount of general obligation bonds that may be issued under Amendment 82 of the Arkansas Constitution to attract large economic development projects. You may recall we used Amendment 82 in an effort to bring Big River Steel to Arkansas. Issue 3 also authorizes a municipality to obtain or appropriate money for any corporation, association, institution, or individual to finance economic development projects and to provide economic development services.

Although a constitution encompasses the core values at the time when it was adopted, framers have provided ways for revisions recognizing that such tenets may change over time. This is why in every Regular Session the General Assembly is allowed to put forward three measures to voters. Our efforts to place these issues on the ballot does not necessarily imply that we individually or collectively support the changes. Instead, it provides a way for you, the voter, to have the final say. We encourage each of you to study the issues carefully. Ask your county clerk for a copy of a sample ballot before heading to the polls.

And remember, early voting begins statewide on October 24.
 

 

09/24/16

It has been estimated that in 2008, 6 million Americans did not vote because they either missed a registration deadline or didn’t know how to register.

We want to make sure every Arkansans who wishes to vote in the November election has that opportunity. The deadline to register for the upcoming election is October 10.

On September 27, volunteers and organizations from all over the country will “hit the streets” for National Voter Registration Day. By partnering with non-profits not usually engaged in voter registration drives, and amplifying existing drives through event-based recruitment and cultural outreach, National Voter Registration Day will bring together thousands of volunteers across the nation to register voters.

Be aware that submitting your voter application in Arkansas does not guarantee your registration. You must receive acknowledgment of your registration from the county clerk.

Currently, there are 1,703,609 registered voters in Arkansas. We hope to see that number increase in the coming days ahead.

We also hope if you are registered that you take advantage of every opportunity to cast your ballot. Early voting begins October 24 leaving Arkansans several days to get to the polls.

In 2012, less than 67% of registered voters cast a ballot. Minnesota had the highest voter turnout that year with 76% of the state’s population voting.

Although the presidential election is making the most headlines, it is just one of many decisions on the ballot that will have an impact on our communities. There are ballot initiatives, state legislative races, and many city council positions that will be determined this November. Your vote matters a great deal.

You can register to vote at your local county clerk’s office, library, public assistance office, or you may print a form at www.sos.arkansas.gov/elections and mail it to the Secretary of State’s Office.

If you are not sure whether or not you are already registered, need to update your information, or want to find you polling place visit www.voterview.org
 

09/09/2016

According to the latest census figures, Arkansas is tied with Mississippi as the most food insecure state in the nation with 19.2 percent of residents experiencing insufficient amounts of food within the last 12 months.  And according to a report released recently by the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger, Arkansas ranks #1 in senior hunger for the third consecutive year.

Hunger is an issue we can all help to alleviate.  And there is no better time to consider a donation or volunteering.  September is Hunger Action Month.

You can help by teaching your children the importance of giving back to their local community.  Individuals and families can create a personal fundraising campaign through Set the Table. They can donate their birthday or other special events to the cause by asking friends and family to make a donation to Feeding America in lieu of buying presents.  You can set up an account at www.feedingamerica.org.

The Feeding America network of food banks serve virtually every community across the country. If your family is involved in a community group—such as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts or 4H—see if the group can volunteer together.

You can also help families right here in Arkansas by donating to the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. Every dollar you contribute can represent three meals for a person in need. Through their donation and purchasing programs, they are able to acquire food for far less than you can buy it in your local grocery store. Making cash donations means your dollar can buy more and do more.

Food drives are a great way to help stock the shelves of local food pantries.  The Alliance can connect you with a pantry or food bank in your area that can benefit from your generosity.

You can find more information the efforts of the Hunger Relief Alliance at www.arhungeralliance.org.

We have a long way to go for the men, women, and children who continue to face hunger in our state.  It cannot be done without the help of all of us working together in our communities.

 

09/02/2016

The Governor recently proclaimed September as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Suicide is not just an individual crisis, it is a public health crisis. More than 500 Arkansans took their own lives last year.

On average, one person dies by suicide every 17 hours in the state. It is the second leading cause of death for Arkansans ages 10-34. Every year, over twice as many people die by suicide in Arkansas than from homicide.

Arkansas ranks 16th in the nation in the number of suicide deaths. For every one individual who takes their own life, three will attempt suicide.

It is important to remember that these statistics are not just numbers, they are people. The numbers represent someone’s mother, someone’s son, or someone’s friend.

The American Foundation of Suicide Prevention lists the following as risk factors and warning signs:
If a person talks about:

    • Being a burden to others
    • Feeling trapped
    • Experiencing unbearable pain
    • Having no reason to live
    • Killing themselves


Specific things to look out for include:

    • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
    • Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online for materials or means
    • Acting recklessly
    • Withdrawing from activities
    • Isolating from family and friends
    • Sleeping too much or too little
    • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
    • Giving away prized possessions
    • Aggression
   

In the most recent session we passed legislation, with unanimous vote, to create the Arkansas Suicide Prevention Council. This council serves as a central body on suicide prevention efforts across the state. It works to identify the needs and set priorities based on data driven and evidence based suicide prevention.

Although we will use this month as an opportunity to discuss suicide prevention, we hope every Arkansan will treat every day of the year as a day they can help someone find the treatment they need.

If you or someone you know is showing symptoms of suicidal behavior call 1-800-273-TALK.

 

 

08/13/2016

During the most recent Regular Session our committee rooms were used an average of six hours a day. Committees rooms are where our lawmaking process begins. The rooms are where bills are first considered and publicly debated, where your voice can be heard before a bill makes its way the House Chamber.

Since these rooms are some of the most heavily-used facilities in the Capitol, it is important to all of us to make sure they accessible, functional, and represent the integrity of the historic nature of the Capitol. It is for that reason that a major restoration project is now taking place.

Contractors are now replacing the furniture, carpets, ceilings and audio and visual equipment in rooms 149 and 151. The House Judiciary Committee and the House Committee for Insurance and Commerce meet in room 149. The House Committee for State Agencies and Governmental Affairs and the House Revenue and Taxation committee meet in room 151.

The majority of the project is being funded by an $824,000 grant from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council. Funds from the Bureau of Legislative Research and the House’s operating budget are supplementing the project.

Over the years the original furnishings and woodwork have been replaced with mismatched pieces. Use of these Committee Rooms and adjoining offices has increased exponentially since the 1960s, and has taken a heavy toll on the fixtures, finishes, and mechanical systems.

The project will include replacement of non-historic mid-century paneling, finishes, and fixtures with historically appropriate materials and designs. We are also reallocating space and traffic to make these facilities more accessible.

We will be updating the progress on our social media sites. Phase I of the project is expected to be completed by November 2016. House leadership will apply for more funding to renovate Committee Rooms 130 and 138 after the 2017 Regular Session.
Much of the Capitol, including our House Chamber, has undergone extensive restoration projects in recent years. This is a continuation of that effort to ensure this building is one Arkansas can continue to be proud of.
 

 

08/08/2016

When it comes to student achievement at school, the research is clear about one thing: when parents are involved students get higher grades, have better social skills, and are more likely to continue their education.

In fact, recent studies have even indicated that when parents are involved at school, the performance of all children, not just their own, tend to improve.

That is why the Arkansas Department of Education in partnership with the State Board of Education launched the “My Child/My Student” campaign.

The campaign is now in its third year. To encourage conversation, the campaign provides parents with helpful information and tips they can use to discuss their child’s educational progress and goals. Additionally, the campaign provides teachers with questions, tips and resources they can use to talk with a student’s parents or guardians. For example the topics in August include questions and answers about back to school routines. It provides parents with questions to ask teachers such as “How can we make our morning schedule ensure my child is ready to learn?” and “How often should I communicate with my child’s teacher?”

And in September, the Department will provide helpful information for parent teacher conferences. Each month you will find information on a new college and career readiness topic and a student safety topic.
The topics and information are posted regularly on the websitewww.arkansased.gov , however the most convenient way to stay up to date is to follow the agency on social media. You can find them on Facebook atwww.facebook.com/ArkansasEd and on Twitter at @ArkansasEd.

The State Board of Education says it is proud to take the lead, both in the state and in the nation, in being a bridge builder between schools and parents through the use of social media. The resources shared are tremendously valuable, and social media is another tactic in making sure that teachers and communities have equal access to those resources.

As you prepare to head back, we wish every parent and child a successful school year.

 

07/30/16

Last weekend the House of Representatives lost a true champion of education, a smile we could all depend on in tough times, and above all a friend to all of us who serve in this Chamber. Rep. Sheilla Lampkin passed away on July 23. She had just recently announced she was battling ovarian cancer.
She was serving her third term in the House representing District 9 which covers portions of Drew and Ashley counties.


Rep. Lampkin was a school teacher for 30 years, 20 of those years she spent teaching special education. She continued her interests in education by serving on the House Education Committee for two terms. She was vice-chair of that committee for the 90thGeneral Assembly.


Before being elected to the House she volunteered as the museum director of the Drew County Museum helping to secure funding to rehabilitate and restore historic buildings.


We all saw her at her best when the House hosted Girls State every summer. Just weeks before her death, she proudly showed the girls of this year’s class her shirt and hat she wore at Girls State more than 50 years before. She loved teaching young women about public service and the importance of civil debate.
During her service in the legislature, she sponsored legislation to ensure that state employees who were parents of developmentally disabled adults could use their educational leave time for their children over the age of 18.


She also sponsored legislation which allowed DHS to place children in their care with families or individuals who had strong emotional ties to the child. Previously, DHS could only place children with relatives or foster families.


In a video she recorded two years ago she said “I just want to give back and do something to make Arkansas a little better.”  Rep. Lampkin accomplished that. It was a privilege for all of us to know and serve with her.

 

07/15/2016

A recent national survey found that families will spend an average of $630 this year to get their children ready to head back to school.


That estimate includes what families plan to spend on clothes, supplies, and electronics.
That substantial cost to families this time of year is why the General Assembly passed Act 757 in 2011. This act provides a sales tax holiday the first weekend of August. The holiday means state and local taxes are not collected or paid on the purchase of certain items.


Sponsors of the bill noted at the time that neighboring states already had a sales tax holiday in place. Members passed the bill in hopes of encouraging Arkansans to do their shopping at home.
Arkansas is now one of 18 states across the country to offer a sales tax holiday.


This year’s sales tax holiday will begin at 12:01 am on Saturday, August 6and end at 11:59 pm on Sunday, August 7.


Currently, the state sales tax is 6.5%. City and local taxes vary across the state.
During the sales tax holiday, retailers will not be allowed to collect sales tax on clothing and footwear if the sales price is less than one hundred dollars ($100) per item; clothing accessories and equipment if the sales price is less than fifty dollars ($50) per item; school supplies; school art supplies; and school instructional materials.


For more information, contact a customer service representative by phone Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at (501) 682-7104.


We have also posted a complete list of eligible purchases on our website www.arkansashouse.org .
While we hope this tax break provides relief for Arkansas families, we also hope shopping is just one small part of getting your child ready to go back to school.


Educators recommend starting regular bedtimes and routines a few weeks before school starts. And as always make sure your children are continuing to read throughout the summer.

 

07/08/2016

The state of Arkansas has ended the fiscal year with $177.4 million left in the bank.  The amount left after all of the expenses are paid is referred to as the surplus.

The legislature will determine how that money is spent in the 2017 Regular Session.

We are now three months away from beginning the state budget process for the next year.  So now is the time to be reviewing how our state performed over the past 12 months.

In Fiscal Year 2016 (July 1, 2015- June 30,2016) gross collections which included all state taxes and fees totaled $6.4 billion.  This is a decrease of $19.2 million from the year before, but $42.6 million more than what was predicted.

However, the net available revenue for the previous year was up.  The net available revenue is what is available to the state budget after individual and corporate refunds and funds for our constitutional offices are disbursed. 

The net available revenue totaled $5.3 billion.  This is 2.2% more than the year before.

The fiscal year ended above forecast as a result of improving growth in individual income tax collections. The net gain was 4.4 percent over year ago and 3.0 percent or $82 million above forecast. Corporate Income tax collections after refunds also added to results above forecast. Among smaller collections categories, tobacco taxes were above year ago collections and above forecast.   Revenue from Games of Skill was also up 18 percent over prior year.

The state budget process is central to the administration of state government. As well as allocating resources, budgets set policy, and lay the foundation for future planning and program review. However, state fiscal conditions change throughout the fiscal year. Tracking these conditions is crucial in addressing fiscal challenges that arise.

While we are always relieved to see that our economy is growing and there is money left over from the previous year, we are cautious approaching every new budget to ensure we can provide our you with the services you pay for such as quality education, resources for our foster children, care for our elderly and so much more.

We encourage you to read this year’s entire revenue report.  We have posted it online at www.arkansashouse.org.

 

07/01/2016

Parks enrich all of our lives. Franklin Roosevelt once called our national parks the outward symbol of the great human principle.

As our nation celebrates the 100th anniversary of our national parks, we want to remind you of the programs and historical significance of the seven national parks located right here in Arkansas. National parks in our state bring in over 3 million visitors a year. The economic impact is estimated to be over $174 million.

In Gillett, you’ll find the Arkansas Post. In 1686, Henri de Tonti established a trading post known as "Poste de Arkansea”. It was the first semi-permanent French settlement in the lower Mississippi River Valley. The establishment of the Post was the first step in a long struggle between France, Spain, and England for dominance of the Mississippi River Valley.Today you can immerse yourself in the natural beauty and tranquility of over two miles of trails winding through the historic town site and hardwood forest.

In Northern Arkansas you will find one of the few remaining undammed rivers in the country. The Buffalo National River was established as a National Park in 1972. Once you arrive, prepare to journey from running rapids to quiet pools while surrounded by massive bluffs as you cruise through the Ozark Mountains down to the White River.

Water is what first attracted people to Hot Springs. And for decades now people have been visiting what is nicknamed “American Spa” to use the thermal waters. The Hot Springs National Park surrounds the north end of the city of Hot Springs.

On the west side of our state, discover the site where Judge Isaac C. Parker presided his final days over Indian Territory. The Fort Smith National Historic Site preserves almost 80 years of history through stories of soldiers and outlaws of the West.

Another National Park in our state is the Pea Ridge battlefield. Here 26,000 soldiers fought to in 1862 to decide the fate of Missouri and the West.

The birthplace of President Clinton in Hope, Arkansas is now a National Park as is the Little Rock Central High School where the persistence of nine African-American students set a national example of the implementation of Brown v. Board of Education.

This summer, take time to explore our national and our 52 state parks. Chances are you will learn something new about your own backyard.

 

06/24/16

Directors with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission updated members recently on the impact Chronic Wasting Disease now has on our deer population.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal neurological disease similar to mad cow disease but found only in deer, elk, moose, and caribou. It was first detected in a deer in Arkansas in March of this year.

CWD is not spread by a virus but by a type of mutated protein found in saliva, feces, urine, blood, and decaying carcasses of infected animals. There is no evidence to date that shows it can transmitted to livestock or to humans. However, public health officials recommend not consuming meat from known infected animals, or animals that appear sick.


Infected animals may not show any symptoms of the disease. In later stages of the disease, however, infected animals may display abnormal behavior such as staggering, standing with very poor posture or losing fear of humans.

The AGFC has completed its first phase of CWD monitoring. It has confirmed that the disease has a prevalence of 23 percent in Newton and Boone counties. Of 266 randomly collected wild deer, 62 were found to have the fatal disease.

The disease has been detected now in 24 states. No state has been able to stop or eliminate CWD, but they have been able to slow its spread.

The goal for Arkansas Game and Fish is to reduce the overall deer density to slow the rate of the disease spreading in Arkansas. The agency also wants to reduce the chances of people moving the disease to a new area

In order to accomplish this, commissioners voted on several new regulations which will have an impact on deer and elk hunting this year

For the latest information on these regulations visitwww.agfc.com. If you see a deer or elk you suspect of having CWD, call 1-800-482-9262.
 

 

06/17/16

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men reported experiencing sexual assault at some time in their lives. Over a third of victims report being assaulted either on a college campus or during their college age years.


The goal of sexual violence prevention is simple—to stop it from happening in the first place. The solutions, however, are just as complex as the problem.


Understanding campus climate issues, such as students’ knowledge about reporting policies and resources for victims, and their perceptions about how their community is addressing the problem are critical pieces of information for improving campus responses.


That is why the Arkansas Legislative Council Subcommittee for Higher Education asked to hear from our state’s top higher education officials about the current climate on our campuses and what is being done at a local level.


The director of the Arkansas Department of Education, Dr. Brett Powell, referred the committee to a recent survey conducted by the association Everfi. Students from over 100 colleges and universities, including students from Arkansas, participated in the survey.


Of the survey respondents nationwide who indicated they had been victims of sexual assault or sexual misconduct but had not reported it, 46% said they thought they would be blamed for what happened.


On a question measuring knowledge of campus resources, 64% reported that they know where to go to get help regarding sexual assault at school. Only 35% said they understood their schools procedures.


This information will help college campuses across the state tailor their prevention and awareness programs. Representatives from the University of Arkansas testified they are expanding their training for freshman enrolling this fall.


During the previous Regular Session, the 90thGeneral Assembly addressed sexual violence prevention with the passage Act 952. This requires that a unit on dating violence be taught in grades 7-12 as part of the health curriculum. The unit will focus on healthy relationships and teach students the warning signs of dating violence and abusive behavior.


We will continue to work with our college campuses and universities to create a culture where our students feel safe and know every resource available to them on campus.


For a list of online resources to prevent sexual violence visit the website for National Sexual Violence Resource Center at www.nsvrc.org.

 

 

06/13/2016

Being efficient in government not only means saving taxpayer dollars, it means improving the services we provide to our citizens.

This week, the director of the largest state agency presented a new plan designed to ensure that the 1.2 million Arkansans served by the Department of Human Services are getting the best care in the most efficient way possible. The plan was presented to the Arkansas Health Reform Legislative Task Force.

Through a blend of federal and state Medicaid funds, DHS pays for 64 percent of the babies born in Arkansas each year and for the care of 69 percent of the state’s nursing home patients. Additionally, DHS protects children and the elderly who have been abused; finds adoptive homes for foster children; funds home-delivered meals for the elderly; regulates nursing homes and childcare facilities; serves youth in the juvenile justice system; oversees services for blind Arkansans; runs residential facilities for people with developmental disabilities; manages the Arkansas State Hospital and Arkansas Health Center; and supports nonprofit, community and faith-based organizations that depend on volunteers to continue programs vital to our communities.

With over 7,500 employees and so many lives depending on their services, it is easy to understand why their day to day operations are of critical importance to all of us.

At the taskforce meeting this week, Director Cindy Gillespie informed members that the agency is implementing a new organizational structure aimed at creating more accountability for each functional role. Although the new positions created and/or re-structured will initially create new cost of $266,536, the efficiencies created will allow the agency to turn back 25 positions at a salary cost of $597,583.

The agency also reported it is reviewing $174 million worth of contracts and is committed to identifying $25 million in savings from its payment integrity unit for the next fiscal year.

During the meeting, DHS reported that the agency is on track to implement the changes we recently passed to create Arkansas Works. Right now more than 283,000 Arkansans are receiving coverage through the Private Option. Another 634,000 residents are receiving benefits through traditional Medicaid.

Our job as legislators is to ensure that our districts are receiving the services they need. So each of us will continue to review any proposed changes by DHS and provide you with accurate information.

 

06/03/2016

On average, families spend an additional $300 each month on food during the summer. Working parents who know their children are safe, supervised and fed during the school year must make other arrangements for their kids in the summer. In Arkansas, there are about 280,000 children who are eligible for reduced price meals at their schools during the school year. So what happens during the summer months?

That is where volunteers and non-profits across the state have worked to fill the gap by opening the doors of their churches, community centers, and schools to be a summer meal site.

This summer close to 200 sites are available for children in our state. The meals are paid for by the USDA and must meet certain guidelines to ensure proper nutrition.
Parents do not need to apply to the program to get a free summer meal for their kids, and it does not interfere with other benefits they may be receiving.
Arkansas ranks highest in the nation for food insecurity according to Feeding America's Map the Meal Gap 2015 report. In that report, 19.7 percent of households and 28.4 percent of children were unsure of where they will get their next meal.

There are USDA authorized Summer Meals Sites in almost every county in Arkansas. Parents and care givers can find a summer meals site in their communities by:

· Going to http://www.fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks interactive map that will show meal sites near you.
· Calling 1-866-3-HUNGRY (a live operator will ask for your address and give you a list of sites.)
· Texting FOOD to 877 877 (you will be asked for your zip code and receive a list of sites in your area.)

You can also help this summer by offering your time. The best sites have organized, well-run activities that keep the interest of the children and teens coming back to the site day after day. Some of these activities include arts and crafts, tutoring, reading programs, cooking or any other creative ideas you may have. Many sites have enlisted local fire and police departments and local businesses to make presentations. The only limitation is your imagination.

05/27/2016

Since the founding of our country, over 1 million men and women in the armed forces have sacrificed their lives in time of war.
This Memorial Day, we encourage Arkansans to remember that this weekend is about much more than the unofficial beginning of summer. It is a day to remember.


Arkansans have a proud history of serving their country. Today our state is home to more than 260,000 veterans.
During WWI, over 71,000 soldiers who served were from Arkansas. Out of those soldiers, 2,183 lost their lives.
Close to 10% of our state’s population served in WWII. Of the 194,000 Arkansas soldiers serving in various branches of the military, 3,519 were killed as a result of combat.


We are reminded every day at the Capitol of the lives lost in Vietnam. A memorial on the grounds lists the names of the 600 soldiers killed in combat.


Since September 11th, 142 men and women from Arkansas have lost their lives serving our country.
The numbers of our fallen heroes are not just statistics. They are real people, with real families, who lived in real communities.


We can best honor their sacrifice by remembering their families, who have lost so much.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has posted a link to all ceremonies at all veteran’s cemeteries across the country. You can find the one nearest you by visiting www.cem.va.gov.


And if you cannot make it to a ceremony, there is a way all of us can pay a small tribute. In an effort to help remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, Congress passed the “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution in December 2000. It asks that at 3pm all Americans pause whatever they are doing for a moment of silence and remembrance.
We owe it to the heroes that died and the loved ones left behind to make sure that their sacrifices are remembered and that their service to this nation always be honored.
 

05/20/2016

Unemployment in our state is now at a record low. Since we began tracking employment in 1976, we have never seen the unemployment rate below 4.1%. That is until last month.

The unemployment rate for April in Arkansas was 3.9% while the national rate was 5%. This means 1,309,268 are in the workforce. That is 5,000 more than the month before.

The Department of Workforce Services says jobs were added in several fields including transportation, hospitality, and construction.

When Arkansans are working their families and our state see the benefit. It increases an individual’s purchasing power which then leads to the creation of more jobs.

The news comes while we are working to improve our state’s infrastructure and our efficiency in this special session. We are expected to adjourn this session on Monday.

The House approved a bill to provide a match to federal highway funds for the next 5 years which will result in $1 billion to improve our roads. The legislation accomplishes the first year’s match by transferring $40 million from the Governor’s Rainy Day Fund, using $1.5 million from investment returns from the state treasurer, diverting $4 million from the diesel tax currently being directed to general revenue, and devoting the entire ½ cent sales tax which voters approved in 2012 to highways. Currently 3% of that tax goes to central services which funds our constitutional offices.

For the following years, the state will direct 25% of all surplus funds to highways. We will continue to direct investment earnings from the state treasury to the highway department. The bill also includes provisions to provide us with more information on projects funded by the Highway Commission.

The House also advanced legislation implementing an expiration date for task forces that either rarely meet or have not met in some time. The efficiency bill also transfers the Arkansas History Commission from Parks and Tourism to the Department of Arkansas Heritage. In addition, this bill streamlines the paperwork process for Children and Family Services workers who oversee foster care cases.

Other legislation presented this session include eliminating a state trust fund for workman’s compensation claims while lowering the taxes for policies paid by businesses.

Currently, this fund assumes the cost of worker’s compensation claims after businesses pay the first $204,000. It is predicted this fund could go bankrupt in 6 to 8 years. This bill would require businesses or their insurance policies to assume all of the claims after June 2019 while lowering their premium tax.

And we approved a measure to put a pause on schools or districts from being declared in academic distress for the 2016-2017 school year. This allows schools time to adjust while a new accountability system is being implemented.

By the end of the first week, the House voted in favor of 12 bills. You can review all of the bills and watch testimony in committees and on the House floor at www.arkansashouse.org
 

 

05/06/2016

The House has wrapped up the state’s 4th Fiscal Session by passing a balanced budget with increases in funding to some of the most urgent needs.

We began this session with discussion and debate on funding Arkansas Works. After that appropriation passed, it was clear the budget for the next year would not require any cuts to state agencies or increase taxes for Arkansans.

The $5.3 billion balanced budget we passed includes a 2.75% spending increase from last year.

The increases include:
• $23.7 million for education
• $88 million for traditional Medicaid and 6 months of funding for Arkansas Works
• $3.5 million for behavioral health programs
• $20 million for foster care programs within DHS
• $2 million for higher education grants
• $1.5 million for economic development
• $4 million for the Department of Correction
• $5.2 million for merit pay adjustment for state employees.

We also approved a fund transfer of $50 million from the state’s surplus to the rainy day fund. And another $13.8 million will be diverted to the rainy day fund during the next fiscal year.

The rainy day fund is intended to be used for emergencies and any needs the Governor may see that cannot wait until the next session.
We plan to use $1 million from this fund to restore cuts that were made last year to library funding statewide. Another $1 million will restore funding to senior centers.

The Governor has also indicated he wants to use a portion of these funds for highways.

He announced on Friday that he will call the legislature back in for a special session to address highway funding on May 19. There are both short term and long term needs when it comes to our infrastructure. It will be up to us to decide if the long term needs should be addressed in this session or wait until the next Regular Session.

You can review the budget we recently passed on our website atwww.arkansashouse.org. In the meantime, we will continue to update you on our approach to improve Arkansas’s highways.
 

04/29/2016

This week, the Joint Budget Committee set aside days for legislators to present proposed changes to appropriations before a final budget is drafted. If adopted, these amendments will be before the full House next week.

Meanwhile, the House continues to pass dozens of appropriations for various agencies as we wind down this fiscal session.

An appropriation gives the agency the authority to spend the money when it becomes available.

It is effective for a one year period beginning in July.

The appropriation specifies which agency receives the money, where the money will come from, and what the money will be used for.

Other bills before us include supplemental appropriations which usually add money to an authority from an accumulated surplus. And we also vote on re-appropriations which allow an agency to spend a balance left over from the previous year.

What is important to remember as we continue this budget process is that just because an agency is given a certain amount for an appropriation does not mean that amount is funded. The funding amount is determined by the Revenue Stabilization Act (RSA) which will be before us next week.

We expect to see increases in education and funding for Children and Family Services to provide for the increasing number of foster care families in our state.

We also know we will be passing another budget without any tax increases or cuts to essential services.

Unlike previous years, adjourning from the Fiscal Session does not give us an extended break. We know very soon we will be asked to reconvene and direct our attention to highway funding. Already, many of us are studying various proposals and what needs are in our districts.

The Governor’s Working Group on Highway Funding Report states that $110 million is needed in the next three years to address the Highway and Transportation Department’s most critical needs.

We will continue to update you on this issue as it develops.

Remember you can watch all House proceedings on our website atwww.arkansashouse.org

04/15/16


This week we have two important updates from the Capitol.


The first is the action taking during our first week of the Fiscal Session. The second update we want to share with you is a new report providing valuable information for parents about every school district in the state.


We convened on Wednesday in the House to begin the budget process for the 2016-2017 Fiscal Year.


The outcome of the budget will largely depend on the passage of SB121.


SB121 is the appropriation bill for services and operating expenses for the Department of Human Services Division of Medical Services.


It includes appropriations for long-term care facilities, AR Kids First, and hospital and medical services. This is also the appropriation to fund the services provided by Arkansas Works, the healthcare insurance program for low-income Arkansans.


This appropriation failed in a vote on the Senate floor. It has now been sent back to the Joint Budget Committee. That committee meets at 9am on Tuesday. The full House will meet again at 1:30 that afternoon.


While, we wait to see how this process will unfold next week we want to also bring your attention to a report released this week grading the performance of our schools.


Each year, the Arkansas Department of Educationpublishes a Performance Report of the state’s schools. This online report provides information about each school, district and the state, including test performance, teacher qualification, retention, discipline and much more. It is designed to help open the lines of communication between schools, parents and the local community.


The A-F grading scale is a widely accepted way to identify how well a student is performing in school, especially on tests and assignments. Beginning in 2015, a school’s performance was evaluated using this same A-F grading scale. The Arkansas Legislature passed Act 696 in 2013 requiring the state to implement an A-F grading scale for schools. It is important to remember when reviewing the grades for the schools that is does not measure how well an individual student or teacher is doing. And during the 2014-15 school year, students took more rigorous tests aligned with more rigorous standards.


We have posted a link to the most reports on our websitewww.arkansashouse.org.


And don’t forget you can always go to the website to find updated information regarding the session and live streaming of our proceedings.