Sunday, December 5, 2021
Home State Representative DeAnn Vaught

State Representative DeAnn Vaught

4th District State Representative

DeAnn Vaught
266 Dairy Road
Horatio, AR  71842
(870) 832-2638
deann.vaught@arkansashouse.org
http://www.arkansashouse.org/district/4


October 24, 2021

There are two big developments this week regarding our state’s economy.

Unemployment in Arkansas continues to decline, and our budget forecast was adjusted to reflect an increase in revenue.

The Arkansas Division of Workforce Services says Arkansas’ unemployment rate decreased two-tenths of a percentage point from 4.2% in August to 4.0% in September.

This is the third month in a row that we have seen a decline in unemployment, and we continue to remain below the national rate of 4.8%.

We were also informed this week of a forecast revision to the general revenue budget. The Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) now says the forecast for Fiscal Year 2022 is $246.2 million more than previously forcasted.

The forecast revision for FY 2023 was also increased to $6.454 billion, which is an increase of $298.5 million over the prior release.

Individual income tax and sales and use tax are the two largest sources of general revenue to the state.

This week, the Governor outlined an income tax cut proposal but added he would not call for a special session the week of October 25 as originally planned.

The Governor’s proposal would lower the top rate from 5.9% to 5.5% in the next year and then lower it to 5.3% by 2024. His proposal also provides a low-income tax break and increases the individual tax credit.

Members continue to review tax cut proposals. It is anticipated that we will be called into a special session for that purpose at a later date.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that nine states have passed reductions in either personal or corporate income tax this year. Several other states are considering proposals.

We will continue to update you on any developments.You can find the latest news from the House of Representatives at www.arkansashouse.org.

October 8, 2021

This week, the House passed legislation outlining new boundaries for Arkansas’ four congressional districts.  HB1982 and SB743 are identical bills that divide the state into the following districts:
The first congressional district includes the counties of Arkansas, Baxter, Boone, Chicot, Clay, Craighead, Crittenden, Cross, Desha, Fulton, Greene, Independence, Izard, Jackson, Lawrence, Lee, Lincoln, Lonoke, Marion, Mississippi, Monroe, Phillips, Poinsett, Prairie, Randolph, St. Francis, Searcy, Sharp, Stone, and Woodruff. It also includes and a portion of Pulaski County.
The second congressional district will include the counties of Cleburne, Conway, Faulkner, Perry, Saline, Van Buren, White, and a large portion of Pulaski County.
The third congressional district will include the counties of Benton, Carroll, Crawford, Madison, Washington, and a portion of Sebastian County.
The fourth congressional district will include Ashley, Bradley, Calhoun, Clark, Cleveland, Columbia, Dallas, Drew, Franklin, Garland, Grant, Hempstead, Hot Spring, Howard, Jefferson, Johnson, Lafayette, Little River, Logan, Miller, Montgomery, Nevada, Newton, Ouachita, Pike, Polk, Pope, Scott, Sevier, Union, Yell and portion of Pulaski and Sebastian Counties.
We have posted the map proposed in the legislation at www.arkansashouse.org.
The bills have now been sent to the Governor’s desk.
This week, the House also passed HB1977 and SB739. These bills state that an employer that requires vaccination or immunization for COVID-19 for its employees shall provide specific exemption processes outlined in the legislation.
The bills state the exemption process shall include options that allow the employee to produce either:
A negative antigen detection test result or molecular diagnostic test result no more than one time per week showing that the employee is not positive for COVID-19; or
Proof of immunity for the virus that causes COVID-19 or its variants, including without limitation the presence of antibodies, T cell response, or proof of a positive COVID-19 or its variants test, on a basis of two times per year from a licensed healthcare provider.
The House will be in recess unless the Speaker called us back to the Capitol to address any errors or consider any vetoes. If we are not called back to the Capitol, the 2021 Regular Session will officially adjourn on October 15th.

October 1, 2021

On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. That equates to more than 10 million women and men.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Communities and advocacy organizations across the country connect with the public and one another throughout the month to raise awareness about the signs of abuse and ways to stop it.

We want to take this time to remind you about the new laws passed this year in an effort to prevent abuse and protect victims.

ACT 800 creates the Arkansas Phoenix Act of 2021, which amends the statute of limitations for offenses involving domestic violence and provides for training to be given to law enforcement officers on additional topics that arise in which domestic violence is suspected.

Act 1068 provides that a court may enter an order enjoining a party from engaging in course of control. The act defines course of control as a pattern of behavior that unreasonably interferes with the free will and personal liberty of a person.

ACT 980 creates a mechanism to protect the address information of victims of domestic violence on all voter registration materials.

Act 913 provides that if a person requests from the Department of Finance and Administration the residence address of a driver’s license holder who participates in the address confidentiality program due to domestic violence, the department shall provide the information only if the person presents a current court order finding a compelling reason and the person has not been convicted of domestic violence against who the order of protection has been entered.

No person should be subjected to the fear, shame, and humiliation that an abusive relationship produces. And leaving those relationships is not easy.

If you are someone you know is impacted by domestic violence, visit www.laurascard.ar.gov today to find resources near you.

September 17, 2021

In the United States, someone dies by suicide approximately every 11.1 minutes, and in Arkansas, on average, every 16 hours.

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10–34 and the 10th leading cause of death overall in the U.S.. The overall suicide rate in the U.S. has increased by 35% since 1999.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. It is a time to raise awareness on this stigmatized and often taboo topic. In addition to shifting public perception, this is also a time to spread hope and vital information to people affected by suicide.

Suicidal thoughts can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or background. In fact, suicide is often the result of an untreated mental health condition. Suicidal thoughts, although common, should not be considered normal and often indicate more serious issues.

During the most recent legislative session, the General Assembly passed Act 802. This legislation created the Arkansas Legislative Study on Mental and Behavioral Health. The act directs the Public Health, Welfare, and Labor Committee to assess the strengths and weaknesses of mental and behavioral health resources and care currently available in Arkansas. The committee will study several related topics, including the utilization of crisis stabilization units, transportation of mental and behavioral health patients, and mental health screenings and suicide prevention measures for students. 

In 2017, the legislature passed an act that ensured Arkansans were answering calls made from Arkansas to the Suicide Prevention Hotline. Now when someone calls the hotline, they are speaking to someone with knowledge of local resources available.

In this session, we strengthened that law when we passed Act 640. This act ensures that the Suicide Prevention Hotline employs individuals who have experience working with veterans.

We’ve posted links to more information regarding suicide prevention, including warning signs and risk factors, at www.arkansashouse.org.

If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911 immediately. If you are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255). 

September 10, 2021

There are three legislative meetings scheduled this month to review proposals for congressional redistricting.

Arkansans are welcome to attend these meetings and comment on the proposals.

The proposals will be outlined in bills drafted by legislators. We have provided a link to the bills at www.arkansashouse.org.

The House and Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committees will be meeting jointly in the MAC building located directly behind the State Capitol.

The schedule will be as follows:

September 20, 2021 (1 p.m.)-Any congressional redistricting bills that have been filed by September 17, 2021, will be taken up by the committees.

September 23, 2021 (1 p.m.) – Any congressional redistricting bills that have been filed by September 21, 2021, will be taken up by the committees.

September 27, 2021 (1 p.m.) – Any congressional redistricting bills that have been filed by September 24, 2021, will be taken up by the committees.

The committees will take no action during these three meetings.

It is anticipated that leadership will call members back into the extended session of the 93rd General Assembly on September 29. That date is subject to change, and we will continue to update you on any developments.

The General Assembly is tasked with only drawing the boundaries of the U.S. House of Representatives districts in Arkansas. The Board of Apportionment is tasked with drawing the state legislative boundaries.

Our state’s population increased by 3.3% since 2010 when we last drew congressional boundaries. Some areas of the state have increased in population more than others. Our task is to redraw those boundaries now to ensure they are as equally populated as possible.

All meetings will be live-streamed and recorded at www.arkansashouse.org.

August 27, 2021

This week, the Arkansas Legislative Council Higher Education Subcommittee reviewed details of a new program designed to benefit Arkansans who have been economically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Reimagine Arkansas Workforce Project provides funding for qualifying individuals to complete online training at no cost in order to meet workforce needs across the state.

The U.S. Department of Education awarded a grant worth over $13 million to the Arkansas Workforce Development Board and the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services to fund the Reimagine Arkansas Workforce Project. Project partners include state agencies, U of A Global Campus Professional and Workforce Development, Shorter College, and iDatafy LLC. The partners expect to serve 3,000 Arkansans.

Arkansans who are unemployed, underemployed, are new to the workforce and/or have no work history, are a member of an underrepresented population, receive public assistance, reside in rural areas, are a veteran, are the spouse of a veteran, are homeless, are 55 years ofage or older, previously incarcerated, have been paroled, or are on probation are encouraged to apply.

Training programs include business, construction, health care, manufacturing, project management, technology, veterinary, and more.

Those working with the program can help participants identify career pathways that may be best for them. They can also assist with resume services and connect participants with potential employers.

This week, we also learned that the unemployment rate in Arkansas declined one-tenth of a percentage point, from 4.4 percent in June to 4.3 percent in July. The national unemployment rate is 5.4%. Job opportunities are abundant right now in our state. We hope the Reimagine Arkansas Workforce Program will help connect more Arkansans to a meaningful career.

 If you are interested in learning more about the program, visit our websitewww.arkansashouse.org.

August 16, 2021

The House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee met on Monday, 8/9/21,  to begin the discussion on the redistricting process for Congressional districts in Arkansas.

Redistricting is the periodic redrawing of district boundaries that elected representatives who serve specific geographic areas.

The periodic updating of districts must be done because, in a series of 1960’s cases, the U.S. Supreme Court held that districts must be equal in population. This is known as the “one-person, one-vote” requirement.

Arkansas code establishes that Arkansas is divided into four congressional districts, and the responsibility for the delineation of congressional districts of the substantially equal population is given to the Arkansas General Assembly.

The Board of Apportionment is responsible for drawing the boundaries of state legislative districts. The Board of Apportionment is comprised of the Governor, the Attorney General, and Secretary of State. The Board of Apportionment is holding meetings across the state, and the list of these events is found at www.arkansasredistricting.org.

On Thursday, the U.S. Census Bureau released its numbers. It shows the population of Arkansas is now 3,011,524, an increase of 3.3% since 2010. Northwest Arkansas saw the most amount of growth in the past decade.

Receiving this data is the first step. A software vendor contracted by the General Assembly will now begin entering the data in a format to allow members to draft potential maps. We expect to return to the Regular Session soon after that process is complete. 

The maps ultimately adopted by the General Assembly must be as nearly equal as possible and must not limit the right to vote of any racial minority.

All legislative meetings regarding redistricting are open to the public, and there is time set aside for public comment.

You can also watch the meetings live and recorded on our website www.arkansashouse.org.

August 7, 2021

This week, House members convened in the House Chamber for two orders of business.

In accordance with ACT 403 of the Regular Session, the House convened as a committee of the whole on Tuesday, August 4, to consider whether to terminate the Governor’s July 29, 2021 declaration of a statewide public health emergency.

When it was determined that no concurrent resolutions had been filed in the House and that one resolution filed in the Senate had been withdrawn, the House adjourned its committee of the whole. Since no resolution was adopted by the General Assembly, the Governor’s declaration remains in effect for 60 days.

The House convened on Wednesday, August 4, for an Extraordinary Session.
The Governor called for the session primarily for two purposes.
The first item on the call was to allow public school boards and open enrollment charter schools to implement masking protocols for children under 12. Children under 12 are currently not eligible to receive the vaccine for COVID-19.
The second purpose listed on the call was to concur with the Governor’s decision to terminate the state’s participation in federal pandemic unemployment compensation program often referred to as PUA.
In response, to the call the House considered two pieces of legislation
HB1001 outlines the General Assembly’s concurrence with the termination of PUA in Arkansas.
This bill passed in the House with a vote of  74-17-0

HB1003 stated that a public school district can mandate the use of a face mask, shield, or other face covering only with approval of the school board and if the district or area served by an open-enrollment charter school has a fourteen-day COVID-19 infection rate of at least 50 new known infections per 10,000 residents of the public school district based on the most recent data published by the Department of Health or the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement. Currently, 100 school districts meet that criteria.

HB1003 outlined certain exemptions and limits such mandates to 60 days. This bill underwent Committee review, but did not advance to the House floor. The House adjourned the special session on Friday, August 6.

We will continue to update you on the actions of the General Assembly regarding the current emergency.

All of our meetings are streamed live and archived on our website www.arkansashouse.org.

August 2, 2021

Members are scheduled to return to the House Chamber next week.
On Tuesday, August 3, we will convene as a Committee of the Whole to address the Governor’s recent state of emergency proclamation.
Citing an increase in infections and hospitalizations due to the Delta Variant of COVID-19, the Governor declared a statewide public health emergency on July 29.
Legislation passed in the 2021 Regular Session now requires the General Assembly to convene.
Under Act 403, if the Governor declares a statewide state of disaster emergency related to public health, the House of Representatives and the Senate shall each convene as a committee of the whole within eight business days of the declaration to vote upon and debate any concurrent resolution to terminate the declaration.
Act 403 states the emergency shall not continue for longer than 60 days unless renewed by the Governor, so long as the Legislative Council does not vote to deny the request for renewal.  The act provides that if the Governor notifies the Legislative Council of his desire to renew a statewide state of disaster emergency related to public health, he may also request the renewal of an executive order or proclamation issued to meet or mitigate dangers to the people and property of the state presented or threatened by a statewide state of disaster emergency related to public health.
The Governor also announced he is calling for a special session to make changes to Act 1002.
Act 1002 passed during the 2021 Regular Session. It ends mandatory face-covering requirements not imposed by a private business or state-owned or state-controlled healthcare facility and prohibits a state agency or entity, political subdivision of the state, or a state or local official from mandating a face mask, face shield, or other face covering. The Governor indicated any proposed changes would focus on allowing individual school boards to implement mask policies.
We will continue to update you on any proposed legislation or schedules for the special session.
You can watch the proceedings live on our website at www.arkansashouse.org.

July 24, 2021

This week, a subcommittee of Arkansas Legislative Council that provides oversight for Arkansas Game and Fish and Arkansas State Police heard from Arkansas State Police Director Col. Bill Bryant regarding recent successes and challenges facing state troopers.

His testimony alerted us to some startling statistics regarding an increase in aggressive driving and fatal accidents in our state.

In 2018, the Arkansas State Police Highway Patrol Division conducted 520 crash investigations involving fatal injuries. In 2019, the number was 505.

But in 2020, that number increased by 27% to 641 deaths. Col. Bryant says 14% of those crashes documented excessive speed of the vehicle as a contributing factor.

So far this year, the division says they have conducted investigations of accidents resulting in more than 330 deaths.

The number of citations related to acts of aggressive driving is also on the rise. 

In 2019, there were 1,064 citations issues. In 2020, there were 2,030 citations issued.

So far this year, Arkansas State Police have issued more than 2,380 citations with some documented speeds as high as 160 miles per hour.

Aggressive driving incidents have included acts of violence documented by troopers assigned to the Arkansas State Police Highway Patrol Division and investigated by Special Agents of the department’s Criminal Investigation Division. Colonel Bryant testified the troopers and special agents confirm an explicit increase in incidents of gunfire involving motorists shooting at and into other vehicles traveling along Arkansas highways.

The Arkansas State Police Highway Patrol Division commanders are proactive with respect to patrol assignments to combat the incidents of aggressive driving and ensuring saturated patrols dedicated to speed enforcement are regularly occurring.

The division is dedicating the use of the department’s aircraft to monitor broad sections of U.S. and state highway traffic. The troopers operating these aircraft are in radio communication with ground patrols, providing them with speed and reckless driving observations, directing these highway patrol ground vehicles to specific locations where the violations are being observed.

Each highway patrol division troop commander has immediate access to deploy low profile patrol vehicles with minimal Arkansas State Police markings and different colors, unlike the white with blue stripe markings motorists are accustomed to seeing. These vehicles blend into traffic, allowing troopers a better perspective to identify speeding and dangerous driving and take immediate enforcement action.

While we continue to look for ways to support our law enforcement further, there are some ways every Arkansan can help keep our roads safer.

Arkansans are encouraged to let the troopers know they’re appreciated for what they’re doing to keep local highways safe. Likewise, citizens should speak up and let the troopers know where they are witnessing regular incidents of lawlessness on the highways. Citizens shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to the commanders at these local headquarters. Arkansas motorists traveling across the state are encouraged to call 9-1-1 and ask to be connected to the nearest state police headquarters to report incidents of dangerous driving they witness on U.S. and state highways.

A listing of the twelve Highway Patrol Division Troop Headquarters, including local telephone numbers and points of contact, can be found on our website www.arkansashouse.org.

July 2, 2021

Arkansas started a new fiscal year this week, and final reports for the previous year give us an optimistic outlook about the future of our economy.
Fiscal Year 2021 ended on June 30. We began Fiscal Year 2022 on July 1.
Results from collections and distributions for FY2021 reached $6.845 billion. This is $1.09 billion or 19% above prior-year results.
The collections fully funded the Revenue Stabilization Act for the Fiscal Year 2021 and left a surplus of $945.7 million. The fiscal year ended above forecast in all major categories of collections and above year-ago levels. The Department of Finance and Administration says there are several contributing factors.
The deadline for individual income taxes was extended last year to July. Payroll withholding tax exceeded expectations amid a faster rebound in the state economy. Sales tax exceeded expectations from the combined factors of an economic rebound, stimulus transfers, and growth in online marketplace sales.
The state’s most significant sources of revenue come from individual income tax and sales and use tax.
•• Individual income tax collections totaled $3.97 billion. That is $550 million or 16.1% above FY2020.
•• Sales and Use collections totaled $2.88 billion. That is $340 million or 13.4% above FY2020.
•• Corporate Income Taxes totaled $651.9 million. That is an increase of $169.8 million or 35.2% above FY2020.
This week, the Governor authorized the Department of Finance and Administration to increase the state forecast for FY2021 by $213 million.
This increase allowed for $86.6 million to be diverted to the Medicaid trust fund. That brings the balance of the trust fund to more than $600 million, ensuring that there are adequate funds for the healthcare of low-income Arkansans.
After the revised forecast, the state’s Long-Term Reserve Fund has a balance of $1.22 billion.
The Governor has indicated he will call a special session this fall to address future tax cuts. We will continue to update you on any developments.

June 27, 2021

There are currently 58,000 Arkansans who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It is estimated that 67,000 will be diagnosed by 2025.

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, an opportunity to hold a conversation about the brain, and share the fact that Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are a major public health issue.

In 2019, there were 1,507 deaths from Alzheimer’s in Arkansas. That’s a 250% increase since the year 2000. It is now the 6th leading cause of death in the state.

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases.

Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. The greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older. Alzheimer’s disease is considered to be younger-onset Alzheimer’s if it affects a person under 65.

More than 6 million Americans are now living with Alzheimer’s.

The cost of caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is estimated to total $355 billion in 2021.

In the most recent legislative session, the General Assembly addressed this health issue when it passed Act 391.

Act 391 creates the Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Advisory Council. The council will examine the needs of individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, services available in the state for patients and their family caregivers, and the ability of healthcare providers and facilities to meet the current and future needs. The council will make findings and recommendations in an annual report known as the State Alzheimer’s Plan.

Growing evidence indicates that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline by adopting key lifestyle habits. When possible, combine these habits to achieve maximum benefit for the brain and body. We’ve provided links to more information on our website at www.arkansashouse.org.

06/19/2021

This week, the Arkansas Legislative Council Highway Commission Review and Advisory Subcommittee reviewed a presentation regarding Arkansas’ inland waterways.
This year marks 50 years of service from the McClellan‐Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. The system serves a 12 state region and provides a cost-effective form of transportation to Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and surrounding states.
The anniversary reminds us of the importance of our waterways and our duty to ensure this infrastructure is well maintained. Arkansas’s inland waterways system is vital to our economic growth. The inland waterways efficiently, sustainably, and cost-effectively transport critical commodities like agricultural goods, energy products, building materials, and industrial chemicals.
Arkansas has over 1,860 miles of navigable inland waterways, ranking it third in the nation. Arkansas’ inland waterway assets include the Mississippi, Arkansas, Ouachita, Red, and White Rivers. The waterways account for $4.4 billion in gross state product and contribute more than $270 million in state and local tax revenue. The Mississippi River is the main trade corridor for goods produced in the northern part of the U.S. traveling to gateway ports near the Gulf of Mexico. As trade between the U.S. and Latin America grows, the importance of Arkansas waterways and the strategic location of the state will enhance manufacturing and distribution opportunities.
There are 11 public ports in the state. Arkansas’ ports, inland waterways, and inland waterways-dependent industries support more than 50,000 jobs.
The waterways can often be the most economical choice for transportation. One standard 15-barge tow moves the equivalent of 216 rail cars or 1,050 trucks. Waterborne transportation requires significantly less fuel than rail or trucks.
The Arkansas Waterways Commission is the sole state agency responsible for developing, promoting, and protecting waterborne transportation in Arkansas.
You can find more information about our waterways system on their website at www.waterways.arkansas.gov.

06/12/2021

This week, we would like to remind families of an upcoming scholarship deadline. July 1 is the deadline to apply for the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship.
The scholarship provides tuition assistance to traditional and non-traditional students attending universities and two-year colleges – both public and private – in the state.
Freshman students at four-year colleges receive $1,000 from the scholarship. Second- and third-year students receive $4,000, and senior-level students are awarded $5,000 per year.
At two-year colleges, first-year students receive $1,000 annually, while second-year students are awarded $3,000. To maintain eligibility, students must keep a 2.5-grade point average.
Traditional students must score at least 19 on the ACT to qualify for the scholarship. The latest ACT score accepted by the Arkansas Division of Higher Education will be from the June testing. Students who have yet to achieve a score of 19 make take the Accuplacer test as a substitute.
Since its inception in 2009, the Arkansas lottery has helped raise more than $1 billion in scholarship proceeds and awarded more than 650,000 Academic Challenge Scholarships to students.
The lottery also funds the Arkansas Workforce Challenge Scholarship and the Arkansas Concurrent Challenge Scholarships.
Students seeking certification for high-demand occupations in healthcare information technology and industrial manufacturing may apply for the Arkansas Workforce Challenge Scholarship.
And funding is available for high school students who wish to start early on receiving credit for college courses through the Arkansas Concurrent Academic Challenge Scholarship.
Every bit of education you get after high school increases the chances you’ll earn good pay. Most college graduates earn more money during their working years than people who stop their education at high school earn. The more education you get, the more likely it is you will always have a job.
For more information and to apply, visit scholarships.adhe.edu.

06/05/21

Tourism in Arkansas is making a big comeback.  While the pandemic severely impacted the industry in 2020, there are signs that tourism is rebounding and doing better than before the health emergency began.
The tourism tax collections for March 2021 exceeded collections from March 2019 by 14.6%. From mountain biking adventures to world-class art museums, Arkansas destinations play an essential role in our economy.
Before the pandemic, travel-supported jobs represented 6.6% of Arkansas’s total private industry employment. We also know that 8.4 jobs are created for every $1million spent on tourism in our state.
That is why every session, we consider legislation to improve the industry.
In the most recent session, we passed Act 777, An Act to Establish the Arkansas Cultural Institutions Trust Fund Act. This legislation directs the Division of Arkansas Heritage to promulgate rules for the distribution of grants to non-profit organizations that acquire or exhibit works of art or works of cultural or historical significance.
Act 840 allows the Division of Heritage to issue up to $8 million in historic rehabilitation income tax credits each year. The current maximum amount of credits given is $4 million.
We passed Act 652, which allows for dynamic pricing at state parks.
The division may increase or decrease approved rates charged for lodging, camping, events, services, and all other accommodations using a dynamic pricing strategy based on market forces such as seasonal variation in demand, occupancy, market analysis, and special event interest to maximize revenues from the use of state resources to promote the fiscal soundness and long-term sustainability.
The legislature also created the Arkansas Legislative Arts and Technology Boot Camp with Act 577. The camp will issue a final written report, including an inventory of Arkansas’s statewide arts and cultural assets, and identify funding needs to maintain a statewide database.
Arkansas is home to experiences and attractions found nowhere else. We encourage you to explore everything our state has to offer this summer.

05/29/21

Directly behind the Capitol stands a monument honoring those Arkansas families who sacrificed more than most. The Gold Star Family Memorial Monument reminds us daily here at the Capitol that without those sacrifices, our freedom could not and would not have been preserved.
Arkansas has citizens in nearly every community willing to make such sacrifices. Whether they volunteered, served during peacetime, or never expected to serve until their draft card arrived, those who wear our nation’s uniform represent the best America has to offer.
Honoring our veterans with words alone falls terribly short if we do not bring those words to life by honoring them equally with our deeds.
We can always offer our support. We can place flags and wreaths at their graves. We can donate to charities that provide for their families.
Business owners can offer a special veteran discount.  We can volunteer at the VA hospital or pick up the tab for the table with a soldier at a restaurant.
We can also honor the lives lost by remembering and retelling their stories.
We can recognize their sacrifices by taking care of their comrades who served.  In the Arkansas legislature, we strived to do just that.  In recent years, we’ve eliminated taxes on military retirement and survivor benefits. And just this year, we established the Arkansas Military Affairs Council Act and Military Affairs Grant Program. The council will work with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission to promote and support military installations for state and local economic development.
President Franklin Roosevelt once said, “Those who have enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy, forget in time that men have died to win them.”
May we all remember them this Memorial Day and commit to living a life every day worthy of their sacrifice.

05/22/21

This week, we want to direct your attention to a program that could help Arkansans struggling to pay rent and utilities due to the pandemic.

The Arkansas Rent Relief Program offers financial help to pay overdue and upcoming rent and utilities for eligible Arkansas renters. Landlords who have tenants unable to pay their rent because of lost income or the COVID-10 pandemic also may apply.  The state of Arkansas has $173 million of federal funding for the Arkansas Rent Relief Program. Once an application is approved, money would go directly to landlords and utility companies.

The program covers overdue rent plus up to 5 percent of late fees dating back to April 1, 2020. It also covers overdue utility bills for gas, water, and electricity. This program does not cover overdue phone or internet bills.

Future rent owed through December 31, 2021, is also covered. Renters can apply for up to three months of future rent at a time.

You may qualify for help paying your rent and utilities if:

•      Someone in your home qualifies for unemployment benefits OR

•      Your household income decreased during the pandemic OR

•      Someone in your home suffered significant financial hardship due to the pandemic (i.e. lost a job, has extensive medical bills) AND

•      You meet income eligibility based on the residing county (Area Median Income) and the number of people in your home. A chart of Area Median Income by county is below.

Arkansans renting in Benton, Pulaski and Washington counties are asked to apply directly through their county programs. Those links and a complete list of required documents to apply can be found on the DHS website www.ar.gov/rentrelief.

Call 855.RENTARK (855.736.8275) if you need help submitting your application or have questions. Representatives are available Monday – Friday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday – Sunday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. DHS also has partnered with community organizations statewide that can help you submit your application.

May 7, 2021

From when you can drive in the left lane to regulating autonomous cars, the 93rd General Assembly made several changes to laws regarding our roadways.

This week, we want to update you on these upcoming changes.

Act 1090 states a vehicle shall not be driven upon the left lane of a multilane highway, except as follows: 

(1) When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction under the rules governing that movement.

(2) When all other lanes for traveling in the same direction are closed to traffic while under construction or repair.

(3) When all other lanes for traveling in the same direction are in disrepair or are in an otherwise unsafe condition.

(4) When a vehicle is preparing to exit the multilane highway on the left.

 Act 264 amends the law concerning the unlawful passing of a school bus. It states drivers must come to a complete stop no less than 30 feet from the bus when it stops to load or unload passengers. This 30 feet perimeter would apply to public roads, private or public property open to the general public, and any driveway or parking lot belonging to a public school.

 Act 1061 states that a person commits the crime of felony racing on a public highway if he or she is drag racing on a public highway and impedes or stops the flow of traffic or is part of a gathering of 10 or more individuals engaging in the same behavior. Felony racing on a public highway is a Class D felony. 

 Act 558 makes leaving the scene of an accident with injuries a Class D felony. However, if there are serious physical injuries or death, the offender would be charged with a Class B felony.

 Act 619 establishes parameters with the Arkansas Department of Transportation for operating autonomous vehicles.

 Other transportation legislation passed this year include the following:

 Act 504-This removes licensing requirements for a motor vehicle salesperson and a recreational vehicle salesperson. This bill also creates the Automotive Technologist Education Grant Program. The Division of Career and Technical Education may then award grants for training in automotive repair and technology.

 Act 160-This bill states that if a driver who operates a commercial motor vehicle is convicted of using the commercial motor vehicle in the commission of a felony involving human trafficking, the driver shall be disqualified from operating a commercial motor vehicle for life.

 Act 376-This bill amends the additional fees required to register a hybrid vehicle. The new fees for hybrid vehicles will be reduced from $100 to $50 starting January 1, 2022. Fees for electric vehicles will be $200, and the fees for a plug-in hybrid elective vehicle will be $100.

 Act 1067-This bill states that a person operating a bicycle upon a crosswalk shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and give an audible signal before overtaking and passing a pedestrian.

 Act 926-This bill allows the operation of a personal delivery device in pedestrian areas and certain streets.

 Act 908-This bill would give Arkansans up to 24 months to take the driving portion of a driver’s test after passing the written portion of the exam. Currently, Arkansans are only given 12 months before they have to re-take the written exam.

 Act 913-This bill exempts domestic violence victims from having their residential address disclosed on a driver’s license. 

 Act 1093-This bill exempts certain types of vehicles such as golf carts and low-speed vehicles from the additional fee for electric and hybrid cars.

 Act 328-This bill exempts those with special military and veteran license plates from paying a fee for electric and hybrid cars.

 Act 538-This bill creates an exception allowing certain devices such as a trailer hitch, wheelchair lift, or bicycle rack to obscure a license plate.

 Act 871-This bill increases the maximum height of a vehicle authorized to operate on a state highway from 13’6” to 14’.

 Act 754-This bill requires drivers to stop at railroad tracks for any on-track equipment as they would stop for a train.

 Act 784-This bill states the maximum fine that can be imposed for a seat belt violation is $45.

 You can find other legislative summaries on our website www.arkansashouse.org.

April 27,2021

With a vote of 94-2, the House passed HB1949, an Act to Amend the Revenue Stabilization Law.
This bill outlines general revenue distribution for Fiscal Year 2021. While decreasing state spending overall, the bill does provide increases for education, Medicaid, and corrections.
The House also passed the following:
SB673-This bill amends the Statutory Foreclosure Act of 1987. It states that any claims or defenses for a violation of the compliance requirements shall be asserted within 30 days of the foreclosure sale to ensure the finality of sales.
HB1943-This bill reduces the sentence classification from a felony to a misdemeanor for certain offenses concerning altering an identification document.
SB612-This bill would allow children to testify remotely by video conferencing in certain court cases.
SB615-This bill states that a state agency or a state or local official shall not require an individual to use a vaccine passport in this state for any purpose.  It also states the use of a vaccine passport shall not be a condition for entry, travel, education, or services.
The House will convene on Tuesday at 10 am.

April 22, 2021

House members are now reviewing the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2022. The Revenue Stabilization Act (RSA) categorizes and prioritizes state spending. It is typically one of the last items passed every session. We have posted the proposal at www.arkansashouse.org .

Meanwhile the House passed more than 20 bills today including the following:

SB564-This bill creates the Arkansas Tutoring Corps Act. It allows the Department of Education to develop a program to identify qualified tutors and a curriculum to support elementary students in reading and math. The bill states that data suggests that learning loss suffered as a result of the pandemic will be substantial, particularly for the state’s most vulnerable students.

SB629-This bill will allow a school district with declining enrollment to receive both declining enrollment funding and special needs isolated funding.

SB680-This bill creates a tax credit for eligible contributions made to a scholarship-granting organization under the Philanthropic Investment in Arkansas Kids Program Act. This legislation would allow a student who has an annual family income less than or equal to 200% of the federal poverty level to receive an educational scholarship that covers all or part of the tuition and fees at a private school.

The scholarships would equal 80% of foundation funding for students in K-8 and 90% of foundation funding for high school students. The total amount of tax credits awarded in a year shall not exceed $2 million.

SB450-This bill states that members of the male sex are prohibited from an interscholastic, intercollegiate, intramural, or club athletic team or sport that is expressly designated for females, women, or girls. The bill also states the Attorney General may bring a cause of action for injunctive relief and any other relief available under the law against an entity that does not comply.

HB1761-This bill states that a public school or an open-enrollment charter school shall not express, depict, or teach about race or ethnicity in a manner that prevents or inhibits fair and open discourse that employs reason as a guide for deliberation in the exchange of ideas and opposing points of view.

SB248-This bill creates the Food Freedom Act by exempting certain producers of homemade food or drink products from licensure, certification, and inspection.

SB606-This bill would give Arkansans up to 24 months to take the driving portion of a driver’s test after passing the written portion of the exam. Currently, Arkansans are only given 12 months before they have to re-take the written exam.

SB26-This bill would reduce the sales and use tax on coal if used in manufacturing.

The House will convene on Thursday at 1 pm.

April 20, 20201

With a vote of 78-15 and 3 members voting present, the House passed SB55. This bill is the appropriation for Medicaid and the Medicaid expansion program now known as ARHOME.

The House also passed the following bills on Tuesday:

HB1912-This bill would reduce the sales tax from 6.5% to 3.5% on used cars priced from $4,000-$10,000.

SB498-This bill states that following a written complaint concerning any election law violation or irregularity to the county board of election commissioners, the written complaint shall be sent by the county board of election commissioners to the State Board of Election Commissioners for evaluation. Currently, the complaints are directed to the county clerk or prosecuting attorney.

SB557-This bill gives county election boards the power to supervise all election officials.

SB576-This bill states that each school district and open-enrollment public charter school shall have a policy detailing how a record of pupil attendance shall be kept for public school students who attend school via virtual or remote learning programs.

SB543-This bill extends tax credits for waste reduction, reuse, or recycling equipment by steel manufacturers.

SB553-This bill states that a historical monument shall not be relocated, vandalized, damaged, destroyed, removed, altered, renamed, rededicated, or otherwise disturbed.  It defines a historical monument as a statue, memorial, gravestone plate, plaque, or historic flag display that is located on public property and was installed or dedicated in honor of a historical person, historical event, public service organization, firefighter, police officer, military organization, or military unit.

SB590-This bill states that a state agency, a political subdivision of the state, or a state or local official shall not mandate an individual in this state to use a face mask, face shield, or other face covering. It also states that the General Assembly reserves the right to enact legislation regarding the mandatory use of face masks, face shields, or other face coverings.

SB355-This bill states that if a lottery winner wins more than $500,000, he or she may keep their identity confidential.

The House will convene on Wednesday at 1 pm.

April 19, 2021

The House passed two bills today which would create new tax credits.

HB1719 creates the Reboot Pilot Program. It would provide income tax credits for employers who hire former felony offenders who were released from his or her first term of incarceration in the last year. The maximum amount of this credit is $3,000.

HB1456 creates an income tax in an amount equal to 50% of an eligible railroad track maintenance expenditures. The maximum amount of the credit is $5,000 per mile of track.

The House also passed the following:

HB1746-This bill would allow registered hairstylists to shampoo, blow-dry, and perform simple styling without a cosmetology license if they are under the supervision of licensed cosmetologists.

HB1848-This bill creates the Healthy Active Arkansas Schools Act. It would require the Department of Education to work with the Department of Health to develop guidelines for public schools and open-enrollment charter schools to address healthy eating and increased physical activity.

HB1870-This bill would require the biological father of a child to pay 50% of pregnancy and childbirth expenses incurred by the child’s mother.

The House will convene on Tuesday at 1 pm.

April 12, 2021

With a vote of 65-26 and 5 members voting present, the House passed SB622 on Monday.

This bill states that a person who commits a serious felony involving violence is subject to serve at least 80% of his or her sentence if the state proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the person committed the crime under an aggravating circumstance.

Aggravating circumstance under this bill means a defendant purposely selected the victim because the victim was a member of or was associated with a recognizable and identifiable group or class who share mental, physical, biological, cultural, political, or religious beliefs or characteristics.

The House also passed the following:

HB1160-This bill would increase the sales tax exemption on used motor vehicles. Currently, used cars sold for under $4,000 are exempt from sales tax. This would increase the threshold to $7,500.

HB1779-This bill requires the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to identify state agency positions that have been vacant for two or more years.

It also states that a state agency shall not fill or otherwise utilize a position identified by OPM without the prior approval of the Legislative Council or the Joint Budget Committee if the General Assembly is in session.

HB1831-This bill creates the Star Spangled Banner Act, which directs school districts to adopt a policy requiring public schools and state-supported institutions of higher education to broadcast “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the commencement of each school-sanctioned sporting event.

HB1832-This bill would require public schools to observe a moment of silence following the daily Pledge of Allegiance.

SB153-This bill states the initial licensing fees associated with the formation of a business in this state shall be waived for low-income Arkansans.

The House will convene on Tuesday at 1 pm.

April 9, 2021

By the end of the 13th week of the 2021 Regular Session, more than 600 bills were signed into law.

This week, the House voted in favor of a bill temporarily changing the deadline for filing and paying state income tax. SB593 extends the deadline this year to May 17, aligning the date with the recent extension issued for filing federal income tax.

The also House voted in favor of the following bills addressing law enforcement, mental health, alcohol sales, and education:

Law Enforcement:

HB1865-This bill requires all law enforcement officers in the state to complete annual training related to a law enforcement officer’s duty to intervene if the law enforcement officer observes the use of excessive force by another law enforcement officer.

HB1680-This bill states law enforcement agencies must assist a law enforcement officer involved in a critical incident in obtaining services that may help the officer recover from psychological effects.

Mental Health:

HB1689-This bill will create an Arkansas Legislative Study on Mental and Behavioral Health.

SB27-This bill requires the Arkansas Department of Health to ensure that the Suicide Prevention Hotline employs individuals who have experience working with veterans or are veterans.

Alcohol Sales/Service Industry:

HB1748-This bill states that a referendum election to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sunday may be called by a city or county if the governing body adopts a resolution by a two-thirds majority vote.

SB479-This bill states that a restaurant with a valid alcoholic beverage permit from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division (ABC) may expand its outdoor dining availability with approval from the municipality or county’s local government zoning authority, which it is located without obtaining prior approval from the ABC. This bill also allows restaurants to remit sales taxes in quarterly payments rather than monthly for the next year.

Education:

SB160-This bill states that in the 2022-2023 school year, Holocaust education shall be taught in all public schools in a manner that generates an understanding of the causes, course, and effects of the Holocaust.

SB524-This bill states that by August 1, 2022, each public school district and open-enrollment public charter school in the state shall prepare a three-year teacher and administrator recruitment and retention plan. The plan should include goals for recruitment and retention of teachers and administrators of minority races and ethnicities who increase diversity among the district staff and, at a minimum, reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the district’s students.

SB394-This bill states that a public school district or open-enrollment charter school shall conduct a comprehensive school safety audit every three years to assess the safety, security, accessibility, and emergency preparedness of district buildings and grounds in collaboration with local law enforcement, fire, and emergency management officials.

HB1794-This bill creates the Licensed Practical Nurse Pathway Pilot Program. It states that the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, in consultation with the Division of Higher Education, shall establish and implement a program in which high school students may enroll in undergraduate courses required to obtain a diploma or certificate of completion as a licensed practical nurse by the date on which the public school student graduates or within a reasonable frame of time after the public school student graduates.

HB1701-This bill states that a teacher of a K-12 science class at a public school or open-enrollment public charter school may teach creationism as a theory.

The House convenes again on Monday at 1 pm. You can find a complete list of agendas and links to live streams at www.arkansashouse.org.

April 8, 2021

On Thursday, the House HB1865 which requires all law enforcement officers in the state to complete annual training related to a law enforcement officer’s duty to intervene if the law enforcement officer observes the use of excessive force by another law enforcement officer.

The House also passed the following:

HB1811-This bill would require towing companies to post information about vehicles in their possession on a website sponsored and managed by the Arkansas Towing and Recovery Board.

HB1749-This bill states that an employee of a public school shall not be required to use a pronoun, title, or other words to identify a public school student as male or female that is inconsistent with the public school student’s biological sex.

HB1748-This bill states a referendum election to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sunday may be called by a city or county if the governing body adopts a resolution by a two-thirds majority vote.

SB550-This bill limits the cost of in-state calls from Division of Correction inmates to an amount no more than the per-minute cost of an interstate inmate telephone call as determined by the Federal Communications Commission as of January 1, 2021.

SB479-This bill states that a restaurant with a valid alcoholic beverage permit from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division (ABC) may expand its outdoor dining availability with approval from the local government zoning authority of the municipality or county in which it is located without obtaining prior approval from the ABC. This bill also allows restaurants to remit sales taxes in quarterly payments rather than monthly for the next year.

The House will convene on Monday at 1 pm

April 7, 2021

On Tuesday, the House passed the following:

HB1388-This bill states that in an adoption proceeding concerning a minor who is not in the custody of the Department of Human Services, a prospective adoptive parent may voluntarily enter into a written agreement with a birth parent concerning post-adoption exchange of information, communication, or other contact between the birth parent and the minor.

HB1728-This bill states the use of campaign funds to pay a candidate’s childcare expenses shall not be considered a taking of campaign funds as personal income if the campaign funds are used to pay for childcare for time the candidate is engaging in campaign activity and the childcare expenses would not exist in the absence of the campaign.

SB160-This bill states that in the 2022-2023 school year, Holocaust education shall be taught in all public schools in a manner that generates an understanding of the causes, course, and effects of the Holocaust. The bill states the lesson must also develops dialogue with students on the ramifications of bullying, bigotry, stereotyping, and discrimination.

SB394-This bill states that a public school district or open-enrollment charter school shall conduct a comprehensive school safety audit every 3 years to assess the safety, security, accessibility, and emergency preparedness of district buildings and grounds in collaboration with local law enforcement, fire, and emergency management officials.

SB27-This bill requires the Arkansas Department of Health to ensure that the Suicide Prevention Hotline employs individuals who have experience working with veterans or are veterans.

SB524-This bill states that by August 1, 2022, each public school district and open-enrollment public charter school in the state shall prepare a three-year teacher and administrator recruitment and retention plan. The plan should include goals for recruitment and retention of teachers and administrators of minority races and ethnicities who increase diversity among the district staff and, at a minimum, reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the district’s students.

HB1743-This bill amends the Digital Product and Motion Picture Industry Development Act of 2009 to allow production companies a choice of applying for either a rebate or tax credit with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

SB474-This bill creates the offenses of fertility treatment abuse and fertility treatment fraud.

The House will convene on Wednesday at 1 pm.

March 22, 2021

In the 10th week of the 2021 Regular Session, the House passed several bills focusing on improved education.

Once enacted, these bills would increase funding for our public schools, raise teacher salaries, and require every high school student to complete a computer science course.

HB1677 raises the foundation funding amount for public schools from the current $6,899 per student to $7,182 per student for the next school year. It increases the amount for the 2022-2023 school year to $7,349 per student. The bill also outlines enhanced funding amounts for school districts where a large majority of students qualify for the national school lunch program. This bill will now be considered by the Senate Education Committee. 

This week, the House also addressed teacher salaries. While the 92nd General Assembly worked to improve the minimum teacher salary, our teachers continue to make less than those surrounding states when it comes to the average salary. The current average salary for teachers is $49,822.

HB1614 seeks to raise the average salary by creating the Teacher Salary Equalization Fund. The bill outlines a statewide target average of $51,822 for the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years. This bill would direct the Department of Education to disperse money from the Equalization Fund to districts whose average teacher salary falls below $51,822.

The House voted 97-0 in favor of HB1614. The bill is now before the Senate Education Committee.

Meanwhile, another education bill is making its way to the Governor’s desk. 

The House passed SB107, which requires students entering the ninth grade class of 2022-2023 to earn one credit in a computer science course before graduation. SB107 states that beginning with the 2023-2024 school year, a public school district shall employ a computer science teacher at each high school.

The House also passed two other education bills this week, HB1451 and HB 1594. 

HB1451 allows a public school district to adopt a bilingual program or a dual-immersion program approved by the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education.

HB1594 allows the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education to grant a teaching license to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients who have completed the necessary requirements.

You can find summaries of other legislation passed this week as well recorded meetings, links to live streams, and committee agendas at www.arkansashouse.org.

March 17, 2021

More than 370 bills have been signed into law so far during the 2021 Regular Session.
The House passed the following bills Tuesday afternoon:
HB1451-This bill allows a public school district to adopt a bilingual program or a dual-immersion program approved by the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education.
HB1594-This bill allows the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education to grant a teaching license to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients who have completed the necessary requirements.
SB382-This bill allows private, nonprofit two-year or four-year higher education institutions to be approved institutions under the Arkansas Future Grant Program.
HB1402-This bill amends the Abortion-Inducing Drug Safety Act. It states that physicians providing an abortion-inducing drug shall be credentialed and competent to handle abortion complication management, including emergency transfer, or have a signed agreement with an associated physician who is credentialed to handle abortion complications. It also states physicians must first examine the pregnant woman in person.
HB1136-This bill requires physicians attending to pregnant women to screen for Hepatitis C during their patient’s pregnancy.
HB1497-This bill expands the permitted use of a certified facility dog for vulnerable witnesses. Currently, certified dogs can be used in the courtroom to be present with children who testify in sexual abuse cases. This bill would allow the certified dogs to be present with children who are victims of sexual abuse while they are in a child advocacy center or prosecutor’s office. The bill also allows the dogs to be used with individuals who have an intellectual or developmental disability.
SB290-This bill states that a healthcare insurer shall ensure that an individual’s cost-sharing requirement of a diagnostic examination is no less favorable than the cost-sharing requirement that is applicable to a screening examination for breast cancer.
The House will convene on Wednesday at 1 pm.

March 12, 2021

More than 320 bills have been signed into law during the 2021 Regular Session. There are several hundred bills still making their way through the legislative process.
This week, House members voted on legislation impacting education, healthcare, voting, and much more.
The following bills passed the House during the 9th week of the session:
HB1633-This bill requires a city of first class to establish a city police department and provide the department with proper resources.
HB1416-This bill is intended to encourage home-based entrepreneurship. It outlines what restrictions local governments can and cannot place on home-based businesses.
HB1517-This bill states that the Secretary of State shall prepare and administer electronic voter registration application forms.
HB1349-This bill creates the Every Arkansan Retirement Plan Opportunity Act. It outlines a voluntary plan for employers without a current retirement plan offered to their employees.
HB1570-This bill prohibits healthcare professionals from providing gender transition procedures to any individual under 18 years of age.
HB1510-This bill requires a school district board of directors and local law enforcement agencies to adopt a memorandum of understanding governing school resource officers. It also requires school resource officers to complete specialized training.
HB1429-This bill reduces the waiting period from after a parent or guardian withdraws their child from a school district to enroll to begin home-school. The waiting period is currently 14 days. This bill reduces it to 5 school days.
HB1522-This bill states that no person applying to be placed on a ballot for any public office shall knowingly provide false information with reference to his or her qualifications. It creates a misdemeanor offense for providing false statements by a candidate.
HB1323-This bill allows for the prosecution to display an in-life photograph of a homicide victim to the judge or jury.
HB1512-This bill eliminates no-good-cause exemptions to the work requirement for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs. The bill does provide exemptions for an individual currently in foster care or residing in a domestic violence shelter.
HB1198-This bill allows a certified registered nurse anesthetist to operate in consultation with, but not necessarily in the presence of, a licensed physician.
HB1258-This bill authorizes full independent practice authority for certified nurse practitioners who meet specific requirements. Currently, nurse practitioners have to practice in a collaborative agreement with physicians.
SB155-This bill creates “Lila’s Law,” which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities regarding access to organ transplantation.
HB1069-This bill authorizes pharmacists to provide access to oral contraceptives. The bill also includes a provision for pharmacists to refer a patient to a primary care or women’s health provider if she has not been seen by a physician in the previous six months.
HB1506-This bill classifies the use of a hoax bomb as a Class C felony. A hoax bomb is defined as a device designed to look like an explosive or incendiary device.
SB118-This bill creates the Arkansas Public Service Internship Program.
We will continue to update you throughout the session.
All House floor and committee meetings are live-streamed. The links to the video and agendas can be found at www.arkansashouse.org.

March 9, 2021

More than 300 bills have been signed into law so far during the 2021 Regular Session.
The House passed more than 20 bills today including the following:
HB1429-This bill reduces the waiting period from after a parent or guardian withdraws his or her child from a school district to enroll to begin home-school. The waiting period is currently 14 days. This bill reduces it to 5 school days.
HB1512-This bill eliminates no-good-cause exemptions to the work requirement for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs. The bill does provide exemptions for an individual currently in foster care or residing in a domestic violence shelter.
HB1465-This bill states that a licensing entity shall consider the good moral character of an individual before issuing a license to the individual. It defines “good moral character” as a personal history of honesty, trustworthiness, fairness, a good reputation for fair dealings, and respect for the rights of others and for state and federal laws.
HB1522-This bill states that no person applying to be placed on a ballot for any public office shall knowingly provide false information with reference to his or her qualifications. It creates a misdemeanor offense for providing false statements by a candidate.
HB1323-This bill allows for the prosecution to display an in-life photograph of a homicide victim to the judge or jury.
HB1198-This bill allows a certified registered nurse anesthetist to operate in consultation with, but not necessarily in the presence of, a licensed physician.
SB155-This bill creates “Lila’s Law” which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities regarding access to organ transplantation.
The House will convene on Wednesday at 1 pm.

March 5, 2021

As we wind down the 8th week of the 2021 Regular Session, more than 270 bills have been signed into law.

Next week, the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee will begin hearing proposals for constitutional amendments. According to Joint Rules, the House and Senate can each recommend one amendment, but it must be approved by a majority in both chambers. A 2/3 vote is required by both chambers to introduce a third proposed constitutional amendment.

This week, the House passed more than 50 bills, including the following:

HB1061-This bill creates the No Patient Left Alone Act. The bill outlines visitation rights for hospital patients, including children, patients with disabilities, hospice care, long-term care patients, and members of the clergy.

SB6-This bill would ban abortions except those performed to protect the life and health of the mother.

HB1568-This bill creates a legislative study on the possible use of election technology to increase transparency and security. 

SB137-This bill states that a local government shall not adopt any ordinance or policy that would prohibit a customer’s right to purchase, use, connect, or reconnect to a utility service.

HB1437-This bill concerns “Publish for Pay websites” or privately-owned websites that request a fee to remove a booking photograph from the website. The bill states the person responsible for removing the booking photograph from the website shall remove the picture within five business days of receipt of a written request and not require payment of a fee for removing the booking photograph. It also states the website must post contact information. 

HB1457-This bill creates “Paisley’s Law”. It allows parents of a stillborn child to claim an income tax credit in the amount of $500.

HB1488-This bill allows employees to file a Workers’ Compensation Claim for COVID-19 if the employee can prove they contracted the virus at their place of employment.  

HB1407-This bill modifies the method of calculation of the stabilization tax and caps the tax at .2% for 2022.

HB1409-This bill caps the taxable wage base for employers at $10,000 for 2022.

HB1433-This bill outlines transportation funding for the 2020-2021 school year for districts that need more than the foundation funding provided to all public schools.

HB1464-This bill adds a provision to the Arkansas Code that allows parents to challenge instructional material, events, or activities in public schools. 

HB1389-This bill creates the Arkansas Foresters for the Future Scholarship Program. This scholarship will be funded by the State Forestry Fund.

SB287-This bill expands eligibility for the Governor’s Scholars Program and the Arkansas High Technology Scholarship Program to migrants from the Compact of Free Association Islands (Marshallese) and to an individual or child of a person who holds a Federal Form I-766 Employment Authorization Document (work permit).

HB1462-This bill allows state-supported two-year and four-year institutions of higher education to designate a staff member as a homeless and foster student liaison. 

There will be some changes to committee schedules beginning next week to accommodate hearing bills and proposed amendments. You can find updated schedules and links to live streams on our website www.arkansashouse.org.

February 26, 2021

The House has now wrapped up the 7th week of the 2021 Regular Session.
The House passed the following bills on Thursday afternoon:
HB1224-This bill establishes the State Crime Laboratory Student Loan Forgiveness Program. If law, this would allow a pathologist to enter a probationary period with the State Crime Lab. After that probationary period, the lab could reimburse the pathologist $25,000 for outstanding student loans for a 2 year contract up and renew the contract for up to $100,000 per pathologist.
HB1137-This bill prohibits the performance of a pelvic examination on an unconscious or anesthetized patient without the prior consent of the patient. It provides an exception when a medical emergency exists and the pelvic examination is immediately necessary for diagnosis or treatment of the patient.
HB1215-This bill grants full practice authority to certified nurse midwives.
HB1254-This bill states the Arkansas Medicaid Program shall recognize an advanced practice registered nurse for all purposes as a primary care provider authorized to carry out the duties of a primary care case manager.
HB1023-This bill excludes certain school fundraisers from the sales tax laws regulation special events.
The House will convene again on Monday at 1pm.

February 24, 2020

Since the filing period began, there have been more than 540 bills filed in the House. In the Senate, 380 have been filed.
More than 120 bills so far have been signed into law.
This afternoon, the House advanced several more, including the following:
HB1353-This bill states that a medical marijuana cultivation facility or dispensary shall not use any of the following images within an advertisement:
** A cross of any color
** A caduceus
** Any other symbol that is
     commonly associated with the
     practice of medicine or the
     practice of pharmacy.
HB1426-This bill establishes the Arkansas Fair Food Delivery Act. It states that a food delivery platform shall not arrange for the delivery of a food order from a food facility without first entering into an agreement with the food facility expressly authorizing the food delivery platform to take orders and deliver food.
HB1434-This bill creates the Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Advisory Council. The council will research the needs and services available to the nearly 50,000 Arkansans living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
SB136-This bill allows public utilities to recognize renewable natural gas and allow gas utilities to remove barriers to purchase the alternative fuel.
SB165-This bill brings Arkansas law into alignment with federal law to allow termination or cancellation of a residential lease when a soldier or airman is assigned to a permanent change of duty station that is located more than 50 miles from his or her primary residence or when he or she is discharged or released under honorable conditions from active military service.
The House will convene on Wednesday at 1 pm.

February 12, 2021

There are 25 proposed constitutional amendments filed in the House and 18 in the Senate. The deadline to file proposed amendments was February 10. Proposals range from creating a citizens commission on minimum wage to tort reform.

The House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee will hear testimony and vote on proposals later this session. We will update you as those hearings approach.

During the 5th week of the Regular Session, the House passed several bills addressing healthcare, including the following:

SB99-This bill regulates step therapy protocols.
Health benefit plans are increasingly making use of step therapy, which often require patients to try one or more prescription drugs before coverage is provided for a drug selected by the healthcare provider. SB99 does not ban the use of step therapy but instead requires insurance providers to set reasonable timelines for requests and appeals.

If implemented, it will ensure that step therapy will be based on medical and clinical guidelines and not require patients to fail on medicines they have already taken or are not in their best interest. This bill has been sent to the Governor for his signature.

HB1176-This bill would ensure that Arkansas Medicaid reimbursements for telemedicine of certain behavioral and mental health services continue after the health emergency ends.

HB1116- This is a bill to establish Simon’s Law, named after a Missouri child whose death led to similar laws being passed in several states. It would require health care professionals to obtain at least one parent’s consent before placing a “do not resuscitate order” for a child.

HB1067-This bill will allow UAMS to create a breast milk bank and establish an account to fund the program.

 

Other bills advanced by the House this week include:

HB1265-This bill amends the law concerning the unlawful passing of a school bus. It states drivers must come to a complete stop no less than 30 feet from the bus when it stops to load or unload passengers. This 30 feet perimeter would apply to public roads, private or public property open to the general public, and any driveway or parking lot belonging to a public school.

HB1017-This bill states that Arkansas would permanently adopt Daylight Saving Time when the federal government allows states to do so and when surrounding states declare their intent to do so.

SB32-This bill allows liquor stores, micro-brewery restaurants, and small breweries to deliver alcoholic beverages in wet counties. Deliveries are currently allowed under an executive order. This bill will allow the practice to continue once the health emergency order expires.

SB66-This bill allows the tuition-free benefit for soldiers and airmen of the Arkansas National Guard to apply for programs of study in which courses are taken exclusively online.

HB1355-This removes licensing requirements for a motor vehicle salesperson and a recreational vehicle salesperson. This bill also creates the Automotive Technologist Education Grant Program. The Division of Career and Technical Education may then award grants for training in the field of automotive repair and technology.

HB1159-This bill allows members of the General Assembly to defer jury duty to a later date if they are called to serve during a legislative session or the 30 days before and after the session begins.

This bill also allows a person who is 80 years of age or older to voluntarily exempt himself or herself from participating in jury service at any time.

The winter weather postponed a few committee meetings this week. You can find updated agendas atwww.arkleg.state.ar.us

February 9, 2021

More than 70 bills have now been signed into law as we begin the 5th week of the 2021 Regular Session.

Another bill now making its way to the Governor’s desk is SB99. This bill, which regulates “step therapy” protocols, passed the House by a vote of 96-0.

Health benefit plans are increasingly making use of step therapy protocols. The protocols often require patients to try one or more prescription drugs before coverage is provided for a drug selected by the patient’s healthcare provider. SB99 does not ban the use of step therapy but instead requires insurance providers to set reasonable timelines for requests and appeals.

If implemented, it will ensure that step therapy will be based on medical and clinical guidelines and not require patients to fail on medicines they have already taken or are not in their best interest.

The House also passed the following bills on Monday:

HB1193-This bill increases the amount of time a school board has to fill a vacancy in the event of a death of a board member. It extends the time from 30 days to 60 days.

HB1188-This bill allows technicians the ability to install home security devices that you can purchase in a retail store, such as a smart doorbell, without obtaining the same licensure as a private security agency.

HB1355-This removes licensing requirements for a motor vehicle salesperson and a recreational vehicle salesperson. This bill also creates the Automotive Technologist Education Grant Program. The Division of Career and Technical Education may then award grants for training in the field of automotive repair and technology.

HB1159-This bill allows members of the General Assembly to defer jury duty to a later date if they are called to serve during a legislative session or the 30 days before and after the session begins.

This bill also allows a person who is 80 years of age or older to voluntarily exempt himself or herself from participating in jury service at any time.

The House will reconvene on Tuesday at 1 pm.

February 4, 2021

The House has adjourned from the 4th week of the Regular Session. The following bills were passed by the House Thursday afternoon:

** HB1315. This bill creates a state meat inspection program. The bill states that a lack of a state meat inspection program causes a significant loss of revenue generated from meat processing for this state and stifles opportunities for farmers to expand their meat processing capacity. It also states that without a state meat inspection program, it is currently prohibitively expensive for food banks to receive and distribute meat.
** HB1236-This bill states in the event of a civil disturbance or a crime in progress that requires additional law enforcement resources, the Governor may establish a system of unified command of law enforcement efforts and may designate which law enforcement agency or law enforcement agencies have primary jurisdiction on the State Capitol grounds and in the State Capitol building.
** HB1338-This bill raises the number of signatures needed for an individual to be placed on the Arkansas ballot as a candidate for President of the United States. Currently, 1,000 signatures are required. This bill raises it to 5,000.
** HB1228-This bill allows the establishment of designated entertainment districts in an area with entities authorized to sell alcoholic beverages.
** HB1124-This bill amends punitive articles of the Military Code of Arkansas concerning sexual assault and sexual contact.
The House also passed a resolution to extend the session if needed. HCR1008 provides for a recess on April 9 and an extension of the 2021 Regular Session until May 3, if necessary.
The House will convene on Monday at 1 pm.

January 29, 2021

Several bills are now making their way to the Governor’s desk including one that could expand broadband services across the state.
SB74 had unanimous support in both the House and the Senate. This bill allows cities, counties, and improvement districts to partner with established providers to expand broadband services for those who currently do not have service or those who are underserved.
SB74 has an emergency clause which means it will become effective after the Governor signs it.
Other bills passed by the House in recent days include:
HB1151-This bill suspends the public school rating system for the 2020-2021 school year due to the disruption to education caused by the pandemic.
HB1009- This bill allows a public school or an open-enrollment public charter school to distribute excess food to students for consumption on the school campus or at home.
HB1113-This bill amends the Commission of State Lands Urban Homestead Act. Currently, the Commissioner of State Lands can donate land to community organizations to develop low-income housing. This bill states that if the donated land has not been used for that purpose after three years, the commissioner can allow the land to be used for the development of a public school or open-enrollment charter school in an area with a high poverty rate.
HB1032-This bill allows taxpayers with military retirement benefit under $6,000 to claim a total retirement exemption up to that amount if the taxpayer has additional retirement income. The Department of Finance and Administration estimates this bill affects 700 Arkansans.
HB1202-This bill requires counties to post sample ballots on the Secretary of State website at least 20 days before each preferential primary and general election and at least ten days before each general primary, general runoff, school, or special election.
HB1211-This bill states the Governor shall not prohibit or limit a religious organization from continuing to operate religious services during a declared emergency.
HB1003-This bill ensures respectful language is used in Arkansas code regarding individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing and removes from the Arkansas code the term “hearing impaired”.
SB76-This bill creates a permitting process for excursion trains to serve and sell alcoholic beverages.
HB1056-This bill amends the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act by allowing public meetings to be held via phone or video conference during a declared emergency.
HB1009- This bill authorizes the Veterinary Medical Examining Board to promulgate rules for the use of telemedicine.
HB1013-amends Arkansas Music Appreciation Day to add James “Jim Dandy” Mangrum, Buddy Jewell, and Mark Lavon “Levon” Helm. September 1 was established as Arkansas Music Appreciation Day by the 92nd General Assembly.
The House will reconvene on Monday at 1 pm. You can find all agendas and links to live-streams of meetings at www.arkansashouse.org.

January 28, 2021

With a vote of 94-0, the House passed legislation to expand broadband access in Arkansas.
SB74 allows cities, counties, and improvement districts to partner with established providers to expand broadband services for those who currently do not have service or those who are underserved.
The House passed HB1113, which amends the Commission of State Lands Urban Homestead Act.
Currently, the Commissioner of State Lands can donate land to community organizations to develop low-income housing. This bill states that if the donated land has not been used for that purpose after three years, the commissioner has the option to allow the land to be used for the development of a public school or open-enrollment charter school in an area with a high poverty rate.
The House passed HB1202. This bill requires counties to post sample ballots on the Secretary of State website at least 20 days before each preferential primary and general election and at least ten days before each general primary, general runoff, school, or special election.
The House passed HB1211, which states the Governor shall not prohibit or limit a religious organization from continuing to operate religious services during a declared emergency.
The House also passed SB76, which creates a permitting process for excursion trains to serve and sell alcoholic beverages.
The House will reconvene on Monday at 1 pm.

January 25, 2021

The third week of the 2021 Regular Session is now underway.
This morning, the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee advanced HB1202. This bill requires counties to post sample ballots on the Secretary of State website at least 20 days before each preferential primary and general election and at least 10 days before each general primary, general runoff, school, or special election.
The afternoon, the House passed several bills, including HB1056. This bill amends the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act by allowing public meetings to be held via phone or video conference during a declared emergency.
The House passed HB1009, which authorizes the Veterinary Medical Examining Board to promulgate rules for the use of telemedicine.
The House also passed HB1013, which amends Arkansas Music Appreciation Day to add James “Jim Dandy” Mangrum, Buddy Jewell, and Mark Lavon “Levon” Helm. September 1 was established as Arkansas Music Appreciation Day by the 92nd General Assembly. The legislation states Arkansas has a proud history of contributing music and musicians to the nation, including Johnny Cash, B. B. King, Glen Campbell, Charlie Rich, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Al Green, Conway Twitty, Floyd Cramer.
The House will reconvene Tuesday at 1 pm.

January 15, 2021

House members are now ready to begin the second week of the 2021 Regular Session.
Nearly 200 bills have been filed so far in the House and more than 135 have been filed in the Senate.
House members elected to serve in the 93rd General Assembly took the oath of office in the House Chamber on Monday. Upon swearing-in, members then voted to name Rep. Matthew J. Shepherd of El Dorado as the Speaker of the Arkansas House. This will be his second full term to serve as Speaker.
Speaker Shepherd announced the chairs for all House committees. You can find a complete list of committee assignments atwww.arkansashouse.org.
On the second day of the Regular Session, Governor Asa Hutchinson addressed the General Assembly and outlined his legislative goals for this session.
He said he will be asking the General Assembly to affirm the current health emergency order and direct federal COVID-19 relief funds for vaccine distribution.
The Governor’s legislative agenda also includes the following:
· Increase teacher pay by $2,000 over the next 2 years
· Reduce the used car sales tax
· Reduce income tax for new Arkansas residents
· Appropriate $30 million for increased broadband in rural areas
· Implement a computer science requirement for high school graduation
· Increase sentencing for hate crimes
On Thursday, the House passed resolutions outlining new rules and changes to procedure due to COVID-19. These include mask requirements, changes to committee agendas, and remote voting options for members.
The House will not meet on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday or on Wednesday during the Presidential Inauguration.  We will meet on Tuesday and Thursday next week. Schedules and agendas will be available on our website.
As a reminder, the House live streams all of our meetings on the website. We also posted the guidelines for members of the public who wish to participate in the process at the Capitol.
I will continue to update you in the weeks ahead.

December 31, 2020

While we prepare to enter a new year and begin the 2021 Regular Session, we want to take a moment to review what has been taking place at the State Capitol in 2020. Some of the work accomplished in 2020 lays the foundation for future legislation.
In April, the House convened for an Extraordinary Session to address the urgent funding needs in our state created by the COVID-19 crisis. The legislation passed created the COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund by redirecting surplus funds. The fund helped to purchase ventilators and PPE for state hospitals. It also assisted agencies facing cuts due to a revised economic forecast for Fiscal Year 2020. The legislation also made it possible to extend the state tax deadline to July 15.
During the 2020 Fiscal Session, the Arkansas General Assembly passed a balanced budget prioritizing $5.9 billion in spending for the fiscal year. The House convened at the UALR Jack Stephens Center for the Extraordinary and the Fiscal Sessions to provide additional space for social distancing.
The House and Senate Education Committees spent this year working with the consulting firm Augenblick, Palaich and Associates to complete the state’s first comprehensive study of public school funding since 2003.
The consultants made several recommendations, including revisiting current incentives to increase the number of highly qualified teachers serving students at high-need schools and small schools. Another recommendation is to conduct a larger-scale study every 6-10 years to focus on districts with specific challenges. These recommendations will be considered in the 2021 Regular Session.
The House Aging, Children and Youth, and Legislative Affairs Committee met jointly with the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee at various locations across the state to hear concerns from veterans and agencies that provide services to veterans. After hearing testimony, the committees proposed the following recommendations:
· Develop a grant system and increase funding for non-profits that directly assist veterans;
· Increase staffing for the Department of Health Injury and Violence/Suicide Prevention Program and the Suicide Prevention Hotline; and
· Create a Veterans’ Advocacy Board.
The Arkansas Legislative Council provided oversight for all CARES Act funding distributed in Arkansas.
Members approved requests to direct a portion of those funds for grants to assist struggling business owners and bonus pay for front line workers. Other CARES Act expenditures approved included funds to the Department of Health for testing and supplies to aid in contact tracing. And since more Arkansans were relying on the internet, House and Senate leadership requested a transfer of $100 million of CARES Act funding to the Arkansas Rural Connect Program (ARC). The Arkansas Legislative Council ultimately approved the measure.
We, like many of you, are looking forward to a promising new year. The 2021 Regular Session begins on January 11. Every committee meeting and floor session will be live-streamed and archived at www.arkansashouse.org.

December 26, 2020

Arkansas’ legislature is considered a part-time citizen legislature. Most House members have a full-time career in addition to their legislative obligations. Members typically come from a wide range of professional backgrounds and the 93rd General Assembly is no exception.

The state’s largest industry is well represented as 7 members will bring an agricultural background to the House.

There will be six members who either currently work or previously worked in the healthcare industry. The professions include doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and dentists.

There will be six attorneys and 10 members who are currently teachers, professors, or former educators.

Several incoming members are small business owners. Other professions include real estate agents, engineers, consultants, a television producer, and a pastor just to name a few.

Having a diverse membership helps the House of Representatives more effectively serve the people of Arkansas. For the 93rd General Assembly, the House membership will not only be diverse in professional backgrounds but in age, gender, and race as well.

Our members will range in ages from 29 to 78. There will be 24 women and 76 men serving in the 93rd General Assembly. There will be 12 African-American legislators serving in the House.

This body will also bring a range of legislative experience. There will be 16 members serving their first full term and 10 members serving their 6th term.

Of the 100 representatives in the 93rd General Assembly, the House is proud to say we will have 12 who have served in the armed forces.

Each of us represents approximately 30,000 Arkansans. We look forward to updating you during the session. As a reminder the session begins at noon on January 11. We stream all meetings at arkansashouse.org.

December 19, 2020

Arkansans may see an increase in the amount of their paychecks next year. The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) announced this week that the income tax withholding tables will change effective January 1, 2021.
 DFA says this change is not a tax increase or cut, but with the law change that reduces the top personal income tax rate from 6.6% to 5.9% next month, the withholding change will put that reduction in paychecks beginning January 2021.  Without this change, many Arkansans wouldn’t see the bulk of their tax cut until they received it in their tax refund in 2022.
This is the second change DFA has recently implemented to the withholding tables. The first adjustment took place March 1, 2020. The March 2020 adjustment put $15 million each month into the pockets of Arkansans via increased paychecks. The January 2021 adjustment will place an additional $7 million each month into paychecks.
The law that reduced the tax rate was Act 182 passed by the 92nd General Assembly.
We anticipate the 93rd General Assembly will address further tax cut proposals.
Several pieces of legislation addressing future tax cuts have been filed in advance of the 2021 Regular Session.
The latest revenue report shows revenues are 11.4% higher than this time last year.  Five months into the fiscal year, revenue is now $283.3 million above forecast.
This week, we also learned that the state’s unemployment rate remained stable at 6.2% between October and November. The national unemployment rate is at 6.7%.
We will continue to monitor the employment rates and revenue reports as we prepare for the next legislative session. The 2021 Regular Session begins on January 11.

December 11, 2020

One of the many legislative issues that will be before us in the 2021 Regular Session is redistricting.

Redistricting is an important part of our democracy. It is required by law once every ten years after the Federal Census.

There are two separate processes for redistricting in Arkansas. 

One process is redrawing legislative boundaries for our state senators and representatives. This is the responsibility of the Arkansas Board of Apportionment.

The Board of Apportionment is made up of the Governor, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of State. The Board will be redrawing 100 State House & 35 State Senate Districts so that each district meets various legal criteria, including each district being about the same size in population. 

The other redistricting process is our responsibility.

The Arkansas General Assembly is responsible for drawing congressional district lines.

Arkansas comprises four congressional districts.

Using census data, both chambers of the state legislature must approve a single redistricting plan. The process in the House will begin in the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee. The governor may veto the lines drawn by the state legislature.

As with state legislative districts, some congressional districts may expand geographic boundaries while others may shrink depending on population changes.

Districts over time may change demographically. That’s why it is important they are redrawn every ten years. The goal is to ensure each district has about the same number of people and reflects diverse communities.

Census bureau information is expected to be released in the spring. As a result, redistricting is typically one of the final items addressed toward the end of the session.

You can watch this process in real-time as we live stream all committee meetings.

The 2021 Regular Session begins January 11.

November 20, 2020

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase across the state, the Arkansas Department of Health reminds Arkansans that the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people who live with you.
While the number of people around your table may be smaller this year, we want to take a moment to express our thanks for Arkansans who make it possible for what is on the table.
Our grocery store employees have worked tirelessly to keep the doors open. Our food processors, truckers, and farmers also deserve our utmost appreciation for keeping the shelves stocked. Arkansans made not only your meal but countless meals across the country possible.
Arkansas is forecast to rank 2nd in the nation in the number of turkeys raised, accounting for 14% of all turkeys raised in the United States.
The Arkansas turkey industry creates and supports close to 20,000 jobs in Arkansas.
Arkansas is the 5th largest producer of sweet potatoes. And last year, Arkansas farmers harvested more than 740,000 acres of corn.
Although few go shopping for actual soybeans for Thanksgiving, there is an excellent chance the soybean plays a significant part in your feast. This year Arkansas ranked as 11th in the nation in soybean production. Soybean oil is used in cooking and frying foods. Salad dressings, margarine, and mayonnaises are made with soybean oil.
Arkansas farmers may have contributed to your dessert menu as well, especially when it comes to the pies. We are one of 15 states to grow pecans.
You can help show your appreciation to our Arkansas farmers and food service workers by looking for the “Arkansas Grown” label at your local supermarket.
From our house to yours, we wish you a very happy and safe Thanksgiving.

November 17, 2020

The 2021 Regular Session begins in less than two months. We want to take this week to update you on the ongoing budget hearings in preparation for the session.
Pre-session budget hearings have been extended. They began last month and will continue from now to November 19. This week, members were presented with the General Revenue Forecast and the Governor’s Balanced Budget Proposal. The Governor’s plan calls for a reduction of sales tax on vehicles priced less than $10,000. His proposal also calls for a reduction in the income tax rate for new residents moving into Arkansas.
The proposal includes recommendations for one-time funding from the $240 million expected budget surplus. Those recommendations include a transfer of $100 million to the Long Term Reserve Fund and a $30 million transfer to the Department of Commerce for rural broadband.
By law, the Governor is required to submit a balanced budget proposal. While we take the proposal from the executive branch into consideration, appropriation bills and the budget are ultimately drafted and voted on by the legislature.
The House and Senate Education Committees have recommended an increase of $99.7 million in funding for k-12 education for the next fiscal year. The committees recommended an increase of $86.9 million for Fiscal Year 2023.
Currently, state funding is $6,985 per student. The committees’ recommendation increases the amount to $7,131 next year and to $7,281 in Fiscal Year 2023. The committees’ proposal is also reflected in the Governor’s proposed budget.
This week, the Department of Finance and Administration issued its economic forecast. For the next fiscal year, the department expects state revenue to increase by $172 million or 3% more than the current fiscal year. The short-term outlook for the Arkansas economy remains mixed. The forecast states there are noticeable lags in recovery by travel, conventions, and full-service restaurants.
As a reminder, members can begin filing bills for the upcoming legislative session on Monday, November 16. You will find a link to all recently filed legislation on our website, www.arkansashouse.org. We have also posted the General Revenue Forecast and the Governor’s Balanced Budget.
The 2021 Regular Session begins on January 11.

November 7, 2020

Veterans live and work in every community of Arkansas. We are their friends, their family, their co-workers, and their neighbors. It is up to us to ensure that every veteran feels that his or her service to this country is appreciated.
There are ways every Arkansan can help our veterans. Shop at your local businesses that support the military and hire veterans. Reach out to your veteran community and find ways to volunteer. We can all teach our children about the sacrifices veterans have made and create a new generation of appreciation.
But the easiest way is to simply say, “Thank you for what you have done for our country.”
On this Veterans Day, we would like to say a special thank you to the more than 219,000 veterans who call Arkansas home.
Every session, we introduce legislation to make Arkansas a better place for our military members and vets. In the most recent session, we passed legislation to make it easier for military spouses to find employment quickly and legislation paving the way for an extensive study on veteran affairs in our state.
Act 551 directs the House Committee on Aging, Children and Youth, and Legislative and Military Affairs and the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs to meet jointly to conduct the Arkansas Legislative Study on Veterans Affairs. The study aims to examine veterans’ issues in the state, including the occurrence of suicide among the veteran population. The committees have conducted town-hall-style meetings across the state to hear from veterans. They will use the information they’ve gathered to make recommendations for the 2021 Regular Session.
We also passed Act 820. This legislation states an occupational licensing entity shall grant active military members and returning veterans, as well as spouses of active military and returning veterans, with automatic licensure to engage in an occupation or profession if they have an equivalent license in another state.
And in 2017, we passed legislation exempting military retirement benefits from state income tax.
We look forward to continued progress. May we continue to make our state a place our vets are proud to call home.

October 31, 2020

This year, returning House members and members-elect will make their committee selection for the 2021 Regular Session just days after the election.
A House caucus has been scheduled for November 6. During the caucus, newly elected members will draw for seniority and all members will select their seats for the 93rd General Assembly. After seat selection, the committee selection process will begin.
The vast majority of legislation considered during a legislative session begins in a standing committee.
There are 10 standing committees in the House. These include 5 class “A” committees and 5 class “B” committees.
Each member serves on 1 “A” committee and 1 “B” committee.
Class “A” committees include:
      • Education
      • Judiciary
      • Public Health, Welfare and Labor
      • Public Transportation
      • Revenue and Taxation
 Class “B” Committees include:
      • Aging, Children and Youth,
            Legislative and Military Affairs
      • Agriculture, Forestry and
           Economic Development
      • City, County and Local Affairs
      • Insurance and Commerce
      • State Agencies and
           GovernmentaAffairs
 Each standing committee consist of 20 members which include 5 members from each of the 4 House district caucuses.
Pursuant to a House Rule adopted by the 92nd General Assembly, the most senior member of the House of Representatives will select first and will choose a position on a Class “A” standing committee. The seniority rotation procedure will continue until the member with the least seniority makes his or her selection. After the member with the least seniority makes his or her Class “A” standing committee selection, the most senior member will select his or her Class “B” standing committee. The seniority rotation will continue until the member with the least seniority selects his or her Class “B” standing committee.
Selection for the House Budget Committee, Arkansas Legislative Council, and Legislative Joint Auditing will take place after standing committee selection. The Speaker of the House has the authority to make adjustments to committee membership only for the purpose of adjusting the majority to minority party ratio on the standing committees. Final committee memberships will be announced during House Orientation held the first week of December.
You can watch the committee selection process live at arkansashouse.org.

October 24, 2020

In the 2019 Regular Session, the General Assembly made the first effort to reorganize state government in 50 years. We are now seeing the results of that effort through millions in savings.

The 92nd General Assembly passed Act 910, known as the “Transformation and Efficiencies Act.” Since it took effect cabinet secretaries have been asked to find opportunities to improve their departments in the three ways:

1. Efficiencies

2. Improved managerial support

3. Improved delivery of services to citizens

One way departments have accomplished this is by focusing on location sharing when possible and evolving to a new work environment that is less expensive and ensures less square footage. The Department of Transformation and Shared Services reports that from July 1, 2019, to March 4, 2020, departments have realized more than $920,000.00 in savings on rent and 80,282 square feet of reduction in space.

A second way departments have improved is through budget reduction. In the balanced budget presented for year two of the biennium without additional funding, there is a $10 million reduction in the performance fund. This fund is set-aside and available to supplement department budgets as needed as a result of their annual performance reviews. Departments have also reduced the number of filled positions by 310 since July 1, 2019. This was accomplished by finding new ways to improve delivery and a commitment to shared services. No jobs were lost as a result of the transformation of Arkansas government.

Reallocation of general revenue has also helped the state maximize funding levels, with departments realizing more than $6,305,160 in savings by making a commitment to do more with less.

Finding ways to save taxpayer dollars and provide better services does not end with one piece of legislation. While the Transformation and Efficiencies Act has now shown to produce substantial savings, we will continue to find ways to do more.

Our Pre-Session Budget hearings will resume next week and continue through November 12. You can watch live at www.arkansashouse.org.

October 17,  2020

October is breast cancer awareness month. This is an opportunity to remind Arkansans of the importance of mammograms for early detection and lifestyle changes that could help prevent cancer.

 Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early when it is easier to treat, and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms.

 It is important to still get checked for breast cancer regularly, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. As long as you’re not feeling sick or having any COVID-19 symptoms, experts say it’s safe to get a mammogram.

 In 2017, there were 2,163 new breast cancer cases and 414 cancer deaths in the state. However, Arkansas is ranked as one of the lowest states (37th) for breast cancer screening, according to the CDC Wonder (2018). 

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

 In 2017, the General Assembly passed Act 708, which ensures that insurance policies cover annual mammograms for women over 40. It also ensures that 3D mammograms or ultrasounds are covered for women with dense breast tissue. While traditional mammograms are effective for many women, the ultrasound can detect changes in women with dense breast tissue.

 Only about 5–10% of breast cancers are believed to be hereditary, meaning they’re caused by abnormal changes in certain genes passed from parent to child.

 The vast majority of people who get breast cancer have no family history, suggesting that other factors must be at work, such as environment and lifestyle.

 If you are uninsured or underinsured, you may qualify for a free or low-cost mammogram through the Arkansas BreastCare program.

BreastCare’s mission is to increase the rate of early detection of breast and cervical cancer and reduce the morbidity and mortality rates among women in Arkansas by lowering barriers to screening that result from lack of information, financial means, or access to quality services.

It is funded by the Arkansas Department of Health with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Arkansas Tobacco Excise Tax.

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

October 5, 2020

For every dollar of general revenue coming into the state, 41% is spent on K-12 public schools. Approximately, half of all school district revenues come from the state. Our current process of determining the amount of state funding for our schools goes back to 2003. The Public School Funding Act of 2003 develops per-pupil funding amounts by assigning costs to various educational inputs.
Those inputs range from staff salaries to transportation needs. They are then compiled into a school district funding matrix used to produce a per-pupil foundation funding amount along with additional funding for programs for students with special needs, alternative learning environments, and professional development for instructional staff.
But the landscape of education has changed since 2003. That is why late last year, the House and Senate Education Committee agreed to hire
a consulting firm, Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, to take an in-depth look at our K-12 education and make recommendations to our current model of funding.  The firm’s study has sought input from education officials around the state and reviewed academic research.
This week, the firm presented the committee with information showing the average counselor staffing ratio in Arkansas is 385:1, which is lower than the average for states in the southern region. However, the American School Counselor Association and the National Association of School Psychologist’s recommended ratio is 250:1.
The consultants have also presented committee members with information on the effects of poverty on learning. Research shows academic performance correlates negatively with concentrations of poverty in schools. Higher concentrations of poverty seem to impact all students in a school, not only poor students. Some research suggests school effects could start at concentrations between 25% and 50%. The committee was presented with information on the possible strategies for improvement such as wrap around services and expanded learning programs.
Committee members are reviewing this information and previous presentations covering everything from college readiness to enrollment changes. Over the next few weeks, they will be using this information to make recommendations for the 2021 Regular Session. They will present their recommendations to House and Senate leadership by November 1.
You can watch all House and Senate Education Committee meetings and review the reports at www.arkansashouse.org.

September 26, 2020

Unfortunately each Election Day, many would-be first-time voters in Arkansas do not have their votes counted because they are not actually registered to vote. The deadline to register to vote in the November election is October 5. The postmark on a mail-in application will be considered the submission date.
Many believed they had registered months before, but failed to follow up when they did not receive a voter ID card from their county clerk. The process of voter registration is convenient, but it also places responsibility on the registrant to ensure the process is completed.
Submitting your voter application at a state agency, in a voter registration drive or through the U.S. Postal Service does NOT guarantee your registration. You should follow up on the status of your registration just as you would on any other personal business matter. Before considering yourself a registered voter, you must receive an acknowledgment of your registration from the county clerk.
To register, you must fill out a paper Voter Registration Application. You can find one at the following locations:
Your local county clerk.
The Arkansas Secretary of State Elections Division www.sos.arkansas.gov .
Local revenue or DMV office.
Public library.
Disability agency.
Military recruitment office.
If you are registering to vote by mail, you must provide either your driver’s license number or the last four digits of your Social Security number on your Arkansas Voter Registration Application, or check the box in #9 on the application to indicate that you do not possess either a driver’s license or Social Security number.
If you have moved from one county to another within Arkansas, you must update this information with the county clerk no later than 4 days
prior to Election Day via a Voter Registration Application.
Feel free to call your county clerk and inquire about the status of your application. You may also check your voter registration status online by visiting www.voterview.org.
Amidst the global pandemic, election officials are hard at work to provide safe and secure voting opportunities for Arkansans.
Voting in person on Election Day, early voting, or absentee voting are options available to voters. Early voting begins October 19.

September 5, 2020

With more Arkansans working and learning remotely in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus, the issue of broadband access has become increasingly relevant. Yet as broadband access becomes more necessary to normal modern life, there is growing concern about a digital divide, whereby some areas are cut off from opportunities for distance learning and economic development by a lack of adequate broadband service.
Those with lower incomes and people living in rural areas are particularly likely to face digital obstacles when trying to do schoolwork at home during the Covid-19 outbreak. That is why House and Senate leadership recently made a request to the CARES Act Steering Committee to transfer $100 million of CARES Act funding to the Arkansas Rural Connect
Program (ARC). The committee agreed with the recommendation and the measure was ultimately approved by the Arkansas Legislative Council. The Arkansas Rural Connect program is a grant program designed to expand the broadband footprint in rural Arkansas communities. The ARC program will provide grants to qualifying communities of at least 500 people to assist in the deployment or improvement of high-speed broadband to its residents.
The ARC program builds on the work of the Arkansas General Assembly. In the 2019 Regular Session, we passed Act 198 which gave municipalities and other public entities new options to apply for funding to deploy broadband.
Arkansas currently ranks 41st in broadband access. This relatively low ranking is closely related to the fact that over 20% of Arkansans remain without access to a wired broadband connection capable of 25 Mbps speeds or faster. But with the added funding, we hope to see access improve. To date, the ARC program has awarded 21 projects. Those projects have a total of more than $27 million.  There are more projects that have been submitted and are currently being reviewed.
Communities and providers may still apply. The Department of Commerce will continue to receive applications until all funds are expended or until there is not enough time left to deploy broadband and meet the CARES Act deadline of December 30, 2020.
I have provided a link to the grant application on our website

August 31, 2020

Now that in-person instruction has resumed in Arkansas schools, it is more important than ever to have an adequate level of COVID-19 testing.Without extensive testing, health experts cannot determine the level of community spread or give a reliable forecast. 

This week, Health Secretary Dr. Jose Romero urged Arkansans not to fall into the trap of testing fatigue. If you have a fever, cough, or shortness of breath OR if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 call ahead to your health care provider provider or schedule a test at an Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) Local Health Unit.  ADH continues to recommend testing for people who have been exposed even if that individual does not have symptoms.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance on that issue, it made exceptions for high-risk individuals and those in areas where local and state health officials feel it necessary to do so. Dr. Romero stressed this week that ADH feels it is important to test anyone who has been exposed regardless of symptoms. ADH also recommends testing if you have traveled out of state. Testing is available. Public health labs can also provide quick turn-around. Dr. Romero said they could deliver results in 48 hours. The state’s goal for August is to conduct 190,000 tests. That is close to 6% of the state’s population. As of Friday, the state was close to reaching that goal, with more than 160,000 tests conducted so far. While the health department may take your insurance information if you do not have a way to pay for the test, it is free of cost. Whether you have insurance or not, local health units will administer a test.

Here is a link to find your nearest health unit on our website www.arkansashouse.org.

August 21, 2020

Because of Covid-19, school will look different this year, and so will transportation. The Arkansas Department of Education’s transportation directors are taking the utmost measures to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 on buses. These measures include regularly disinfecting the buses and implementing requirements for students to wear masks and socially distance while riding the bus.
But there are other actions we can all take this school year to help ensure the safety of our students. “Flashing Red, Kids Ahead” is an effort led by the Arkansas Department of Education to remind people to be mindful of student safety when approaching school buses.
The purpose of safety campaign is to remind educators, parents, school bus drivers, and community leaders to obey all traffic laws whenever they are near a school bus. It is illegal to pass a stopped school bus whenever its red lights are flashing, as students are present.
The law requires drivers to stop on 2-lane and 4-lane highways in both directions, even those with a middle lane. Drivers cannot attempt to pass in any direction until the school bus vehicle has finished receiving or discharging its passengers and is in motion again.
The fines, penalties and punishment for anyone found guilty of illegally passing a stopped school bus were dramatically increased by Arkansas Act 2128 of 2005, also known as Isaac’s Law. The legislation was named for Isaac Brian, an elementary school student in the Bryant School District, who was struck and killed when a driver illegally passed his school bus while students were unloading.
In the 2019 Regular Session, the legislature increased the fines in Isaac’s Law again with Act 166. Drivers can now face up to a $2,500 fine or up to 90 days in jail.
Let’s all do our part to ensure students arrive to and from school safely. Remember: Flashing Red. Kids Ahead.

August 14, 2020

Beginning in-person school again in Arkansas is not easy. A lot has changed since March 2020. Everyone has a lot of questions.

In an effort to help answer questions from educators and parents, the Arkansas Department of Education has made new resources available.

This week, the department released the Arkansas Ready to Learn Healthy School Guide. We have posted a copy on our website www.arkansashouse.org<http://www.arkansashouse.org> .

The guide was written and assembled by a team of medical, behavioral health, and education experts from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Arkansas Children’s, the Arkansas Department of Health, the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, and partners. The goal of the guide is to bring together good health information.

This information includes the latest scientific advice, guidelines, and best practices. Every school is different. This guide can help school officials, educators, and families plan for in-person learning.

In addition to the guide, the Arkansas Department of Education has established a Ready for School Resource Call Center. The purpose of the call center is to provide Arkansans with information and resources regarding the reopening of schools. The Ready for School Resource Help Line: 1-833-353-6050.

The Help Line is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Bilingual support is available. The Help Line is made possible through a partnership between the Arkansas Department of Education and the Arkansas Department of Health, Arkansas Bilingual Resource Network, Arkansas Children’s, Republic of the Marshall Islands Consulate, and UAMS.

The Arkansas Department of Health and Arkansas Department of Education also have a hotline available for school district and school questions about:

• Students or staff who may have COVID-19

• How to isolate students or staff so they don’t spread the virus if they have it

• How to quarantine people who may be close contacts to students or staff who may have COVID-19

The ADH and ADE hotline number: 1-833-504-0155.

The Department of Education is making decisions every day. Some decisions may change as we learn new information about the virus that causes COVID-19. We will continue to pass along information as it becomes available.

August 3, 2020

Contact tracing is one of the most important public health strategies currently available to help us reduce the spread and transmission of COVID-19.

The idea behind contact tracing is to see who is a close contact of an individual who has tested positive for the virus, identify who has been exposed, provide them with information about testing and how to quarantine. Contact tracers help notify people who may not know they have been exposed and helps close the loop.

This week, the Arkansas Legislative Council (ALC) voted to direct $16 million of federal funds to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) to expand contact tracing. The extra funding requested is meant to fund an equivalent 350 contract tracers and 20 nurses.

ALC also approved the use of $7 million in federal CARES Act funds for COVID-19 relief in Northwest Arkansas. The money will be used to track a spike in cases in the Marshallese and Latinx communities. A large portion of COVID-19 deaths in Northwest Arkansas has come from these communities.

To help with contact tracing, ADH has contracted with two firms, General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT) and Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care (AFMC). These two contractors are on track to have a combined 700 contract tracers by the end of the year.

Many contact tracers will call from the number (877) ARCOV19 or (877) 272-6819, but a contact investigator may also reach out from a different phone number.

It’s possible you won’t recognize the number, but it’s important to answer or return the call if it goes to voicemail.

The case investigator and contact tracer will never ask for your Social Security number, bank account number, or credit card. If the caller ever discusses money, that’s a sign that it is not a legitimate Department of Health investigator. If you want to verify that you have been contacted by a Health Department case investigator or contact tracer, you may call (800) 803-7847.

August 3, 2020

Protecting Patients and Protecting Competition

There is an effort afoot in Washington to strip our local hospitals and doctors of their capitalistic ability to negotiate for their services with insurance companies. The insurance carriers are trying to use the issue of surprise medical billing as a red herring to get Congress to give them even more power over your healthcare.

Surprise medical bills generally happen after a doctor or hospital bills a claim to your health insurance and the claim is rejected because the doctor or hospital is not in the insurance company’s network.  This rejected claim results in a bill being sent to the patient, which catches them by surprise because they expected the insurance company to cover their claim.

This is a legitimate problem and patients should not bear the burden of knowing every provider that is in their coverage network, particularly if they have been sent to the hospital for emergency care.  In the current COVID-19 environment, where families can’t even enter the hospital with their loved ones, it may be impossible for patients to know the right questions to ask to avoid these surprise medical bills.

The insurance companies are using this issue to try and grab even greater power in the healthcare system.  The insurance companies want to bypass our capitalistic principle of negotiations and automatically put every provider in their insurance networks.  They want to be able to do this so they can set the payment rates as low as they want to.  This is rate fixing and it will reduce competition and result in a dramatic reduction in payment to rural doctors and hospitals, further jeopardizing access to healthcare in rural Arkansas.

Our patients, rural hospitals, and doctors can’t afford to let the insurance companies get what they want.  It will cause many providers in my district to close and patients will lose healthcare access in rural Arkansas.  We simply cannot allow this to happen.

July 31, 2020

Contact tracing is one of the most important public health strategies currently available to help us reduce the spread and transmission of COVID-19.

The idea behind contact tracing is to see who is a close contact of an individual who has tested positive for the virus, identify who has been exposed, provide them with information about testing and how to quarantine. Contact tracers help notify people who may not know they have been exposed and helps close the loop.

This week, the Arkansas Legislative Council (ALC) voted to direct $16 million of federal funds to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) to expand contact tracing. The extra funding requested is meant to fund an equivalent 350 contract tracers and 20 nurses.

ALC also approved the use of $7 million in federal CARES Act funds for COVID-19 relief in Northwest Arkansas. The money will be used to track a spike in cases in the Marshallese and Latinx communities. A large portion of COVID-19 deaths in Northwest Arkansas has come from these communities.

To help with contact tracing, ADH has contracted with two firms, General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT) and Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care (AFMC). These two contractors are on track to have a combined 700 contract tracers by the end of the year.

Many contact tracers will call from the number (877) ARCOV19 or (877) 272-6819, but a contact investigator may also reach out from a different phone number.

It’s possible you won’t recognize the number, but it’s important to answer or return the call if it goes to voicemail.

The case investigator and contact tracer will never ask for your Social Security number, bank account number, or credit card. If the caller ever discusses money, that’s a sign that it is not a legitimate Department of Health investigator. If you want to verify that you have been contacted by a Health Department case investigator or contact tracer, you may call (800) 803-7847.

 

July 24, 2020

This week, our country celebrates the 30th anniversary of the most sweeping civil rights legislation ever enacted for people with disabilities.

On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act. Banning discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, places of public accommodation, public services, transportation, and telecommunications, the ADA ushered in a new era of opportunity for people with disabilities by formalizing equity and inclusiveness as federal standards.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 4 adults in the United States has some type of disability. In Arkansas, that number climbs to 1 in 3.

In 2019, the Arkansas General Assembly passed a number of bills concerning disabilities. Act 59 amends the Achieving a Better Life Experience Program. This program allows Arkansans with disabilities to save up to $15,000 in an account without affecting eligibility for many public benefits. Act 59 ensures that in the event of a death, the money in that savings account cannot be seized by Medicaid but can instead be transferred to a designated beneficiary. Act 825 allows individuals to deduct up to $5,000 in contributions to the Achieving a Better Life Experience Program.  We also passed legislation addressing mental health for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Act 664 created the Mental Health for Individuals Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing Bill of Rights Act. This legislation states a certified mental health professional shall offer culturally affirmative mental health services and linguistically appropriate mental health services to a client in the client’s primary communication method. It also states the Division of Aging, Adult and Behavioral Health Services of DHS shall do the same. The division is also instructed to employ a coordinator to ensure linguistically appropriate mental health services are available and accessible statewide. In addition, the House and Senate recently added closed captioning to our video streaming services.

As the ADA turns 30, we reflect on the progress made for Americans with disabilities and the work that has yet to be done.  Although labor-force-participation and employment rates for those with disabilities are higher now than they were in 1990, they still lag far behind the employment data for people without disabilities. The ADA’s legacy continues to protect the rights of the millions of Americans living with a disability. While some stigma surrounding those with disabilities remains even 30 years later, today we celebrate the progress made toward the full inclusion of people with disabilities.

July 17, 2020

Arkansans who may have concerns about going to the polls this November while the health crisis continues can make plans now to ensure their vote counts.

Arkansas law allows voters to request absentee ballots if they will be “unavoidably absent” on Election Day or if they have illnesses or physical disabilities. Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston has interpreted this law to allow the ability to vote with an absentee ballot due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an interpretation that Governor Hutchinson and both the Republican and Democratic party leaders are in agreement. 

Thurston said voters could now begin requesting absentee ballots from the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office or their local county clerk. To receive an absentee ballot, you must be a registered voter. The voter registration deadline is October 5.

The deadline for requesting an absentee ballot by mail is October 27, though a voter can pick up an absentee ballot in person until November 2, the day before the election.

All absentee ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. on Election Day, November 3, to be counted, Thurston said. Note: On your application, you may designate how you wish to receive your ballot: by picking it up in person, by mail, or bearer. 

The absentee voting requirements are different from the universal vote-by-mail system in place in some states, which send a ballot by mail to every registered voter. In Arkansas, a voter must request an absentee ballot. Absentee voters are also required to submit a copy of their photo ID with their ballot.

For more information on how to download an absentee ballot application and how to contact your county clerk, visit our website at www.arkansashouse.org.

July 10, 2020

This week, the Education Secretary Johnny Key made a presentation to the House and Senate Education Committee about the Arkansas Ready for Learning initiative. Ready for Learning is a planning and guidance document created to serve as a game plan for district and school administrators as they begin to grapple with making decisions for the 2020-2021 school year.
The Ready for Learning initiative also includes a playbook designed to address gaps as a result of lost learning that may have occurred because of school closures due to COVID-19. A team of approximately 130 educators developed the playbook that will serve as a learning guide this fall.
Going forward, all Arkansas schools will implement blended learning systems that deliver curriculum, instruction and assessment through multiple methods. This type of system incorporates both on-site teacher interaction and off-site instruction, including new content, through streamed or uploaded lessons and activities if extended school closures become necessary. Building a statewide system of blended learning will ensure that all K-12 students are connected to high quality instruction and engagement, regardless of location.
To give the districts more time to make sure their campuses are ready and that teachers are prepared for the blended learning environment, the Governor moved the start date for the 2020-2021 school year forward from August 13 to the week of August 24. Schools can start no later than August 26.
In collaboration with the Arkansas Department of Health, the Department of Education also established a three tiered system of response based on factors including student and staff active cases, evidence and severity of spread within the school, and spread within the surrounding community. A limited response intensifies cleaning, a moderate response alters meal locations and staggers schedules, and a critical response restricts on-site access and pivots to remote learning. Education Secretary Johnny Key said the response guidance is not intended to identify a districts status prior to the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.
Secretary Key told the committee that policy decisions regarding face masks will be left to individual districts.
Schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being. They provide a safe place for academic instruction, reliable nutrition, physical/speech and mental health therapy, opportunities for physical activity, and social skill development.
We know many of you have questions and concerns regarding the safety of the students, the teachers, and the community. We will continue to update you on policy changes and any new information we learn regarding the school year. In the meantime, we encourage you to read the Ready for Learning material we’ve posted on our website www.arkansashouse.org.

July 3, 2020

As the state began a new fiscal year this week, we received some good news about the state budget.

The fiscal year for the state budget always ends on June 30 and begins on July 1. 

While general revenue for Fiscal Year 2020 was $168 million less than the year before, it was $369 million above what economic forecasters predicted in the wake of the health emergency.

This means the budget outlined in the Revenue Stabilization Act for the previous year ended fully funded with $3.2 million in excess.

The Department of Finance and Administration says the fiscal year ended above forecast as a result of the following:

1) Better than expected sales tax collections from retail activity and vehicle sales.

2) Individual income tax payments from filings ahead of the shifted July 15th due date

3) Reduced individual refund claims related to the shifted tax filing date

4) Continued gains in corporate income tax

However, the negative financial impact of COVID-19 was still evident in low annual growth from sales tax and payroll withholding tax.

State budgets are directly linked to how well the economy is performing. The recent revenue reports show while our economy is certainly not where it was a year ago, it is performing better than expected. 

The latest unemployment numbers show our state unemployment rate is 9.5%. The national unemployment rate is 13.3%.

As more Arkansans are going back to work, it is imperative that we all continue to do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19. Please continue to practice social distancing and wear a mask in public.

June 27, 2020

To date, only 56.5% of Arkansans have responded to the 2020 United States Census.

Nationally, the response rate is 61.7%. It is not too late to respond.

Arkansans are encouraged to respond online at 2020census.gov.

If you have not responded, you may soon be receiving a reminder in the mail. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the start of census taker visits from mid-May to mid-August, giving the Census Bureau the opportunity to send one more reminder to households encouraging them to respond online, by phone or by mail. Responding now minimizes the need for census takers to visit homes to collect responses in person. 

The 2020 Census will provide a snapshot of our nation and state—who we are, where we live, and so much more.

The results of this once-a-decade count determine the number of seats each state has in the House of Representatives. They are also used to draw congressional and state legislative districts.

Over the next decade, lawmakers, business owners, and many others will use 2020 Census data to make critical decisions. The results will show where communities need new schools, new clinics, new roads, and more services for families, older adults, and children.

The results will also inform how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding are allocated to more than 100 programs, including Medicaid, Head Start, block grants for community mental health services, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP. 

Households can respond online or by phone in English or 12 other languages, or by mail using the paper questionnaire mailed to non-responding addresses or dropped off at the door. Although census takers will begin visiting households that haven’t yet responded beginning August 11, households can still respond on their own until these visits conclude on October 31. 

June 20, 2020

A few weeks ago, we reminded Arkansans of the upcoming deadline for the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship. This week, we received word that the deadline has been extended to August 1.
Unlike in prior years, students who are already receiving the scholarship, have a sufficient number of hours, and have earned satisfactory academic progress before March 27 are automatically eligible for the scholarship for the 2020 fall semester.
Traditional students must score at least 19 on the ACT to qualify for the scholarship. The latest ACT score accepted by Arkansas Department of Higher Education will be from the July testing. Students who have yet to achieve a score of 19 on the ACT may take the Accuplacer test remotely as a substitute.
Meanwhile, we want to remind Arkansans of another valuable scholarship funded by the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery.
The Workforce Challenge Scholarship was created in the 2017 legislative session and is funded by lottery revenue. The purpose of the scholarship is for workforce training in high demand areas of healthcare, information technology, and industry. Classes are not limited to credit-bearing programs. Non-credit, workforce-training classes that fit into the three above categories may also qualify.
To meet minimum eligibility requirements, those applying for the Workforce Challenge Scholarship must be 1) an Arkansas resident, 2) a high school graduate or received high school equivalency, 3) cannot be a current recipient of the Academic Challenge Scholarship, and 4) be accepted for admission into an approved program as defined by ADHE. The degree list for the 2020-2021 academic year can be found on our website www.arkansashouse.org.
Arkansas Workforce Challenge is a non-renewable grant. Students who successfully complete their program of study will be allowed to reapply for award in another eligible program. Students who receive funding from Workforce Challenge and do not successfully complete their program will be allowed to reapply one time.
The Workforce Challenge Award will be the cost of a certificate program or program of study not to exceed $800. Students must apply at least 30 days prior to enrollment in an eligible program. There is no deadline to apply, however applications should be submitted at least 30 days prior to the start of the program.
To apply for either scholarship visit the Department of Higher Education’s website, scholarships.adhe.edu, and complete the Arkansas YOUniversal Scholarship Application. The online YOUniversal application is your one-stop-shop for state and lottery-funded financial aid.

June 13, 2020

This week, the House Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs Committee reviewed the 2019 Annual Report from Arkansas State Police Crimes Against Children Division. 

This report along with the quarterly reports from the Department of Human Services’ Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) are difficult to review but necessary in guiding our decisions of where to place resources.

The annual report states Child Abuse Hot Line operators in the Crimes Against Children Division (CACD) of the Arkansas State Police received 67,420 referrals in the year 2019. Of these referrals, 37,591 were accepted as legally valid allegations of abuse or neglect. They were assigned to the CACD investigators or the Arkansas Department of Human Services’ Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS). In 2019, the hotline received 652 fewer calls than in 2018.

Calls to the hotline include educational and medical neglect, inadequate food and housing, and physical and sexual abuse. DCFS reports neglect is the most commonly reported allegation among those which are found to be true.

Major Jeff Drew with the Arkansas State Police testified that calls to the hotline have dropped in recent weeks as many mandated reporters are not in contact with children. The division is noticing anywhere from 400 to 600 fewer calls a week.

 DCFS Director Mischa Martin told committee members that teachers have historically been the highest volume of mandated reporters. The decline in calls to the hotline continues to be of concern.

 DCFS made a decision early in the health emergency to continue to place a priority on the safety of children. As a result, employees with the agency have and will continue face to face contact with children.

 We have posted the report presented to the committee atwww.arkansashouse.org.

If you or someone you know needs help, you can call the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline at 800-482-5964.

May 29, 2020

On Wednesday, members of the Arkansas Legislative Council were given an update on unemployment claims in the state. This week, we have also been reviewing a preliminary report from the Arkansas Economic Recovery Task Force.

Arkansas’s unemployment rate doubled from 5.0% in March to 10.2% in April. The U.S. rate is 14.7%. There were more than 206,000 of initial unemployment claims filed from the week ending March 7 to the week ending May 9. For the week ending May 2, there were 119,332 continued unemployment claims.

Since May 1, close to 39,000 Arkansans have applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance resulting in $19.3 million of paid claims. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is being offered through the CARES Act and provides compensation to those not typically eligible for unemployment benefits such as free-lancers and those who are self-employed.

If you have filed for unemployment or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, be sure to check your emails for updates to your account and make sure you submit your weekly claims.

While Arkansas’s economy is faring better than many other states, the fact remains that Arkansans are hurting. The challenge now is to restore our economy and consumer confidence in a way that protects the health of workers, customers, and communities.

The Arkansas Economic Recovery Task Force was created in April to develop a strategy for economic recovery efforts.

The task force released a preliminary report this week outlining several recommendations. Those recommendations include increase testing and tracing, addressing COVID-19 related liability concerns for businesses, increasing childcare resources, workforce training, and broadband availability. 

The task force noted that much of Arkansas’s recovery will be predicated by our citizens and our businesses continuing to be responsible stakeholders in the recovery efforts. The report states, “Over the next few months, we will all need to adhere to Arkansas’s Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control’s directives in order to manage the impact of COVID-19 throughout our state. Importantly, we need Arkansans to maintain social distancing protocols set out by the Arkansas Department of Health in public settings. Doing so will help protect our friends and relatives from the spread of the virus and undoubtedly accelerate our state’s economic recovery.”

You can read the entire report at www.arkansasready.com

May 15, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic could be a source of stress, fear, or anxiety for many Arkansans. May is Mental Health Awareness Month and a good time to remind Arkansans of the resources available to help during this time.

If you currently visit a provider for mental health services, these services can now be accessed by telephone or tele-video. Arkansas’s Community Mental Health Centers have also temporarily changed their services to utilize tele-video or telephone technology whenever possible.

The Arkansas Lifeline Call Center can direct you to the center closest to you.

The Arkansas Lifeline Call Center (1-800-273-8255) is available 24/7. This call center housed within theArkansas Department of Health answers calls from Arkansans to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call takers can route Arkansans to local resources

Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming in both adults and children. 

Children and teens react, in part, on what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with the COVID-19 calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children. Parents can be more reassuring to others around them, especially children, if they are better prepared.

The CDC recommends the following to cope with stress:

    • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Eat healthy meals and exercise regularly.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.

While we may all be social distancing, it’s important to still connect with others. Technology allows us to connect in new ways. As we collectively work to get our state back to normal, don’t underestimate the importance of reaching out to family and friends.

Taking care of yourself can help you cope with stress and in turn, help others. Helping others is what will make communities stronger on the other side of this crisis.

May 8, 2020

Since the beginning of this health emergency, more than 60,000 tests for COVID-19 have been conducted in Arkansas. 

While testing was initially limited, the capacity at commercial labs has increased significantly resulting in shortened turnaround times.

Earlier this week, the CDC committed to providing 90,000 kits and swabs per month to the State of Arkansas. The goal is to now test 60,000 in Arkansas during the month of May.

If you have symptoms such as a fever, cough, or shortness of breath OR if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 call ahead to your health care provider. Testing is available.

People who are considered high risk should contact their health care provider early, even if symptoms are mild. Those at higher risk for serious illness include older adults and people with underlying chronic medical conditions. 

There are now 165 testing locations in 56 counties. You can find one near you atwww.healthy.arkansas.gov or call your health provider.

Increased testing is critical to preventing the spread of the virus. It also plays an important role in making decisions to re-open businesses and roll back restrictions.

Early testing can help identify anyone who came in contact with an infected person so they too can be treated quickly.

As more testing becomes available, the Arkansas Department of Health is also expanding the number of health experts working on contact tracing. Contact tracing is part of the process of supporting patients with suspected or confirmed infection. In contact tracing, public health staff works with a patient to help them recall everyone with whom they have had close contact during the timeframe while they may have been infectious.

Public health staff then warn these exposed individuals of their potential exposure as rapidly and sensitively as possible.

The Arkansas Department of Health currently has close to 200 individuals working on case investigation and contact tracing. They include nurses, disease intervention specialists, epidemiologists, and ADH trained staff. There are more than 125 student volunteers with the College of Public Health being trained to assist with contact tracing in the next few weeks.

While testing and tracing are key components to re-opening our economy, every Arkansan can play a significant role as well. We should continue to practice social distancing and wear a mask in public places.

May 1, 2020

The Arkansas Department of Health lifted several restrictions and issued new directives for restaurants, gyms, and hair salons this week. While Arkansas takes steps to re-open the economy, we recognize the challenges still ahead. This week, we want to update you on the programs available to help Arkansas employees and businesses during this difficult time.

On the federal level, Congress has approved additional funds into the Payroll Protection Plan. For businesses who are were not able to receive funding in the first round of funding, please visitwww.sba.gov.

The hotline hours to file for unemployment have been expanded to 7 days a week from 6am-4pm. Callers in the queue by 4pm will be assisted. You can also file on line atwww.arunemployment.com. The online system closes at 6pm to process claims filed each day.

At that site is also a link for self-employed, independent contractors, and others covered under the CARES Act. There you can submit your name and email address to be notified when a system is built to process these claims which is expected in a matter of days. Even if you start another job, you will still be able to file weekly claims backdated to the date you became unable to work because of a COVID-19 related reason. If requesting this assistance, the Department of Commerce recommends filing your 2019 tax return so you can verify your income. Payment can still be made by the deadline, but it’s helpful to go ahead and file.

While some restrictions are being lifted, we must continue to do our part to limit the spread of the virus.  Arkansans should continue to practice social distancing and wear a mask in public places. We will continue to update you on our progress as a state.

April 27, 2020

Child abuse does not stop during a pandemic. But since many of the state’s mandated reporters such as teachers and pastors are not interacting face to face with Arkansas children right now, the number of reports coming into the hotline have decreased by 50%

The director of Children Advocacy Centers of Arkansas, Elizabeth Pulley says that during times of isolation, child abuse happens in secrecy because signs of abuse go undetected. When school starts back, the number of cases is expected to rise.

April is Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month, a time to place a special emphasis on increasing awareness and providing education and support to families to help prevent child abuse and neglect.

This week, Arkansas First Lady Susan Hutchinson and DHS Director of the Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) Mischa Martin asked for the help of Arkansans to report suspected abuse in their communities. Since the health emergency began, there have been 3,148 calls to the hotline. That is nearly half the number of calls that came in this time last year.

DCFS continues to provide services to families in need and they continue to serve and support the 4,400 foster families in Arkansas. 

In addition, Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas, with 17 centers located across the state, remain open and are continuing to serve children in person and through telemedicine.  

Child abuse and neglect can have a tremendous impact well into adulthood. Exposure to violence in childhood increases the risks of injury, future violence victimization, substance abuse, delayed brain development, lower educational attainment, and limited employment opportunities.

Nationwide, it is estimated that 1 in 7 children have experienced abuse or neglect in the past year.

The number to the hotline is 1-844-SAVE-A-CHILD. Professionals are there to answers calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

April 18, 2020

While we are facing difficult and uncertain times, Arkansans should know that essential services in state government will continue.

This week during the 2020 Fiscal Session, the Arkansas General Assembly passed a balanced budget for the next fiscal year prioritizing funding for education, health care, and public safety.

The 2021 Fiscal Year begins July 1.

The Revenue Stabilization Act passed this week prioritizes $5.9 billion in spending for the next fiscal year. By law, the RSA prioritizes spending in categories with Category A spending first. This year’s RSA creates 5 categories: A, A1, B, C, and D.

Category A includes $5.3 billion in funding. Every state agency receives the majority of funding in Category A. This category also includes $60 million to the Restricted Reserve Fund which can be accessed for any urgent or unforeseen funding needs.

Category A1 includes $181.4 in funding for elementary and secondary education, Medicaid, and the Department of Correction to ensure these essential services are fully funded.

The total funding outlined in categories A, A1, B, and C total $5.67 billion. This is equal to the amount of revenue currently forecasted.

Due to the economic downturn created by the pandemic, the Department of Finance and Administration recently reduced the 2021 forecast for net general revenue available by $205.9 million.

To accommodate that reduction, $212 million of the budget is listed in Category D. Should the economy bounce back above the current forecast, the funds would be distributed as outlined in that category. 

The Governor is reviewing guidance from medical experts on how to safety to re-engage businesses after Arkansas sees a decline in COVID-19 cases.  The peak is expected around May 4. We do not anticipate our economy will slow down, but rather that we are on pause.

The House will reconvene on Friday, April 24 at noon to address any unfinished business and officially adjourn the 2020 Fiscal Session Sine Die.

You can watch live and recorded sessions of the House on our website. We have also posted a link to the legislation outlining next year’s budget. Visit

www.arkansashouse.org.

April 13, 2020

The 2020 Fiscal Session is now underway.
As we did in the recent special session, the House met at the Jack Stephens Arena at UALR to provide enough space for social distancing. We will continue to meet at that venue next week.
On the opening day of the session, the Governor told the General Assembly our state’s economy is not slowing down, but rather is on pause out of necessity.
The Governor is asking the General Assembly to cut $205 million from the previous balanced budget proposal presented before the pandemic. We intend to accomplish this while still fulfilling our obligations to education, public safety, and Medicaid.
While the legislature works on the state budget, we recognize many of you are struggling with your personal budget.
More than 132,000 unemployment claims have been processed in Arkansas. Arkansans who filed unemployment claims before March 28 should have received compensation by now. Those who filed before April 4 should receive payment this Monday.
Regular unemployment benefits now include an additional $600 weekly benefit payment for any workers eligible for state or federal unemployment insurance. There is no need to apply for this, these payments will automatically be issued, along with your regular UI benefit.
However, we know many other Arkansans are experiencing difficulty in processing claims and getting through the hotline. On Friday, the Joint Budget Committee passed an amendment for additional funding for extra help and overtime for the agency overseeing the unemployment hotline
If you are experiencing delays in filing your claim online or by phone, please understand that your claim will be processed and backdated. If eligible, you will receive your benefits based on your date of separation from your employment.
To assist the local Department of Workforce offices around the state with the massive volume of claims and questions, the Department of Commerce is utilizing almost 80 staff from the DWS central office and other Commerce staff and volunteers to answer the hotline calls and to file claims. They will continue to train available state employees. They are also evaluating the availability of an external call center. The external call center could provide a way for hours to be extended.
The website, www.ezarc.adws.arkansas.gov is available to process applications Sunday-Saturday from 6 am to 6 pm.
The hotline numbers 1-844-908-2178 or 501-534-6304 accept calls Monday – Friday, 8 am-3:30 pm.
We have posted a link to frequently asked questions about unemployment on our website
The House will convene again on Wednesday at 11 am. Schedules and live stream information can also be found on our website.

April 3, 2020

The 2020 Fiscal Session is scheduled to begin April 8 at noon.

The COVID-19 crisis will have an impact on the proposed budget as well as our meeting schedules.

The Department of Finance and Administration released a revised revenue forecast on April 2. The revision was necessary because of an economic recession predicted as a result from business slowdown and negative labor markets.

The forecast now reflects $5.6 billion in net available revenue for FY 2021. This indicates a decrease of $205.9 million from the prior forecast released in January.

The schedule for meetings will be posted on our website. For precautionary measures due to COVID-19, the General Assembly is not expected to meet as long as in previous Fiscal Sessions.

By law, Fiscal Sessions cannot extend longer than 30 days without a ¾ vote from both chambers. The longest it can be extended is an additional 15 days.

During Fiscal Sessions, the legislature can only address the budget and appropriation bills. In order for non-appropriation legislation to be introduced, a resolution substantially describing the bill must first be approved by a 2/3 vote in both chambers.

The House will convene at the Jack T. Stephens Center at the University of Arkansas Little Rock. We convened at this venue for the recent special session as it provides enough space for the recommended social distancing guidelines.

Arkansas PBS will stream the House meetings. You can find the links for those live-streams as well as the Senate meetings and Joint Budget Committee meetings on our websitewww.arkansashouse.org

As we prepare to address the state budget in this unprecedented time, we will continue to update and help constituents with needed assistance through this crisis.

March 27, 2020

This week, the House convened for an Extraordinary Session to address the urgent funding needs in our state created by the COVID-19 crisis.
For only the second time in recent history, we convened outside of the Capitol. The Jack Stephens Center at the University of Arkansas Little Rock provided additional space for members to adhere to social distancing guidelines of at least 6 feet. All of us were screened by medical professionals before entering the facility.
The legislation we were asked by the Governor to consider creates the COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund by redirecting surplus funds. The state currently has a surplus of $173 million.
The fund would be used to offset general revenue reductions, funding needs and unanticipated needs created by the COVID-19 crisis.
Any expenditure from the fund would require approval of at least two of three legislative leaders in both the House and Senate.
Allowing this type of flexibility with the budget is unprecedented, but we are in unprecedented times. This measure helps to ensure the needs we face in weeks ahead can be funded quickly.
This legislation also makes it possible to extend the state tax deadline to July 15.
Meanwhile, we continue to work on other needs you and your family may be facing during this time.
Resources are being made available to reduce waiting times on the hotline for unemployment claims.
You can call the hotline at 1-844-908-2178 or 501-534-6304.
While we are facing uncertain times, know that your legislature is here and functioning on your behalf.
If you run into issues navigating your way to needed assistance, reach out to your representative. Contact information for every representative is found on our website at www.arkansashouse.org.

March 13, 2020

While the state response to COVID-19 is one that is rapidly evolving, we do want to update you on the latest developments.

Late Friday afternoon, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced he will amend an executive order to allow expanded use of telemedicine in the state. The Governor also announced he is providing additional resources to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) which will create 10 new lab positions and assist with much-needed help at the call center.

Additionally, the state has requested and will receive more personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical personnel and first responders.

As of Friday afternoon, there is a total of 9 presumed positive cases in Arkansas. The patients with presumed positive test results reside in the central Arkansas region. Schools in Pulaski, Grant, Jefferson, and Saline counties are currently closed. Residents in these counties are being asked to limit large gatherings to 200 people or less.

On Monday, the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) issued a public health directive to long-term care facilities across the state to question visitors about their travel over the past 14 days and to screen visitors and staff for signs of illness and fever.  

All Arkansans are being asked to reconsider every trip out of state. 

 Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, Medical Director for Outbreak Response at ADH, advised that if you are showing symptoms (including coughing, fever, and shortness of breath), you should consult your primary care provider instead of county health units or the hospital. 

If you have a medical appointment, call the healthcare provider and tell them that you have or may have COVID-19. This will help the healthcare provider’s office take steps to keep other people from getting infected or exposed.

While ADH is currently limited in the number of tests they can administer, physicians can order tests from commercial labs.  

UAMS has set up a coronavirus hotline for people who have questions or feel they may have symptoms. The number is 1-800-632-4502UAMS HealthNow is also available for free COVID-19 screenings.

To access, go to UAMS HealthNow and click on “Begin Screening.”

This service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to patients of all ages across the state of Arkansas and is accessible from a smartphone, tablet, laptop or computer with video capabilities.

Arkansas Children’s Hospital announced that any family with children health questions related to COVID-19 can call 1-800-743-3616.

ADH has activated a call center to answer questions from health care providers and the public about the novel coronavirus. During normal business hours (8:00 am – 4:30 pm), urgent and non-urgent calls, please call 1-800-803-7847. After normal business hours, urgent calls needing immediate response, please call 501-661-2136.

March 6, 2020

With spring just around the corner, it’s important to remember that state and federal income tax forms are due soon. Both state and federal income tax forms must be postmarked no later than April 15, 2020, to avoid penalties and late fees.
The legislature prioritized and passed several changes to its tax laws during the 92nd General Assembly, which means that your income tax rate may have changed from last year.
The passage of ACT 182 during the 2019 legislative session, for example, reduces the top income tax rate in our state from 6.9% to 6.6%. The income tax rate will lower again in 2021 to 5.9%. This rate reduction took effect on January 1, 2020, for individuals and will be phased in for corporations by 2021. This is in addition to previous tax cuts passed in recent years impacting every income group.
Because of these reduced tax rates, the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration announced to employers that the income tax withholding tables will change. As a result, you may see an increase in the amount of your paycheck starting this month.
This increase will be offset in the future by lower tax refunds. As tax refunds issued now relate to tax year 2019 they are not affected by the withholding changes. The upcoming withholding changes will not impact annual refunds until calendar year 2021.
Many Arkansans can utilize the IRS’s Free File program. This web-based program is a free federal tax preparation and electronic filing program for the approximately 70% of taxpayers who earn less than $60,000 in annual adjusted gross income. Eligible consumers can go to IRS.gov and choose from multiple private companies that will file federal returns at no charge.
If you cannot afford to pay for tax preparation assistance, you may also be eligible to receive free help through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA). Consumers can call (800) 829-1040 for information about VITA volunteer locations near them. Additionally, seniors can contact AARP at (888) 227-7669 to find the nearest TCE Tax-Aide site.

February 29, 2020

That preparation begins in budget hearings. Beginning Wednesday, March 4, 2020, the Joint Budget Committee will hold a series of meetings designed to begin the process of outlining a budget for the next fiscal year. The Fiscal Session begins Wednesday, April 8, 2020, at 12:00 noon.

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

Over the course of the next several days, the committee will hear budget requests for Higher Education Institutions, Department of Education, the Department of Human Services, Department of Health, Department of Corrections and the Department of Public Safety, commonly referred to as the “Big 6”.

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

Seven months into this fiscal year, general revenue is now $149.7 million or 4.4% above this time last year. The most recent general revenue report showed net available revenue is above forecast by $94.2 million or 2.7 percent. This report and revenue forecast from economists will help us guide our decision making process in the months ahead.

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

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

Members can begin filing appropriation bills and identical resolutions on Monday, March 9, 2020. As a reminder, the legislature cannot take up any non-appropriation bills during the Fiscal Session unless 2/3 of the body votes in favor of a resolution.

You can watch the meetings live at www.arkansashouse.org.

February 22, 2020

Early voting for the Arkansas Preferential Primary and Nonpartisan General Election began this week.
It will continue up until the date of the election, Tuesday, March 3.
Although many of the headlines focus on the Presidential race, it’s important to remember the other significant elections on your March ballot including legislators and judges.
Non-partisan elections for judicial candidates and prosecutors are held at the same time as Democratic and Republican primaries.
If no candidate wins a majority in the non-partisan races, the two candidates with the most votes participate in a runoff. If a runoff is required, it takes place on the same day as the general election for partisan races, and runoff candidates appear on the general election ballot.
Arkansas is one of thirteen states that choose their state supreme court justices in entirely nonpartisan elections and one of eighteen states that select judges through nonpartisan elections at all trial court levels.
The polls are open between the hours of 8:00 am and 6:00 pm, Monday through Friday, and 10:00 am to 4:00 pm on Saturday. Early voting ends at 5:00 pm on the Monday before the election. The polls on Election Day will be open from 7:30 am until 7:30 pm. Once at the polls, you will be asked to show a photo ID issued by either the United States, the State of Arkansas, or an accredited postsecondary educational institution in the State of Arkansas.
In most counties, early voting is conducted at the county clerk’s office. In counties with off-site early voting (a location other than the county clerk’s office), local newspapers will publish the designated sites. You can also find your polling location and a sample ballot atwww.voterview.org.
Remember, every vote counts!

February 15, 2020

Suicide is a serious national public health issue that affects communities everywhere. When looking at the data on veteran suicide, however, we see that veterans are 1.5 times more likely to die by suicide than non-veterans. In 2017, Arkansas had the 9th worst veteran suicide rate in the country, with 20.8 suicides per 100,000 people.
There is currently an extensive study being conducted to address the issue of veteran suicide in Arkansas called the Arkansas Legislative Study on Veteran Affairs. The study came about as a result of the passage of Act 551, which requires the House Committee on Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs and the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs to examine risk factors for suicide in veterans, options for preventing or reducing the occurrence of suicide among the veteran population, and mental health care available to veterans within the state.
Research shows that there is a lower increase in the suicide rate among veterans in Veterans Health Administration (VHA) care than among veterans who are not in VHA care. The problem is that veterans are not automatically enrolled in VHA care, so it may be difficult to get those who are struggling the help they need. By connecting them with veterans’ healthcare services and other resources, legislators hope to see the number of veteran suicides decrease.
The committees have met in various locations across the state to study the issue. They will meet next at the Heritage Church in Van Buren on February 24 at 1:30pm.
During a joint committee meeting held in October in El Dorado, Mandy Thomas, Injury and Violence Prevention, Section Chief, Department of Health shared some interesting data on suicide prevention efforts in Arkansas. According to data collected from the period between January 1, 2019, and September 30, 2019, 23% of calls initiated to the Arkansas Lifeline Call Center by an Arkansas area code pressed #1 for the Veteran Crisis Line. The top five resources provided to callers include: Community Mental Health Centers, VA Crisis Line, AR Department of Veteran’s Affairs, National Domestic Abuse Hotline, and National Alcoholics Anonymous Hotline.
The Arkansas Lifeline Call Center, which is open through the Arkansas Department of Health, is open to use for anyone. The center answers calls made in Arkansas to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Veterans can access the Veteran Crisis Line by calling the national line at 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1. Anyone can also text the crisis line by sending TALK to 741741, or chat online at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/ .

February 8, 2020

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, and 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease each year. In 2017 in Arkansas, a total of 8,270 people died of heart disease.
February is American Heart Month. Its purpose is to promote the importance of heart health and increase awareness of the risk factors of heart disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, half of all Americans have at least one of the top three risk factors for heart disease-high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. Other conditions and behaviors that affect your risk for heart disease include obesity, diabetes, physical inactivity, and unhealthy eating patterns.
Smoking, the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, is also one of the greatest risk factors for developing heart disease. Smoking damages the heart and blood vessels very quickly, but the damage is repaired quickly for most smokers who quit
In 2019, the General Assembly passed Act 580, which would have phased in an increase in the age a person must be to buy tobacco products like cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, and vaping products that contain nicotine. However, a new federal law signed by President Trump supersedes the 2019 state law, and as of December 27, 2019, the nationwide minimum age to buy tobacco products has been raised to 21. With this law now in place at the federal level, we expect to see fewer teens begin smoking or vaping in the first place.
You can choose healthy habits to help prevent heart disease. Arkansans are encouraged to make healthy changes to lower their risk of developing heart disease such as controlling their cholesterol and blood pressure, living an active lifestyle, and eating healthy. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you smoke, know that quitting will lower your risk for heart disease. For free help to quit smoking, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or go to smokefree.gov or cdc.gov/tips.

January 31, 2020

This week, the Department of Finance and Administration announced that effective February 3, 2020, all 134 State Revenue Offices will have the ability to issue a Real ID.

 Arkansas is taking part in the federal nationwide initiative to improve the security of state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards, which will help fight terrorism and reduce identity fraud. 

 Starting October 1, 2020 anyone who boards a domestic flight or enters a federal building will need a Real ID driver’s license, Identification Card or other approved documentation required by the United States Department of Homeland Security.

 When we previously reminded constituents of the upcoming deadline, just 25 State Revenue Offices could issue a Real ID. Now, DFA has expanded the capability to all revenue offices to make it more convenient.

 The cost to obtain a REAL ID does not differ from the cost to obtain or renew a license or ID. Current Driver Licenses (DL) can upgrade to REAL ID at any time by purchasing a duplicate license. The fee for a duplicate DL is $10.00 and expiration dates remain the same. If within one year of the expiration date, you may renew and convert to the Arkansas Real ID. At regular renewal periods, the REAL ID may be purchased for $40.00 and will not expire for eight (8) years. 

 Real ID will not replace a U.S. Passport or allow border crossing. A Real ID Driver’s License is optional and only required for individuals who wish to continue using their Driver’s License to board domestic flights or enter federal buildings after October 1, 2020. 

 Should you have any questions about the Real ID, please contact the Office of Driver Services at 501-682-7059, email questions to driver.services@dfa.arkansas.gov  or VISIT www.ar.gov/realid or www.dhs.gov/real-id

January 20, 2020

Research tells us that 61% of low-income families have no age-appropriate books in their homes. Middle-income homes have an average of 13 books per child.

 On average, children in poverty have been exposed to only 25 hours of one-on-one reading, compared to middle-class children who have been exposed to 1,000-1,700 hours of one-on-one reading. Only 48% of young children are read to daily. 

 Exposure to books provides significant academic advantages as 85% of the brain is developed between the ages of 3-5.

 To provide Arkansas families with more resources, a state 501 (c) (3) partnered with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library in July 2017. Arkansas is 1 of 4 states to partner with the organization.

 In 1995, singer-songwriter Dolly Parton launched the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, to benefit the children of her home county in East Tennessee. Her vision was to foster a love of reading among her county’s preschool children and their families. The new program gave each child from birth to age 5 a specially selected book each month. 

The program has expanded and now delivers 1.4 million books each month to children nationwide.

Recently, the House and Senate Education Committees were updated on the progress of the Arkansas Imagination Library.

Approximately, 39,000 books are delivered each month to Arkansas children enrolled in the program. And in the last year, more than 427,000 books have been delivered to Arkansas homes. The number of books mailed monthly grew 87.3% in just two years.

Thousands of families could still benefit from the program. Any family with children ages 5 and under can sign up regardless of income. We have provided a link on our website www.arkansashouse.org.

January 13, 2020

In an age where technology moves at a rapid pace, electronic devices often become e-waste in only a few years after manufacturing.

 Electronic waste is commonly known as e-waste. It is defined as used electronics that are nearing the end of their useful life, and are discarded, donated or given to a recycler.

 The amount of worldwide e-waste generation in 2018 exceeded 50 million tons. And it’s growing at a rate of 5% every year.

 This week, a House City, County, and Local Affairs Planning Sub-Committee held a meeting to discuss e-waste, the impact it has on our state, and what is being done to address the problem.

 Many electronics contain elements – lead, mercury, and cadmium, for example – that are safe when the items are used as directed but can be hazardous if disposed of in household trash and compacted at landfills.

 There are 19 Regional Solid Waste Management Districts across the state. Representatives from several of those districts testified to members of the committee about their e-waste recycling efforts. 

 In that testimony, we learned that e-waste represents 2% of America’s trash in landfills, but it equals 70% of overall toxic waste. We also learned that only 12.5% of e-waste is currently recycled. 

 An estimated 6,000 tons of e-waste in 2018 were collected and processed in Arkansas.

 Recycling one million laptops saves the energy equivalent to the electricity used by more than 3,500 US homes in a year. For every million cell phones we recycle, 35 thousand pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, and 75 pounds of gold can be recovered.

 For all the benefits of recycling electronics, collection efforts can be costly. And with Arkansans disposing more each year it is an issue that demands our attention.

 While the legislature continues to study ways to address e-waste collection efforts, there are things all of us can do to reduce the amount of products we discard. Proper maintenance of electronics can extend their usefulness.  And before discarding, consider selling or donating your used device.

 Many Arkansas communities offer electronic waste collection centers or events. We posted a link to find an e-waste collection center in your area on our website www.arkansashouse.org.

January 3, 2020

One of the new laws which took effect this week may reduce the number of uninsured motorists on Arkansas roads.

Nationwide, it is estimated that 1 in 8 drivers do not have insurance. In Arkansas, the uninsured motorist rate has been higher than the national average in recent years. The latest numbers show close to 16% of drivers on our roads may be uninsured. Arkansas State Police write more than 10,000 citations a year for failing to provide proof of insurance.

Legislators along with law enforcement and insurance companies worked for two years to implement a system to address this problem.

The result is the implementation of a real-time insurance verification program. It was created by Act 1016 of 2017. The fees and dates of implementation were created by Act 869 of 2019. It went into effect on January 1, 2020.

The system allows law enforcement real-time data when they run a license plate. It will tell officers if the car is currently insured or if a policy has lapsed. In addition, it will also result in letters being issued to any Arkansan (with a registered vehicle) if they allow any lapse in insurance coverage. As soon as the system is alerted to the lapse, the owner will be issued a $100 fine for the lapse in coverage along with a letter notifying them of this.  If the fine and proof of insurance are not provided within a certain time frame (normally 30 days), the vehicle’s registration will be permanently suspended until the fine is paid and coverage confirmed.

When a similar system was implemented in Alabama, the rates of uninsured motorists on the road dropped from more than 20% to 13%.

This is just one of several laws which took effect this week.  You can find a list of other laws on our website www.arkansashouse.org.

December 27, 2019

As many of you are reflecting on 2019 and setting goals for 2020, we want to remind you of what is ahead for the Arkansas House in the New Year.

 In less than 10 weeks, Arkansans will be heading to the polls to cast ballots in the March 3 primary.

This year, the General Assembly passed Act 545 whichprovides for a March preferential primary election in the years in which the office of President of the United States is voted on and a May preferential primary election in the years in which the office of Governor is voted on.

 Fiscal sessions have been held on the second Monday in February on even-numbered years. However, Act 545 states that on years in which the preferential primary is held in March, the General Assembly will instead meet for a fiscal session on the second Wednesday of April.  

 This means we will begin pre-fiscal session budget hearings the day after the primary election, March 4.

The hearings are expected to continue through March 12.

Members can begin filing bills for the session on March 9. We will convene on April 8.

 In 2008, Arkansans approved Amendment 86 which created fiscal sessions. Only budget bills are to be considered during a fiscal session. If any member wishes to file a bill other an appropriation bill during a fiscal session, then 2/3 of both chambers must first vote on a resolution to allow such a bill to be filed. Amendment 86 is also very clear about keeping these sessions brief.  Fiscal Sessions can only be 30 days long.  They can be extended one time for 15 days only if ¾ of both chambers agree.

 We head into this New Year with an optimistic financial outlook. State revenue reports continue to exceed economic forecasts. And the unemployment level is at 3.6%.

Just as you do with your budget, our job in the weeks ahead will be to prioritize spending. As a reminder all of our budget hearings are live streamed and recorded on our websitewww.arkansashouse.org.

December 20, 2019

From delivering the food to the grocery store shelves to stocking up retail stores with must have gifts, the trucking industry touches every aspect of the holidays.
As the trend towards online shopping continues, the trucking industry continues to provide a critical infrastructure for our nation. Arkansas companies play an important role in providing the drivers and logistics.
As a midway point between Mexico City and Montreal, our central location enables Arkansas to have a large and growing distribution and logistics services sector. Arkansas offers access to a market of 100 million people within a 550-mile radius of the state. That represents 40% of the total U.S. population.
More than 55,000 Arkansans are employed at more than 80 distribution centers and 10 major trucking companies in the state.
Arkansas is home to two transportation companies on Fortune magazine’s list of the largest 1,000 companies in the United States, based on annual revenue – J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc. and ArcBest. And of the 25 largest employers in the state, 20% are in the transportation services sector.
The trucking industry is a growing industry. Nationwide, the number of trucking businesses grew 15.9% between 2012 and 2016, outpacing total growth across all industries. This translates into an increase of 200,000 workers in the trucking industry during that time period.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, at least one in 10 truckers are veterans, double the rate of workers in general.
The Census Bureau also notes the demographic of new truckers is changing. Among younger truckers under age 35, more of them are women and they are more educated than their older counterparts. They’re also more urban. The percentage of young truck drivers coming from rural areas is about half that of older truckers, with fewer than 20% of younger truckers living in rural areas.
Although many truckers work a regular 40-hour workweek, almost half of truckers work longer hours. And many are working extra hours during this season. So if you see or know a trucker, thank them this season for tackling one of our economy’s most demanding and important jobs.

December 13, 2019

The holidays are a magical time at the State Capitol. Lights illuminate the exterior at night, the halls are draped with garland, and school choirs from across the state serenade us with carols throughout the day.

But there is one particular day in the season here at that stands apart from the rest.  On Tuesday, we celebrated the 5th year of Christmas in the Capitol. At this event, legislators gather with the Governor, constitutional officers, and state employees as we bring gifts for the more than 4,000 children in Arkansas foster care.

This year was the biggest yet. Several of the children were able to make it the event. And seeing their faces as they open the gifts is a humble reminder of our duty to them as legislators. As Rep. Charlene Fite said, “We love them. And we see a bright, bright future for them.”

Earlier that day, the committee for Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs was given a quarterly report from the Division of Children and Family Services.

Currently, there are 4,362 children in foster care. Neglect and substance abuse are the most prevalent reasons for children entering foster care.

Additional funding for DHS approved by the legislature in recent years has helped to increase the number of caseworkers and decrease the average worker caseload. The average caseload statewide stands at 21 cases per worker. The Division’s goal is 20 or fewer.

Arkansas consistently exceeds the national standard of 40.5% in finding a permanent living situation for children within 12 months removal from their home.

There are 1,502 licensed foster family homes open statewide, providing a total of 3,394 available beds. The ratio of foster home beds to children in foster care was less than one (.78) at the end of the first quarter. The goal is to have at least one foster home bed available for each child.

Kids in foster care do better in homes, not facilities. We need caring, patient, and flexible foster families who can provide temporary care to kids while we work to get them safely back home to their original families as quickly as possible.

While we need foster homes for all of our kids in foster care, we especially need homes for teens and for sibling groups.

If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, visitwww.fosterarkansas.org.

December 6, 2019

Monthly revenue reports help to give us a picture of the state’s economy.  The reports show us if Arkansans are making more, spending more, and if businesses are doing well. Recent reports have created an optimistic outlook.
Five months into the fiscal year, general revenue for the state continues to exceed expectations. In fact, more gross general revenue was collected this November than any November in state history. November collections totaled $515.2 million. That is $23 million more than November 2018.
Sales tax collections are contributing to the increase in general revenue. This month, the revenue from sales tax was $9.1 million or 4.5% above last year. On a year to date basis, sales and use taxes are 3.1% more than Fiscal Year 2019.
Legislation passed in the 2019 Regular Session began requiring online retailers to collect and remit taxes on in-state purchases. That legislation went into effect in July of this year.
To date, there has been $104.2 million more in gross general revenue collected than this time last year.  That is a 3.9% increase.
Individual income tax collections are $73 million above this time last year.  We anticipate income tax revenue to decrease next year as new legislation lowering income tax takes effect. The top rate for income tax will drop from 6.9% to 6.6% on January 1, 2020. It will drop again to 5.9% on January 1, 2021.
Corporate income taxes are also showing an increase from last year.
All of these increases reflect our low unemployment rate and healthy consumer confidence. The unemployment rate in Arkansas is 3.5%, just slightly below the national average.
By monitoring the state’s revenue closely, we are able to create a budget that best serves the needs of the public. Budget hearings for the next fiscal year begin March 4. We convene for the 2020 Fiscal Session on April 8.
You can review the monthly revenue reports at www.dfa.arkansas.gov.

November 29, 2019

Typically when a bill is passed in the state legislature, if it does not have an emergency clause, it will take effect 90 days after we adjourn.  But there are occasions when a specific date is written into the bill.  This year, we passed several bills that will take effect January 1, 2020.  These impact everything from auto insurance to tax brackets.

Here are several pieces of legislation going into effect at the beginning of the year:

ACT 182 reduces the top income tax rate from 6.9% to 6.6%.  This will lower again to 5.9% in 2021.

ACT 869 requires the implementation of the online insurance verification system by January 1, 2020. In a routine traffic stop, the new online verification system allows the officer to confirm in real time whether the vehicle is insured. Under the current system, the insurance data accessed by the officer may be up to 30 days old.

ACT 774 requires the Department of Finance and Administration to provide space on individual income tax forms for a taxpayer to designate more than one account for the direct deposit of the taxpayer’s refund beginning with returns filed for tax year January 1, 2020.

ACT 1063 provides that a tow facility may tow heavy-duty motor vehicles as part of a law enforcement program if the tow facility is licensed by the Arkansas Towing and Recovery Board, passes safety inspections, and complies with state and federal laws.

ACT 564 requires the annual publication of the county budget and the annual financial report of the county. 

ACT 653 prohibits state funding of human cloning and destructive embryo research.

ACT 1021 establishes the process for governing directed trusts and clarifies the applicability, principal place of administration, excluded powers, limitations, defenses, and duties and liability of trust directors and directed trustees.

ACT 866 prohibits a business that is subject to a business closure order by the Department of Finance and Administration from contracting or doing business with the state. 

ACT 822 extends the net operating loss carry-forward period to eight years for losses occurring in the tax year starting Jan. 1, 2020.

ACT 988 amends the law concerning the reemployment of certain retired members of the Arkansas Local Police and Fire Retirement System. The act applies to a member of the system who on or after January 1, 2020, elects to participate in the Local Police and Fire Deferred Retirement Option Plan, retires from the system as a participant in the Local Police and Fire Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or retires from the system. 

 

You can find a complete summary of all the legislation passed in 2019 on our websitewww.arkansashouse.org.

November 15, 2019

On October 1, 2020, anyone who boards a domestic flight or enters a federal building will either need a REAL ID driver’s license (DL) or Identification Card (ID) or will need to provide a regular identification and additional accepted forms of identification.

Arkansas is taking part in the federal nationwide initiative to improve the security of state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards, which will help fight terrorism and reduce identity fraud.

The federal REAL ID Act of 2005 adopted the recommendations of the 911 Commission. The REAL ID Act prohibits the federal government from accepting driver’s licenses or identification cards issued by states that do not meet the requirements of the REAL ID Act. This includes but is not limited to commercial air flights and federal buildings.

You can upgrade to REAL ID at any time by having a duplicate license issued at a REAL ID office. The following Revenue Offices issue the REAL ID: Arkadelphia, Batesville, Bentonville, Conway, El Dorado, Fayetteville, Forrest City, Fort Smith (6515 Phoenix Avenue), Greenwood, Harrison, Hot Springs (200 Woodbine), Jonesboro, Little Rock (Three State Police Plaza Drive), Little Rock (1900 W. 7th Street), Little Rock (9108 North Rodney Parham), Monticello, Mountain Home, Paragould, Russellville, Searcy, Sherwood, Springdale, Texarkana, West Memphis, and White Hall.

An individual applying for Real ID must provide more documentation than an individual applying for a regular driver’s license or State ID.The federal government requires Arkansans to confirm proof of residency, legal presence and identity and Social Security number through the following documentation:

Passport or birth certificate
Two proof of address documents such as utility bills or bank statements
Social Security card
Name change linking documents, example: Marriage Certificate, Divorce Decree, Court Order

The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) recently launched a website, www.ar.gov/REALID, allowing Arkansans to list the documentation that will be presented at the Revenue Office to obtain a REAL ID. The website confirms the documents meet all requirements or specifies which document is missing.

The cost to obtain a REAL ID does not differ from the cost to obtain or renew a license or ID.

Close to 250,000 Arkansans have obtained a REAL ID, which is approximately ten percent of active licenses and IDs in the state.  Make plans to get yours soon!

November 2, 2019

On Monday morning, House members were informed of the passing of one of our fellow representatives.

 Representative John Walker was elected to the House in 2010 and was serving his 5thterm when he passed at the age of 82.

 He represented District 34 which includes southwest portions of Little Rock. His public service career stretched far beyond the halls of the Capitol.

 Walker attended Yerger High School in Hopeuntil 1952 and continued his education at Jack Yates High School in Houston, Texas, where he graduated in 1954.

 He was the first African American undergraduate student admitted to the University of Texas after the Brown decision in 1954 but was not allowed to attend for racial reasons.  He went on to earn his bachelor’s degree from Arkansas AM&N at Pine Bluff (now University of Arkansas Pine Bluff) in 1958 with a degree in sociology. Dr. Martin Luther King was the keynote speaker at his graduation.

 Representative Walker earned his master’s degree from New York University and in 1964, he received a law degree from Yale Law School.

He embarked on his public service as an attorney soon after.  Walker’s first work was as an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) in New York. In 1965, he opened the first integrated law firm in Arkansas, where he consistently worked to provide equal educational opportunities. Between 1965 and now, Walker has personally been involved in most of the reported racial discrimination cases in the state.

 In 2017, Rep. Walker sponsored legislation Act 566, An Act to Create the Helping Our People Excel (H.O.P.E.) Act of 2017 which allowed the state to opt out of federal prohibitions on public assistance for those with drug convictions.

 A service for Rep. Walker was held in the rotunda of the Capitol on Thursday. During the service, House Speaker Matthew Shepherd gave these words, “His sheer presence made our House stronger and our state better. Rep. Walker was one of those statesmen who spoke from experience rather than ego. He could vigorously oppose legislation in committee or on the floor, and immediately following adjournment would visit with those same members with whom he was in opposition to.  He was also someone who encouraged others.”

We mourn the loss of Rep. Walker and send our deepest condolences to his family and friends.

October 18, 2019

On average, an Arkansan with a bachelor’s degree will earn $700,000 more in a 30 year career than those who drop out of college.  The gap climbs to $1.5 million for those with a doctorate.

This information is included in the 2018 Economic Security Report which was presented this week to the Arkansas Legislative Council Higher Education Sub-Committee.

The report makes clear that the cost to obtain any certificates or degrees at an Arkansas public postsecondary institution is significantly lower than the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in additional average career earnings.

Not including living expenses, the estimated cost in Arkansas for an associate’s degree is $10,000. The estimated cost for a bachelor’s degree $30,000.

Each level of educational achievement provides a boost in earnings power. In fact, the report shows a significant difference in earnings just the first year. On average, first year earnings for Arkansans with a bachelor’s degree are $31,800. Average first year earnings for high school graduates are $11,900.

Employment rates are also impacted by levels of education. First year full-time employment rates for college dropouts is 29%. The rates climb to 44% for Arkansans with a Certificate of Proficiency and 58% for those with an associate’s degree.

In most cases, what you study matters more than where you study. For those with an associate’s degree, science technology and health professionals make the most in average first year earnings. For those with bachelor’s degrees, engineering students make the most in average first year earnings.

Studies of health professions are the most popular over all degree areas in Arkansas as well as being the most popular choice for Certificates of Proficiency, Technical Certificates, and First Professional degrees. The most common Bachelor’s degree programs are in Business, Management, and Marketing.

Although each graduate’s success will reflect a variety of factors such as the local job market, where they choose to live, and what area they chose to study, the Economic Report provides valuable information as students and parents consider education and career choices. We have posted the report on our websitewww.arkansashouse.org.

October 11, 2019

A 2017 study titled “Indicators of School Crime and Safety,” published by the United States Department of Justice and the United States Department of Education, reported that 20% of students ages 12-18 reported being bullied at school during the previous school year.

The same study also reported that about 33% of students who reported being bullied at school indicated that they were bullied at least once or twice a month during the school year.

The persistence of school bullying has led to instances of student suicide across the country, including Arkansas.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Bullying is when someone hurts or scares another person repeatedly. It can include name calling, inflicting physical pain, exclusion, public humiliation, hurtful pranks and defacing property.

The Arkansas legislature began passing anti-bullying legislation in 2003. This year we strengthened those laws in an effort to reduce the instances of bullying in our schools.

In 2019, the General Assembly passed Act 1029, an Act to Amend the State Anti-Bullying Policy.

It requires parents of the victim of bullying be notified as soon as reasonably practicable. It requires schools to investigate and write a report on the complaint within 5 school days. The act also requires the school notify the parent or legal guardian of the student who is determined to have been the perpetrator of the incident of bullying.

In addition, it requires the superintendent to annually update the school board on the number of incidents of bullying reported and the actions taken.

Act 1029 states the Department of Education shall require 2 hours of professional development for licensed public school personnel in bullying prevention and recognition of the relationship between incidents of bullying and the risk of suicide.

This General Assembly also passed Act 190 which requires school counselors to spend at least 90% of his or her working time providing direct and indirect services to students.

The legislature will continue to study the issue of bullying but there are things we can all do.

Help children understand bullying. Talk about what bullying is and how to stand up to it safely. Tell kids bullying is unacceptable. Make sure they know how to get help.

And finally we can all model how to treat others with kindness and respect.

September 27, 2019

In 2016 in Arkansas, a total of 2,226 women were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and 400 women died from the disease.

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

October is breast cancer awareness month. This is an opportunity to remind Arkansans of the importance of mammograms for early detection and life style changes that could help prevent cancer.

 Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms.

 In 2017, the General Assembly passed Act 708 which ensures that insurance policies cover annual mammograms for women over 40. It also ensures that 3D mammograms or ultrasounds are covered for women with dense breast tissue. While traditional mammograms are effective for many women, the ultrasound can detect changes in women with dense breast tissue.

 Only about 5–10% of breast cancers are believed to be hereditary, meaning they’re caused by abnormal changes in certain genes passed from parent to child.

The vast majority of people who get breast cancer have no family history, suggesting that other factors must be at work, such as environment and lifestyle.

 If you are uninsured or underinsured, you may qualify for a free or low-cost mammogram through the Arkansas BreastCare program.

BreastCare’s mission is to increase the rate of early detection of breast and cervical cancer and reduce the morbidity and mortality rates among women in Arkansas by lowering barriers to screening that result from lack of information, financial means, or access to quality services. It is funded by the Arkansas Department of Health with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Arkansas Tobacco Excise Tax.

 For more information visitwww.healthy.arkansas.gov.

September 20, 2019

In Arkansas, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men will be the victim of domestic abuse in their lifetime. In 2018, 44 Arkansans died as a result of domestic violence.

Domestic violence occurs among all types of families, regardless of income, profession, region, ethnicity, educational level or race.

This week, a rally was held inside the Capitol to raise awareness as we approach Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October. The Governor and legislators also recognized the work of the 32 domestic violence shelters across the state assisting 18,000 Arkansans last year.

Every year, we study ways to strengthen our domestic violence laws in an effort to reduce and eliminate this epidemic.

In the 2019 Regular Session we passed the following bills addressing domestic violence:

ACT 499 creates a privilege of communication between a victim of domestic violence and the personnel of a domestic violence shelter or center and makes confidential certain communications between a victim and a victim advocate.

Act 498 reconciles the differences between the offenses of domestic battering in the first degree and battery in the first degree and increases the penalties for battery offenses under certain circumstances.

Act 324 allows for an additional sentence of 1 to 10 years in prison if certain offenses are committed in the presence of a child.  The offenses include murder, aggravated robbery, felony assault or battery, and rape. Domestic violence is the leading predictor of child abuse.

Act 113 helps ensure that the $25 fee added to domestic violence convictions is directed to fund domestic violence shelters.

Act 908 amends the Arkansas code concerning orders of protection to align with federal code.

Domestic violence not only affects victims and families, it harms entire communities.

Below are numbers to 24-hour crisis lines:

Women and Children First – (800) 332-4443

Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault – (800) 656-4673

Arkansas State Police Child Abuse – (800) 482-5964

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence – (800) 799-SAFE (7233)

National Human Trafficking Resource Center – (888) 373-7888 .

September 17, 2019

By April 1, 2020, each of you will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census. Representative DeAnn Vaught has reported responding to the census this year will be easier than ever, as this will be the first time you can respond online.

The Constitution mandates that the country conduct a count of its population once every 10 years. The 2020 Census will mark the 24th time that the country has counted its population since 1790.

The Governor recently announced the formation of the Arkansas Complete Count Committee. The 30 member task force includes two state senators and two state representatives who have agreed to help promote statewide participation in the 2020 Census.

When you respond to the census, you help your community gets its fair share of the more than $675 billion per year in federal funds spent on schools, hospitals, roads, public works and other vital programs.

The census tells us much more than just the population of our state and our communities. It tells us about the makeup of those populations, from ages and races to how many people own their home.

Businesses use census data to decide where to build factories and offices. Developers use the census to build new homes.

Local governments use the census for public safety and emergency preparedness. The data can help inform where your community needs a new fire department, more funding for school lunches, or new roads.

The census helps determine how many representatives each state gets in Congress. The information is also used redraw state senate and house district boundaries. Redistricting counts are sent to the states by March 31, 2021.

The answers you provide are used only to produce statistics. You are kept anonymous. The Census Bureau is not permitted to publicly release your responses in any way that could identify you or anyone else in your home.

For more information visitwww.2020census.gov .

September 16, 2019

Volunteer Fire Assistance Grant Opportunity for Rural Volunteer Fire Departments

LITTLE ROCK, AR – The Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Division is now accepting applications for the Volunteer Fire Assistance Grant for Wildfire Suppression Kits until October 4, 2019.

More than 80 Wildfire Suppression Kits will be awarded this year across the state to rural volunteer fire departments.  More than 300 kits have been distributed since 2014.

Volunteer Fire Departments are the Forestry Division’s primary partner in wildfire response and suppression.  The kits will provide volunteer fire departments the specialized equipment needed for safe suppression, including up to ten wildfire-resistant coveralls, ten pairs of wildland gloves, two backpack leaf blowers, two collapsible backpack water pumps, and six leaf rakes.

Rural volunteer fire departments interested in applying may submit an application to their District Forester. Applications are scored according to specific criteria to include the population of the fire district, the number of square miles covered, the average number of wildfires a department responds to annually, and other factors. The selected departments will be notified in October, and kits will be delivered in March of 2020.

The program is administered by the Forestry Division’s Rural Fire Protection office, with funding provided by the United States Forest Service. Additional information and the application can be found atwww.agriculture.arkansas.gov/rural-fire-program.

Contact Kathryn Mahan-Hooten at Kathryn.Mahan@agriculture.arkansas.gov or (501) 679-3183 with questions or to be added to the Rural Fire Program email distribution list.

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

The Arkansas Agriculture Department offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability and is an Equal Opportunity Employer

https://www.aad.arkansas.gov/Websites/aad/files/Content/6140361/VFA_Grant_Opportunity_for_Rural_Volunteer_Fire_Departments2.pdf

September 6, 2019

In the United States, someone dies by suicide every 11.1 minutes. In Arkansas, someone dies by suicide, on average, every 14 hours. 

Suicide is not inevitable for anyone.  By starting the conversation, providing support, and directing help to those who need it, we can prevent suicides and save lives.

The second week of September has been declared Suicide Prevention Awareness Week.  Suicide prevention is a priority for our nation and our state.

In 2017, the legislature passed Act 811 which mandated that calls made from Arkansas to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline be operated by the Arkansas Department of Health.  This has allowed callers in crises to be able to speak to someone who has a strong understanding of resources available nearby.

In the 2019 Regular Session, the legislature passed Act 551 whichrequires the House Committee on Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs and the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs to examine veteran issues within Arkansas, including the occurrence of suicide among the veteran population in Arkansas. The act also requires the committees to file a written report with Legislative Council by December 1, 2020.

This General Assembly also passed Act 962 which creates the offense of encouraging the suicide of another person and makes the offense a Class D felony.

In the United States, the prevalence of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts is more than double among young adults aged 18-25 than it is among adults 26 years and older. In Arkansas, suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 15-34 years of age. An important component for the suicide prevention program is improving continuity of care and follow-up for youth identified at risk. That is why the suicide prevention program in our state is implementing integrated networks of care for community populations to ensure that follow-up care and evidence-based treatments are in place.

If you are in crisis now, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Veterans can access the Veteran Crises line by calling the number and pressing 1.

Anyone can also text the crisis line by sending TALK to 741741, or chat online at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/.

August 23, 2019

Arkansas recently set a new record low for unemployment. The unemployment rate for July was 3.4 %, breaking the previous record of 3.5% last month. There are 19,200 more jobs in our state than this time last year.

But the story of our work force does not end there.  As we approach Labor Day, it’s worth taking a look at our state’s largest occupations, what occupations are in demand, and what occupations are paying the most.

This information is released annually in the Department of Workforce Services Arkansas Labor Market and Economic Report.

Retail salespersons was estimated to have the most employees across the state with 37,050 employed in 2017 with an average wage of $24,990. Combined food preparation and serving workers was the second largest occupation with 35,520 employed, earning an average wage of $19,620.

When it comes to occupations in demand, the report is divided into three categories: high skill, moderate skill, and basic skill.

The most in-demand high skill occupations in our state are operations managers, registered nurses, clergy, elementary school teachers (except special education), accountants and auditors.

The most in-demand moderate skill occupations are truck drivers, nursing assistants, bookkeeping and auditing clerks, teacher assistants, and licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses.

The most in-demand basic skill occupations are food preparation and food serving workers, cashiers, retail sales, farmers and other agricultural managers.

Internists topped the occupations paying the most list with an annual salary of $247,280. Obstetricians and Gynecologists, with an average annual salary of $235,130 ranked second.

The entry wage estimate for employers of all sizes was $20,160 for 2017. The median wage estimate for employers with 250-499 employees was $32,317, while wages for experienced workers averaged $50,710 for employers in all size categories.

Our labor market is expected to continue to grow. You can find more detailed information on the labor market in various regions of the state by reading the report we have linked on our website www.arkansashouse.org.

August 16, 2019

During any given day in the school year, there are 350,000 children riding a bus on Arkansas roadways.
This week, legislators joined the Governor, Education Secretary Johnny Key, and state police in reminding drivers that Flashing Red means Kids Ahead.
It is illegal to pass a stopped school bus whenever its red lights are flashing, as students are present. The law requires drivers to stop on 2 lane and 4 lane highways in both directions, even those with a middle lane. Drivers cannot attempt to pass in any direction until the school bus has finished receiving or discharging passengers and is in motion again.
And yet, Arkansans violate this law routinely.  Back in April, Arkansas school bus drivers reported 884 instances of motorists illegally passing stopped school buses in one day. Twelve of those instances occurred on the right side of the bus, where students enter and leave the bus.
The penalties and punishment for anyone found guilty of illegally passing a stopped school bus were increased dramatically by Act 2128 of 2005, also known as Isaac’s Law. The legislation was named in honor of Isaac Brian, an elementary school student in the Bryant School District who was struck and killed when a driver illegally passed his school bus while students were exiting the vehicle.  The legislature increased the fines in Isaac’s Law again this year with Act 166. Drivers can now face up to a $2,500 fine for a violation.
Isaac’s father, William Brian, spoke at the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday, “I’m encouraging you to take your responsibility as a driver seriously. I’m asking you eliminate distractions and have a heightened sense of awareness anytime you see flashing red lights.”
Everyone has a responsibility to ensure students arrive to and from school safely. Remember: Flashing Red. Kids Ahead. To learn more about the campaign, visit www.flashingredkidsahead.org.

August 9, 2019

In Arkansas, there are on average 71 billion gallons of water flowing in rivers, 4.8 trillion gallons in lakes and 200 trillion gallons in the ground.

Our state is abundant with water resources and much of our economy depends on it. It is estimated Arkansans use 157 gallons of water every day.

 August is National Water Quality Month.  It reminds us to take a look at what our households and communities are doing to protect sources of fresh water.

 The Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants and regulating quality standards for surface waters. But most people are unaware of the little ways they can pollute their water.

 The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends using and disposing of harmful materials properly. When hazardous waste is dumped on the ground it can contaminate the soil. Contaminated soil then contaminates the ground water or nearby surface water. A number of products used at home contain hazardous or toxic substances that can contaminate ground or surface waters, such as:

·         Motor oil

·         Pesticides

·         Leftover paints or paint cans

·         Mothballs

·         Flea collars

·         Household cleaners

·         A number of medicines

Next, don’t overuse pesticides or fertilizers. Many fertilizers and pesticides contain hazardous chemicals which can travel through the soil and contaminate ground water.

 It is also recommended to keepyard waste off the streets, sidewalks, and driveways, and gutters. If yard waste such as grass clippings and leaves enters our storm drains, it flows untreated directly to creeks, streams, and lakes. As yard waste breaks down, nutrients that are released can lead to water pollution. 

Overall, Arkansans have access to good quality water.  But it is not a resource to take for granted.  The University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension has extensive material on how to best protect conserve and protect our water atwww.uaex.edu.

August 6, 2019

Governor Hutchinson Announces the “Arkansas Rural Connect” 
Grant Program, $25 Million for Broadband Deployment

Must provide broadband speed of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps; Town must have at least 500 residents to qualify

LITTLE ROCK – Following his July 23 announcement establishing the Arkansas State Broadband Office, Governor Asa Hutchinson today announced “Arkansas Rural Connect,” a new $25 million grant program within the Arkansas State Broadband Office. Governor Hutchinson made the announcement while speaking to the Arkansas Sheriff’s Association in Rogers. The goal is to provide high-speed broadband to rural communities throughout Arkansas by 2022, as outlined in the State Broadband Plan released in May.

The Arkansas Rural Connect (ARC) program will provide grants to qualifying communities of at least 500 people to deploy high-speed broadband to its residents. The high-speed broadband must have a rate of at least 25 megabits per second for download and 3 megabits per second for upload (25/3).

“The long-term success of our economy will be determined by the resources our entrepreneurs have access to, and high-speed broadband is at the top of that list,” said Governor Hutchinson. “The Arkansas Rural Connect program is an important tool that will allow the state to assist our local communities with the critical funding necessary to reach our goal of statewide connectivity. I will be asking legislative approval for the $25 million broadband plan.”

Of this $25 million plan, the Arkansas Legislative Council is able to approve $5.7 million this year, and the balance will need to be appropriated in next year’s fiscal session.

The ARC program builds on the work of the Arkansas state legislature, which, on February 26, 2019, opened up new possibilities for Arkansas towns by enacting Act 198 of 2019. Before Act 198, government entities were forbidden to provide broadband to the public by the Telecommunications Regulatory Reform Act of 2013.

Act 198 gave municipalities and other public entities new options to apply for funding to deploy broadband, but at that time, no state program existed that would allow municipalities to exercise their new powers under Act 198. With the introduction of the ARC grant program, towns will now have opportunities for funding from the state.

“One of the first infrastructure questions potential economic development prospects ask is regarding the speed of information across the state,” said Commerce Secretary Mike Preston. “As we build out the system with help from funding through the Arkansas Rural Connect program, individuals, schools and companies will benefit and create a new environment for learning and commerce.”

“The Arkansas Rural Connect grant seeks to close financing gaps and make the business case work for broadband projects in towns that lack adequate service,” said Dr. Nathan Smith, the state’s Broadband Manager. “Broadband is evolving into a necessity for modern life, similar to traditional utilities such as electricity, telephone service, sewage, and water. This new program will make broadband available to more Arkansans.” 

Detailed rules for the ARC grant program will be developed in consultation with stakeholders in the near future. Citizens may look for the grant program to prioritize applications that:

    • Partner with an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to deploy broadband at 25/3 speeds to all residents of a community.
    • Share project costs and/or provide facilitation for the project by procuring rights-of-way for wireline deployments.
    • Have a population of at least 500 with less than 50 percent of the population covered by broadband speeds of 25/3.
  • Do not constrain normal internet use.

While the Governor’s goal and the Arkansas Rural Connect grant focus on cities and towns, the State Broadband Office will also seek to promote broadband connectivity in rural areas and throughout the state. Federal grants and loans from federal agencies like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Department of Commerce are available to fund broadband deployment, and the State Broadband Office will seek to educate local leaders and to be a resource for towns, cities, and ISPs looking for funding from these federal programs.

CONTACT:  Governor’s Press Shop (press@governor.arkansas.gov or501.682.3642)
                       Department of Commerce (ACurtis@ArkansasEDC.com)

July 26, 2019

Most students in Arkansas public schools head back to the classroom the second week of August. From recess to reading, there are several pieces of legislation passed in the most recent session which will impact the upcoming school year. 

Below are some, but not all, of the acts taking effect this year.

Act 641 ensures that elementary schools provide 40 minutes of recess for students. 

Act 190 states a school counselor shall spend at least ninety percent (90%) of his or her working time providing direct and indirect services to students. 

 Act 629 allows school districts to hire certified law enforcement officers as school resource officers.  

Act 1029 requires parents of the victim of bullying be notified as soon as reasonably practicable. It requires schools to write a report on the complaint within 5 school days. The bill also requires the school notify the guardian of the student who is determined to have been the perpetrator of the bullying.

Act 288 makes it a primary offense to use a handheld wireless device in a school zone.

 Act 166 raises the maximum penalty for passing a stopped school bus from $500 to $2,000.

 Act 530 makes it a Class A misdemeanor if a mandated reporter fails to notify law enforcement of a serious threat regarding violence in or targeted at a school.

Act 640 amends school discipline procedures, repealing mandatory expulsion from school for possession of weapons.

Act 428 makes it against the law for students to be shamed or stigmatized for not paying for lunch. It prohibits schools from providing a different meal or snack than other students or requiring the student to dispose of the meal.

 Act 602 allows school districts to develop policies for distribution of excess food.

 Act 83 enhances the Right to Read Act.  This bill would require public schools and open-enrollment public charter schools to include a literacy plan in their annual school level improvement plan.  The plan would have to include curriculum and professional development aligned with the literacy needs of that school and based on the Science of Reading initiative.

 Act 466 allows high school students to earn credit for the required family finance course starting in ninth grade.

 Act 245 requires that bleeding control training be taught as part of high school health courses. 

 We would also like to remind families that Act 757 of 2011 provides for a sales tax holiday in Arkansas during the first weekend of August each year to help families purchase clothing and supplies needed for school.  This year’s holiday will begin at 12:01am on Saturday, August 3 and end at 11:59pm on Sunday, August 4.

 We’ve posted answers to frequently asked questions about the holiday on our websitewww.arkansashouse.org.

July 19, 2019

Arkansas is approaching the centennial of a historic vote in the House chamber.  On July 28, 1919, then Governor Charles Brough called a special session for the purpose of ratifying the Nineteenth Amendment. 

The House Journal records a letter Brough sent to our chamber 100 years ago.

In it he states, “Eleven states have already ratified and, should your Honorable Body ratify, nation-wide Women’s Suffrage will have passed the first milestone, as one-fourth of the States will have then conferred full suffrage upon our splendid womanhood.”

The letter goes on to read, “I feel that the ratification of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment is of paramount national importance to the people of our country, and is a proper recognition of the patriotic activities and useful devotion to the cause of liberty and democracy of our womanhood”

The vote passed 74–15 in the House. The vote in the Senate was 29-2, making Arkansas the twelfth state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. According to newspaper reports at the time, women filled the Arkansas Capitol carrying yellow banners reading, “Votes for Women.”

Arkansas was the second state in the South to ratify the 19th amendment. Texas was the first when it ratified on June 23, 1919.

Demands for suffrage had been made in Arkansas dating back to the Constitutional Convention of 1868.

That attempt and many others to allow women to vote failed in the Arkansas legislature over the course of the next 49 years. 

Then in February 1917, Rep. John Riggs introduced legislation to allow women to vote in Arkansas primaries.

Despite testimony on the House floor “That nothing would be gained by giving women access to the ballot”, the House voted 71-19 in favor of the measure. The bill later passed the Senate with a vote 17-15. Arkansas was the first state in the South to allow women in vote in primary elections.

Governor Hutchinson created the Arkansas Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commemoration Committee to lead the state’s remembrance of women receiving the right to vote. You can check out the committee’s work on history and upcoming celebrations at www.arkansasheritage.com. And if you haven’t already, be sure to follow #ARGirlslead on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  There you will find stories from the women who serve in the House and encouragement for more Arkansas girls to seek leadership roles.

July 11, 2019

Arkansas had one of the most productive, if not most productive, legislative sessions in the country with regard to addressing occupational regulations. Occupational regulations are licensures, certifications, or registrations required for workers in certain occupations. A few examples of licensed occupations include real estate agents, cosmetologists, and veterinarians.

The success during the legislative session is partly due to Arkansas participating in the 15-state learning consortium through the U.S. Department of Labor (supported by the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), National Governors Association for Best Practices (NGA), and The Council of State Governments (CSG)) and further addressing occupational licensure through the Governor’s Red Tape Reduction Working Group.

 For the 2019 legislative session, 41 bills were passed into law that were related to occupational licensing, certification, and registration.  One of the new laws (Act 250) ensures that an individual does not lose a license due to a defaulted or delinquent student loan.  Another law (Act 820) provides automatic licensure for active duty members, veterans and spouses of military members if they were practicing in another state.

Those forty-one acts can be categorized into specific areas of concern that were discussed as part of the Red Tape Reduction Working Group and the related, Occupational Licensing Advisory Group, including:

(1) Removing Barriers to entry and having the least restrictive regulations in place.

(2) Addressing impacted populations; e.g., military spouses/ veterans/ military members, those with criminal records, and immigrants.

(3) Focusing on licensing board composition.

(4) Engaging in reciprocity agreements & multi-state compacts.

(5) Various administrative and organizational improvements.

One of the acts passed was Act 600 which creates annual legislative reviews of occupational authorizations and entities.  This will help to ensure that we continue implementing the least restrictive form of authorization while protecting consumers.

In June, the Occupational Licensing Review Subcommittee of Legislative Council met to draft rules and begin establishing a timeline of occupations to be reviewed this year. The occupational authorizations and the occupational entities will be divided into six groups. The committee will review one group each year.  The subcommittee will meet again September 19.  You can review the materials and watch the proceedings at www.arkleg.state.ar.us.

June 22, 2019

From guided hikes to kayak outings, there are over 50,000 family friendly programs available at our Arkansas State Parks.  If you are still looking for a summer getaway, consider the options in our own backyard.

In 1996, Arkansas voters passed a constitutionally dedicated conservation sales tax benefitting Arkansas State Parks and three sister conservation agencies.  We now have 52 state parks on 54,400 acres with 1,800 campsites, 208 cabins, and 5 lodges serving 8 million visitors annually.

Arkansas has more than 9,700 miles of rivers and streams, and a good deal of it is perfect for floating—be it by canoe, raft or kayak.Experience a lake tour at DeGray Lake Resort, or view the sunset from your kayak on the Bull Shoals-White River. Park interpreters will guide you through the waters as they inform you about your surroundings.

Our state parks also offer lessons in how to cook in historic southern traditions.  Learn about the flavors of various herbs at the Ozark Folk Center or how to prepare pizza in an earthen oven at Davidsonville.

Or get away from the harsh city lights and attend a star party. Arkansas’s state parks welcome visitors to look for constellations and learn about astronomy this spring and summer.  Guided tours are offered at several parks including Village Creek and Pinnacle Mountain.  

And speaking of stars, don’t forget about the opportunities at our national parks. The International Dark-Sky Association just recently designated the Buffalo National River Park as a Dark Sky Park.  It is the first such designation for Arkansas and now becomes one of only 19 national parks to be officially recognized as a Dark Sky Park.

There will be a variety of ranger-led night sky programs offered at Buffalo Point this summer.

The Arkansas River flooding is impacting only a few park services.  We encourage you to call the park ahead of time to ensure your planned activities are still on schedule.

Check out all Arkansas parks has to offer atwww.arkansasstateparks.com .  You can find information on our national parks atwww.nps.gov.

June 14, 2019

There are now more than 460,000 students enrolled in Arkansas public schools. And an additional 18,000 attend an open enrollment charter school.

School districts range in size from less than 300 students to nearly 22,000 students. Charter schools range from about 60 students to more than 3,000.

How we fund education in our ever growing schools and provide for changing needs is through a process that begins in Education Committee meetings.

The House and Senate Education Committee met this week to begin that process for the next biennium.

Arkansas schools received many different types of funding totaling nearly 5.9 billion in 2017-18. Generally speaking, about half of school district/charter school operating revenue comes from state sources, about 40% is generated locally and about 10% comes from the federal government.

Foundation Funding primarily consists of local property tax revenues and the state aid portion of foundation funding. To determine the amount of foundation funding, Arkansas uses a specific formula, known as the matrix. The matrix calculates the per-student funding based on the cost of personnel and other resources needed to operate a prototypical school of 500 students.

Legislators involved in the biennial Adequacy Study determine the resources included in each line of the matrix and the dollar amount needed to fund it.

In the most recent legislative session, we increased the per-student funding from $6,713 to $6,899 per student for the 2019-2020 school year.  It increases funding to $7,018 per student the following school year.

The committee was also presented with information on student outcome measures. In 2016, the state began administering the ACT Aspire assessment. The 2018 ACT Aspire scores show a decrease in 4th grade students scoring ready or above in math and an increase in the 8th grade math scores.

Arkansas’s high school graduation rate has increased since 2011 to 88% of high school students. While the overall increase mirrors the national trend, Arkansas has consistently achieved higher 4-year graduation rates than the national rates.

The committee is scheduled to meet again on August 19. You can watch all Joint Education Committee meetings online atwww.arkleg.state.ar.us.

June 7, 2019

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 4 of adults in the United States have some type of disability. In Arkansas, that number climbs to 1 in 3.

In the most recent legislative session, there were a number of acts passed to help better ensure thateverybody has the same opportunities to participate in every aspect of life to the best of their abilities.

Act 59 amends the Achieving a Better Life Experience Program.  This program allows Arkansans with disabilities to save up to $15,000 in an account without impacting eligibility for many public benefits.  Act 59 ensures that in the event of a death, the money in that savings account cannot be seized by Medicaid but can instead be transferred to a designated beneficiary.

Act 825 allows individuals to deduct up to $5,000 in contributions to the Achieving a Better Life Experience Program.

We also passed legislation addressing mental health for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Act 644 states a certified mental health professional shall offer culturally affirmative mental health services and linguistically appropriate mental health services to a client in the client’s primary communication method. It also states the Division of Aging, Adult and Behavioral Health Services of DHS shall do the same. The division is also instructed employ a coordinator to ensure linguistically appropriate mental health services are available and accessible statewide. 

To protect our most vulnerable students, we passed Act 557. This legislation states that a school district shall not use corporal punishment on a child who is intellectually disabled, non-ambulatory, non-verbal, or autistic.

We also passed laws addressing how we write or speak about people with disabilities. It is important to put the person first. Catch-all phrases such as “the blind”, “the deaf” or “the disabled”, do not reflect the individuality, equality or dignity of people with disabilities.

Act 1035 amends laws regarding treatment for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This legislation ensures that respectful language is used within the Arkansas code including changing the term mental retardation to intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Act 236 concerns special license plates and certificates for persons with disabilities.  It states the special license plate issued by the DFA should contain the international symbol of access and not display the word “disabled”.

Together, we can create inclusive communities where people with disabilities can be healthy and lead full, active lives. To find out what your community can do, visit www.cdc.gov.

May 31, 2019

Whether it is rebuilding a family home or planning for the loss of crops, our state will be recovering from these historic floods for months to come.

FEMA just recently announced that federal emergency aid has been made available to Arkansas to supplement state and local response efforts. While our emergency management teams across the state address the immediate needs, we want to direct your attention to several services and advisories being issued by our state agencies.

Roads

The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ArDOT) has opened a Traveler Information Call Center to assist drivers in navigating around flooded highways.  The call center is available by voice or text at (501)-569-2374 daily between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. You can also download the IDrive Arkansas app for up to date information on road closures.

Health

The Arkansas Department of Health announced that the ADH Laboratory is waiving well water testing fees for private well owners impacted by the flood.  The department reminds Arkansans that you should not drink from the well until it has been disinfected and tested. You can contact your local health unit for information about testing.

Consumer Protection

The Arkansas Attorney General’s office is reminding flood victims to beware of “home improvement” loan scams. Scammers may offer to arrange financing or fill out disaster loan applications for a fee. Beware of anyone who offers to inflate the amount of your disaster damage assessment.

Arkansans should also be aware that Act 376 of 1997 prohibits businesses from price gouging during a state of emergency. The law prohibits businesses from charging more than 10 percent above the pre-disaster price of goods or services. The scope of the law is broad and is intended to cover anything that may be needed in the event of a state of emergency. The ban on price gouging remains in effect for at least 30 days and can be extended another 30 days by the local governing body if necessary to protect the lives, property or welfare of the citizens. For home repairs, the law remains in effect for 180 days.

Arkansans can file a consumer complaint with the AG’s office online atwww.arkansasag.govor by calling (800) 482-8982.

Insurance

The Arkansas Insurance Department (AID) announced a 60-day moratorium on the cancellation/non-renewal of policies for the non-payment of premiums by Arkansans affected by the flooding.  This action does not waive the obligation of Arkansans to pay their insurance premiums, it is only an extension of the time period to make your payment without the threat of cancellation.

If you have questions about your insurance coverage during the flood call AID Consumer Services at 800-852-5494.

May 17, 2019

In Arkansas, 41% of the population live in rural counties. In contrast, only 14% of the United States population as a whole live in nonmetropolitan counties. Our state is a very rural one, so when we work to expand our economy we must always recognize the challenges that our rural communities face.

That is why many of us and many of your city and county leaders gathered at the Arkansas Rural Development Conference this week.

This conference is organized by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and is designed for anyone interested in improving the quality of life in Arkansas’ rural communities.

The objective of the annual event is to provide participants with the opportunity to gain a working knowledge about a variety of programs and services that are available to assist communities and their leaders with development, planning and revitalization efforts. 

The House and Senate Committees for Agriculture, Forestry, and Economic Development convened at the conference this week to hear updates on the Big River Steel plant in Osceola and CZ-USA, a firearms manufacturer which recently chose Little Rock as its headquarters.

The House and Senate Committees on City, County, and Local Affairs also convened at the conference. Those committees were given a review of the programs and grants offered by the AEDC Division of Rural Services.

At the conference, Gov. Asa Hutchinson presented grants totaling $586,633.14 to 49 cities and counties throughout Arkansas.  Rural Services grants fall into one of three programs: the Rural Community Grant Program, the County Fair Building Grant Program, and the Arkansas Unpaved Roads Grant Program. All require a 50 percent matching grant to be eligible for the programs.

The conference also presented information from several women and minority business owners who have benefitted from the Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise Division. This division promotes the growth of minority and women-owned businesses by providing them with real-world technical and professional assistance, certification, networking, capital and contracting opportunities while utilizing AEDC partners in state and federal government, higher education, lending institutions, and the private sector.

Only about 25 percent of small businesses in the state are owned by women, while the number of minority-owned businesses is even lower at around 14.7 percent.

Workforce development is another focus of the conference. AEDC has the ability to assist new and existing industry with the growth of their workforce through training programs.One such program is the Arkansas Career Readiness Certificate (CRC). The CRD is a portable credential that confirms to employers that an individual possesses basic workplace skills in reading for information, applied mathematics, and locating information. To date, the Arkansas Career Readiness Certificate program has qualified more than 59,000 high-skilled positions.

Rural communities are important to all of us as they are a primary source for food, energy, clean drinking water and accessible outdoor recreation.  You can find out more on how we invest in these communities by visiting www.arkansasedc.com

May 10, 2019

For students just beginning an education or going back to school, the lottery scholarship offers opportunities to pursue dream careers and secure financial futures.

That’s why you should mark July 1 on your calendar. That day is the deadline to apply for the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship, which has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in proceeds to help in the pursuit of higher education.

The Academic Challenge Scholarship is largely funded by the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery and provides tuition assistance to students at every state university and two-year college – both public and private. Applicants can be recent high school graduates, students already enrolled in school or non-traditional students at any stage in life. Additionally, the scholarship can be combined with other financial aid programs, such as the ArFuture Grant.

This fall marks the 10-year anniversary of the Lottery. In that time, 542,307 in-state scholarships worth more than $965 million have been awarded to students seeking both four-year and two-year degrees.

Funds are awarded for the Academic Challenge Scholarship based on a system that incentivizes student success. Individuals enrolled in four-year institutions can receive $1,000 for the first year. Those who continue in school and meet eligibility criteria are rewarded with $4,000 for both sophomore and junior years and $5,000 for senior year. At two-year institutions, students receive $1,000 for the first year and $3,000 for the second.

To be eligible for an Academic Challenge Scholarship, traditional students must have a minimum ACT score of 19 and be in pursuit of a baccalaureate degree, associate degree, qualified certificate or nursing school diploma. Non-traditional students need either a 19 on the ACT or a 2.5-grade point average (GPA) from the last education received. To maintain eligibility, students must keep a 2.5 GPA, take 30 hours each year and be an Arkansas resident for 12 months prior to enrollment.

Lottery proceeds also fund workforce training opportunities through the Arkansas Workforce Challenge Scholarship. This program pays for tuition and fees up to $800 per eligible program for high-demand occupations in healthcare, information technology and industry. Examples include dental assistants, aircraft mechanics, and computer programmers. Students must apply at least 30 days prior to enrollment in an eligible program.

During the recent legislative session, a law was passed to allow excess lottery proceeds to fund concurrent credit scholarships for high school juniors and seniors seeking college credit. Act 465, the Arkansas Concurrent Challenge Scholarship, will be available in January 2020 and applications must be made through the student’s public high school.

Applications for lottery-funded scholarships can be found at the Arkansas Department of Higher Education’s website at scholarships.adhe.edu. There you can fill out the Department’s YOUniversal application to determine eligibility for all of the state’s scholarship programs. Students can also download the YOUniversal financial aid app and apply directly from a smartphone.

May 3, 2019

The month of May is designated as Military Appreciation Month.

Not only do we pause on Memorial Day  to remember the sacrifice and service of those who gave all, but the month also holds Military Spouse Appreciation Day on May 10 and Armed Forces Day on May 18.

We have more than 3,000 active military members residing in our state and another 252,000 veterans calling Arkansas home.

Every session, we introduce legislation to make Arkansas a better place for our military members and vets. In the most recent session we passed legislation to make it easier for military spouses to find employment quickly and legislation paving the way for an extensive study on veteran affairs in our state.

Act 551 directs the House Committee on Aging, Children and Youth, and Legislative and Military Affairs and the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs to meet jointly to conduct the Arkansas Legislative Study on Veterans Affairs. The purpose of the study is to examine veterans’ issues within the State of Arkansas, including without limitation the occurrence of suicide among the veteran population in this state. In carrying out the purpose of this act, the committees shall:

·      Study risk factors for suicide in veterans

·      Review and research options for preventing or reducing the occurrence of suicide among the veteran population in the state

·      Examine mental health care available to veterans within the state

·      Conduct at least one town-hall-style meeting to hear from veterans in the state and their concerns regarding mental health care and other issues affecting veterans in Arkansas.

This study will begin later this year.

We also passed Act 820. This legislation states an occupational licensing entity shall grant active military members and returning veterans, as well as spouses of active military and returning veterans, with automatic licensure to engage in an occupation or profession if they have an equivalent license in another state.

Other legislation passed addressing military and veteran affairs includes:

·      Act 215 allows spouses of military service members who are not Arkansas residents to become a notary public.

·      Act 171 exempts active military from the May 1 deadline to apply for school choice.

·      Act 66 gives a veterans more options to prove their veteran status when they go to the DMV for a license.  This designation on their license makes it easier on veterans to receive access to benefits.

·      Act 167 authorizes the issuance of a Purple Heart recipient special license plate to a surviving spouse.

·      Act 635 allows family members who lose a family member in the service of duty to apply for a Gold Star Family special license plate.

·      Act 160 will allow a former prison facility to be transferred to a non-profit group helping our veterans released from incarceration.

The Arkansas Department of Community Correction owns the former site of the Southeast Arkansas Community Correction Center in Pine Bluff.  The facility has been vacant since 2015, but costs the state to maintain.  

According to testimony, there are currently 1,200 veterans house in the Department of Correction.  This new facility could also assist homeless veterans and those returning from war zones.  

We will update you on the work of the legislative study on veterans affairs during this interim period. We are beyond grateful to every Arkansan and their families who have served to protect our freedom. We hope to hear from you soon on how our state can best serve you.

April 26, 2019

Many of the bills passed in the recent session could have a direct impact on your daily commute.  The Public Transportation Committee heard testimony on proposals from how fast you can drive to requirements to get your license.

 Below are just some of the bills that have been signed into law impacting Arkansas drivers:

Act 869 provides needed changes to have the Arkansas Online Insurance Verification System implemented by January 1, 2020. This system gives law enforcement access to real time information regarding proof of insurance. 

Act 738 amends distracted driving laws to put Arkansas in compliance with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standards. It establishes minimum fines for violating the law of $25 dollars for the first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses. Maximum fines are set at $250 for the first offense and $500 for subsequent offenses.

Act 288 makes it a primary offense to use a handheld wireless device in a school zone.

Act 550 increases the penalties for passing an authorized vehicle stopped on a highway. It increases the maximum fine from $500 to $1,000.

Act 784 states the maximum speed limit on a controlled-access highway is 75 mph if the highway is located outside an urban area and has at least 4 lanes that are divided by a median strip. This law becomes effective July 1, 2020.

Act 364 amends the Arkansas Speed Trap Law. It requires Legislative Audit to include information to determine if a municipality is potentially abusing police power in the agency’s routine audit reports. 

 Act 617 eliminates the requirement for school records for those under 18 years of age to take the written test. It also states a passing score on a written driving test will be valid for 24 months. 

Act 596 gives teenagers and extra 30 days after their 18th birthday to trade in their intermediate driver’s license if they have not had an accident or serious traffic violation.

Act 961 states guardians of drivers under 18 years old are no longer required to appear in person to sign the minors’ driver’s license applications.

Act 1031 amends the eyesight test requirement. This law states the test will be required every 8 years for individuals apply for a 4 year valid driver’s license. For those seeking an 8 year license, the eyesight test would be required once every 16 years.

 Act 803 allows outstanding driver’s license reinstatement fees to be withheld from a state income tax refund.

Act 368 amends the eligibility of antique motor vehicle special license plates to vehicles that are 45 years or older at the time of application. Currently, vehicles 25 year of age or older are eligible. Those with current antique plates are not required to reapply.

For a complete list of driving regulations visitwww.asp.arkansas.gov. And for requirements regarding your car tags and license visitwww.mydmv.arkansas.gov .

April 19, 2019

When we pass legislation to grow our economy, it does not stop at tax incentives and workforce training.

In Arkansas, we know our economy can also grow by bringing in people from out of state to appreciate our natural resources, our talents, and our history.

The hospitality industry is the second largest industry in the state. It is a $5.6 billion industry and employees over 100,000 people.

From encouraging investment in our historic buildings to designating a scenic highway, we passed several pieces of legislation aimed at promoting tourism in the 2019 Regular Session. 

Act 292 designates certain routes in Central and Southwest Arkansas as the “Camden Expedition Scenic Highway”. The Camden Expedition Scenic Highway guides a Civil War tourist through southern and central Arkansas connecting five battlefields and other Civil War historic sites.

Act 601 states that the fourth Saturday in July shall be known as “National Day of the Cowboy” to commemorate America’s cowboy heritage. The vaquero spirit of competition among ranch cowboys and cowgirls is reflected in rodeo events throughout the state that contribute to tourism and the economy.

Act 546 states that each year before September 1, the Governor shall issue a proclamation proclaiming September 1 Arkansas Music Appreciation Day.

The legislation also states “The General Assembly finds that Arkansas has a proud history of contributing music and musicians to the nation, including Johnny Cash, B. B. King, Glen Campbell, Charlie Rich, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Al Green, Conway Twitty, Floyd Cramer.”

Act 812 allows cities in wet counties to pass an ordinance creating a temporary or permanent designated entertainment districts. Rules that prohibit a person from possessing an alcoholic beverage outside of an establishment would not apply within a designated entertainment district.

Act 671 creates the ATV Tourism and Trail Expansion Study. The purpose of the study is to make recommendations to the General Assembly regarding the creation, development, and implementation of a statewide all-terrain vehicle trails system utilizing existing state roads to connect forest roads and all-terrain vehicle trails in national forests in order to increase all-terrain vehicle tourism and economic development in the state.  The House and Senate Agriculture, Forestry, and Economic Development Committees will meet to begin the study this year.

Act 818 designates Washington, Arkansas as the birthplace of the Bowie Knife, Arkansas Heritage Site.

Act 886 authorizes a $5 increase for special permits to trout fish and lifetime trout stamps. The money will be used to make necessary renovations for hatcheries damaged by floods.  The trout industry in Arkansas generates an estimated $180 million in revenue every year.

Act 855 creates the Arkansas Major Historic Rehabilitation Income Tax Credit Act, creating a tax credit of 25% of the total rehabilitation costs for projects with a minimum investment of $1.5 million.

Act 1066 creates the Arkansas Delta Music Commission within the Department of Arkansas Heritage. The commission will develop, implement, and administer a tourism program based on art projects that focus on highlighting music stories and related dynamics on the designated music highways in the state. Music highways in the state include Rock ‘n’ Roll Highway 67, the Louis Jordan Memorial Highway, the Levon Helm Memorial Highway, the Sister Rosetta Tharpe Memorial Highway, the Americana Music Highway, the Johnny Cash Memorial Highway, and the Delta Rhythm & Bayous Highway. The commission will also create a signage program that captures the stories and points of interest in blues, rock and roll, jazz, rockabilly, soul, hip hop, opera, country, and gospel music throughout the Arkansas Delta.

If you are planning a summer vacation, be sure to check out what all our state has to offer.  Visitwww.arkansas.com.

April 12, 2019

More than 900 bills have been signed into law this session. This General Assembly has reduced taxes, addressed infrastructure needs, increased funding to education, and transformed state government.
One of the last bills we passed was the amendment to the Revenue Stabilization Act.
This outlines the $5.7 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2020. It includes a 2.2% increase in spending from the current fiscal year. It is the lowest amount of increased spending in Arkansas in the last 10 years.
The increases include an additional $61 million for Medicaid and additional $31 million for public education.
The budget also addresses public safety by increasing funding for state police to hire more troopers and funding for the Department of Community Correction to hire more parole officers.
This budget includes increases for UAMS, the Division of Agriculture, and the Department of Correction.
Meanwhile, legislation passed this session has reduced income taxes for more than a ½ million families in Arkansas to the tune of $97 million.  We reduced taxes for business and paved a way for tax fairness with online sales tax. In addition, every homeowner in Arkansas will benefit from the $25 increase in the homestead tax credit.
When it comes to infrastructure, the 92nd General Assembly passed legislation creating $95 million in additional funding. We have also referred an amendment to voters on the November 2020 ballot to create additional funding for highways.
In addition to the $31 million increase in education, this General Assembly also increased the minimum starting teacher salary pay by $4 thousand over the next 4 years.
Just this week, the Governor signed The Transformation and Efficiencies Act of 2019 into law. It authorizes the reduction of the number of cabinet-level agencies from 42 to 15 and accomplishes the largest reorganization of state government in almost 50 years.
We passed legislation transforming our juvenile justice system. Pilot programs have shown these changes result in a lower prison population and drastically reduce the number of children in foster care.
The 92nd General Assembly cut red tape for small businesses, created and funded the Next Generation 911 system, and laid the groundwork for a state of the art cancer research facility in Arkansas.
The House will convene again on April 24 to address any unfinished business and officially adjourn the 2019 Regular Session.  It has been an honor to serve district 4 and I look forward to updating you on our work during the interim.

April 5, 2019

The state budget is guided by the Revenue Stabilization Act (RSA) which is typically one of the last items passed every session. 

Members will be reviewing RSA in the Joint Budget Committee Monday morning.  We have posted details of the proposed budget on our website. We expect to vote on the budget next week and conclude our business for this session.

This week, the House passed two proposed constitutional amendments for the November 2020 ballot.

SJR15 addresses term limits for legislators.  This amendment would limit state legislators elected after January 1, 2021 to 12 years of consecutive service. Those legislators would not be eligible for subsequent service in the General Assembly until four years after the expiration of the last term in office.

Current legislators could serve under the existing term limit of 16 years.  Those members would be subject to a 4 year waiting period for before running for a subsequent term in the General Assembly.

The House also passed HJR1008.  If passed by the voters, HJR1008 would increase the vote requirement to a 3/5 majority for the General Assembly to refer future amendments. Currently, it takes a simple majority on the first two amendments and a 2/3 vote to introduce a third a proposal.

This would also require citizen-initiated petitions to be filed by January 15 of the election year.  Challenges would have to be filed by April 15. It eliminates the current cure period to collect additional signatures.

It also states that it shall be necessary to file petitions from at least 45 counties bearing the signature of at least ½ of the designated percentage of the electors.  Currently, signatures are needed from 15 counties.

Additional legislation passing the House this week includes:

SB576-This bill requires out of state online retailers to collect and remit state sales tax. The bill also phases in a reduction in the top corporate income tax rate from 6.5% to 5.9%.

It extends carry-forward period for net operating losses for businesses from 5 years to 10 years. SB576 changes the apportionment formula for corporations and also makes changes to taxes for carwashes.

HB1933-This bill address bullying in several ways.  It requires parents of the victim of bullying be notified as soon as reasonably practicable. It requires schools to investigate and write a report on the complaint within 5 school days. The bill also requires the school notify the parent or legal guardian of the student who is determined to have been the perpetrator of the incident of bullying.

HB1821-This bill requires DHS to implement an increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates for medical providers to address minimum wage increases.

HB1417-This creates the Arkansas Major Historic Rehabilitation Income Tax Credit for projects worth more than $1.5 million. This bill creates the qualifications for the tax credit but does not provide funding.

HB1837-This bill expands access to association health plans to allow more small businesses to band together to purchase insurance.

HB1733-This bill makes threatening to commit an act of mass violence on school property a Class C felony.

HB1945-This provides needed changes to have the Arkansas Online Insurance Verification System implemented by January 1, 2020. This system gives law enforcement access to real time information regarding proof of insurance.

SB492-This allows cities in wet counties to pass an ordinance creating a temporary or permanent designated entertainment districts.

SB584. This bill requires the Department of Finance and Administration to provide space on income tax forms to designate more than one account for the direct deposit of the taxpayer’s refund.

HB1890-This bill would require the Department of Education to establish in standards for accreditation the maximum number of students that a teacher in grades 5-12 is permitted to teach per day.

HB1928-This bill requires an audio recording to be made of all public meetings.  Exceptions are made for volunteer fire departments, cities of the second class and incorporated towns. 

We will continue to update you through the remainder of the session. You can watch all House proceedings atwww.arkansashouse.org.

April 2, 2019

In a vote of 51-26, with 9 members voting present, the House passed SJR15. This is a proposed constitutional amendment for the November 2020 ballot addressing term limits for legislators.  This amendment would limit state legislators elected after January 1, 2021 to 12 years of consecutive service. Those legislators would not be eligible for subsequent service in the General Assembly until four years after the expiration of the last term in office.  

Current legislators could serve under the existing term limits of 16 years.  Those members would be subject to a 4 year waiting period for before running for a subsequent term in the General Assembly. 

 The House passed HB1837. This bill expands access to association health plans to allow more small businesses to band together to purchase insurance.

 The House passed HB1733 which makes threatening to commit an act of mass violence on school property a Class C felony.

March 29, 2019

Legislation passing the House this week addressed everything from robocalls to property taxes.
While illegal robocalls are frustrating for most, they are also costly and dangerous for far too many Arkansans.
An alarming number of illegal robocalls originate from scammers using automatic telephone dialing systems to send out thousands of phone calls per minute with fictitious or misleading names or telephone numbers displaying on unsuspecting consumers’ telephone caller identification.
SB514 addresses this in a few ways.  It makes “spoofing”, or displaying fictitious names or numbers, a crime.  It makes robocalling a Class D felony and holds telecommunication providers accountable with the Public Service Commission.
The House also passed legislation this week ensuring that firefighters who have completed 5 or more years of employment are granted at least 1,456 hours of paid leave for treatment of any cancer caused by his or her job.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, firefighters face a 9 percent increase in cancer diagnoses, and a 14 percent increase in cancer-related deaths, compared to the general population in the U.S.
HB1773 is title Crump’s Law. It is named in honor of Little Rock firefighter Nathanial Crump who was forced to go back to work after exhausting his sick leave while being treated for occupationally caused cancer.
The House also passed legislation providing tax relief to property owners across the state.
SB447 increases the homestead credit from $350 to $375. It also diverts $8.2 million from the property tax relief fund to the county voting systems grant fund.  It also directs excess funds to the state’s long-term reserve fund.
Other legislation passing the House chamber this week includes:
SB493-This bill states that if a person’s driving privileges are suspended solely as a result of outstanding driver’s license reinstatement fees, the office of Driver’s Services shall permit the person to pay only one reinstatement fee of $100 to cover all administrative orders. The driver must have paid all costs associated with the criminal offense that led to the suspension and graduate from a specialty court program.
HB1634-This bill includes acts committed by a victim of human trafficking under the state’s rape shield law. Arkansas’s rape shield law prohibits an accuser’s previous sexual conduct from being presented in court.
HB1695-This bill directs prosecutors to ensure children were not victims of human trafficking before they can be charged for prostitution.
HB1786-This bill requires a public school to create and publish an online report that provides the number of students who have an exemption from the requirement to obtain vaccinations.
HB1708-This bill raises the minimum age for girls to get married.  The current minimum, with parental consent, is 17 years old for boys and 16 years old for girls. This bill raises that age to 17 for girls.
HB1868-This bill allows voters to present their identification in a digital format at polling precincts.
HB1824-This bill allows recipients of the Arkansas Academic Challenge and the Governor’s Distinguished Scholarship to continue to receive a scholarship if they are enrolled part-time in their senior year of college.
HB1623-This bill requires anyone who sells a dog or a cat to provide documentation to the buyer regarding whether the dog or cat has been properly vaccinated.
SB383-This bill allows school districts to hire certified law enforcement officers as school resource officers.
HB1775-This bill requires an able-bodied adult under 60 years of age who receives Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to participate in employment and training programs. Those with dependent children under 6 years old would be exempt from the requirement.
HB1856-This bill prohibits state agencies from consenting or approving the termination of a pregnancy for an individual in the custody of the state and from spending state funds for the purpose of terminating a pregnancy.
We are expected to complete our work this session by April 12. We will continue to keep you updated.  And remember you can watch all House proceedings at www.arkansashouse.org.

March 28, 2019

On Thursday, the House passed a measure to increase homestead property tax credit. SB447 increases the credit from $350 to $375. It also diverts $8.2 million from the property tax relief fund to the county voting systems grant fund.  It also directs excess funds to the state’s long-term reserve fund.

The House passed HB1773. This bill ensures that firefighters who have completed 5 or more years of employment are granted at least 1,456 hours of paid leave for treatment of any cancer caused by his or her job.  Paid leave for occupationally caused cancer under this bill would not reduce the accrued sick leave or annual vacation leave of the firefighter.

The House passed SB448. This bill prohibits any person from performing an abortion unless he or she is licensed to practice medicine in the state of Arkansas and is board-certified or board-eligible in obstetrics and gynecology. It also defines viability as:

The state of fetal development when, in the judgment of the physician based on the particular facts of the case before him or her and in light of the most advanced medical technology and information available to him or her, there is a reasonable likelihood of sustained survival of the unborn child outside the body of the mother, with or without artificial life support.

The House Revenue and Taxation committee advanced SB582. This bill provides a sales tax refund for machinery and equipment used to modify, replace, or repair molds and dies used in manufacturing.

 The House Public Transportation Committee advanced SB534. This bill amends distracted driving laws to put Arkansas in compliance with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standards. It establishes minimum fines for violating the law of $25 dollars for the first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses. Maximum fines are set at $250 for the first offense and $500 for subsequent offenses.

 The House Judiciary Committee advanced HB1802. This bill instructs a committee appointed by the Supreme Court Chief Justice to revise the family support chart used in determining child support awards. It instructs the committee to base the chart on payor income and recipient income and no longer on the payor income based support chart. The new chart would be revised by March 1, 2020.

The Judiciary Committee also advanced HB1733which makes threatening to commit an act of mass violence on school property a Class C felony.

The House will reconvene on Friday at 11am.

March 27, 2019

The House Insurance and Commerce Committee advanced SB514. This bill makes illegal robocalls originating from scammers using automatic telephone dialing systems a Class D felony and requires that a telecommunications service provider is held accountable for certain activities.

The House Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development Committee advanced HB1778. This bill allows a judge to increases fines and penalties for animal cruelty cases.

The House Rules Committee advanced HB1563. This bill amends the recent casino measure by allowing the racing commission to award a casino license to an applicant in either Pope, Johnson, or Conway County. Currently, the commission can only award a license in Pope and Jefferson County. This bill does not impact the Jefferson County license.

 The committee also advanced SB440. This bill prohibits a medical marijuana cultivation facility, dispensary, or processor from manufacturing products likely to appeal to minors by its shape or design.

The full House passed SB2. This bill states a physician shall not perform an abortion with the knowledge that a pregnant woman is seeking an abortion related to diagnosis of Down Syndrome in an unborn child.

The House also passed SB8. This bill prohibits registered sex offenders from recording a person under the age of 14 in certain circumstances.

The House will reconvene on Thursday at 1:30pm.

March 26, 2019

The House Revenue and Taxation Committee advanced SB561. This bill requires The Assessment Coordination Department to establish mandatory guidelines for county assessors to follow in identifying property that is exempt from property tax. It also requires the Director of the Department of Finance and Administration to report to the Legislative Council and the Governor before each regular session on the effect of each state tax exemption, discount, credit, and deduction. In addition, SB561 provides a sales tax exemption for advertising space placed on a public transit bus.

The House Education advanced SB383. This bill allows school districts to hire certified law enforcement officers as school resource officers. 

The House Judiciary Committee advanced HB1809. This bill creates an additional term of imprisonment of 1-10 years for the conviction of violent offenses against a person at a church or other place of worship.

The committee also advanced SB573. This bill ensures that an inmate who was convicted as an adult for an offense he or she committed before the age 18 can participate in an educational, training, or rehabilitative program that is otherwise available to other inmates. It also restores an inmate’s right to vote if he or she was under the age of 18 when convicted, was discharged from parole, and meets other specific criteria.

The House Public Health, Welfare, and Labor Committee advanced SB2. This bill states a physician shall not perform an abortion with the knowledge that a pregnant woman is seeking an abortion related to diagnosis of Down Syndrome in an unborn child.

The House passed HB1775. This bill requires an able-bodied adult under 60 years of age who receives Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to participate in employment and training programs. Those with dependent children under 6 years old would be exempt from the requirement.

The House passed HB1856. This bill prohibits state agencies from consenting or approving the termination of a pregnancy for an individual in the custody of the state and from spending state funds for the purpose of terminating a pregnancy.

The House passed SB493. This bill states that if a person’s driving privileges are suspended solely as a result of outstanding driver’s license reinstatement fees, the office of Driver’s Services shall permit the person to pay only one reinstatement fee of $100 to cover all administrative orders. The driver must have paid all costs associated with the criminal offense that led to the suspension and graduate from a specialty court program.

The House will reconvene tomorrow at 1:30pm.

March 20, 2019

In a vote of 87-0, the House passed HB1674. This bill creates a statewide child abduction response team.  It states that the following agencies shall collaborate in an effort to rescue abducted or endangered children:

· Arkansas Attorney General
·  Department of Arkansas State Police
· Criminal Justice Institute
·  Arkansas State Game and Fish Commission
·  Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association
·  Arkansas Department of Emergency Management
·   Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police
·   Department of Community Correction
·   Office of the Prosecutor Coordinator

The House passed HB1342. This bill increases the amount below which sales tax is exempt on the purchase of used vehicles from $4,000 to $7,500.

The House passed HB1792. This bill states that when an individual under sentence of death, whose execution date has been set by the Governor, believes that he or she is not competent to be executed, the individual may inform the Director of the Department of Correction in writing and shall provide any supporting evidence he or she wishes to be considered.  This bill directs the Director of the Department of Correction to consider any evidence offered by the individual or his or her attorney in making a determination.

The House passed HB1867. This bill amends the requirements for a driver’s license or instruction permit by eliminating the requirement for school records for those under 18 years of age to take the written test.

The House passed SB381. This bill states that a school district authorizing the use of corporal punishment shall not use corporal punishment on a child who is intellectually disabled, non-ambulatory, non-verbal, or autistic.

The House will convene again on Monday at 1:30pm.

March 17, 2019

With a vote of 91-0, the House passed HB1685. This bill increases the foundation funding for K-12 education from the current $6,713 per student to $6,899 per student for the 2019-2020 school year.  The bill increases funding to $7,018 per student the following school year.

The House passed HB1684. This bill ensures students receive in-state tuition at state supported institutions of higher education if he or she has resided in the state for the previous three years. 

The House passed SB445. This bill states that the date of the primary election will be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March for years in which the office of President of the United States will appear on the ballot at the general election. The primary would continue to be held in May in gubernatorial election years.

This bill would also move fiscal legislative sessions from February to April in presidential election years.

The House Education Committee advanced several pieces of legislation including HB1786.  This bill requires a public school to create a report that provides the number of students who have an exemption from the requirement to obtain vaccinations.

The committee also advanced SB381. This bill states that a school district authorizing the use of corporal punishment shall not use corporal punishment on a child who is intellectually disabled, non-ambulatory, non-verbal, or autistic.

The House Judiciary Committee advanced several pieces of legislation including HB1486. This bill addresses custody cases for children born outside of marriage. If paternity has been established, this bill directs the court to determine custody of a child in accordance with the same set of standards that are currently applied in divorce actions.

The House will reconvene tomorrow at 1:30pm.

March 18, 2019

On Monday, House members began the 10th week of the Regular Session.

With a vote of 87-0 and 4 members voting present, the House passed HB1754. This bill seeks to address the recent overdose related deaths inside state prisons. In 2018, 22 inmates died in the Department of Correction as the result of illicit drugs.

HB1754 states the delivery of a controlled substance from one inmate to another that results in the death of an inmate is a Class A felony and punishable by up to an additional 30 years in prison. The delivery of a controlled substance to another inmate that does not result in a death is listed as a Class B felony and punishable by up to an additional 20 years in prison.

The House also passed HB1433 which authorizes individuals with prior drug-related offenses to work with individuals receiving substance abuse treatment as peer support specialists or similar positions.

The House passed HB1555. This bill ensures that Medicaid covers all 7 tobacco cessation medication currently approved by the FDA.

The House passed SB109. This bill ensures that battery in the first degree is a Class Y felony if the injured person is an employee of a correctional facility acting in the line of duty.  The offense is currently a Class Y felony if the victim is a law enforcement officer.

The House passed SB486. This bill authorizes a $5 increase for special permits to trout fish and lifetime trout stamps. The money will be used to make necessary renovations for hatcheries damaged by floods.  The trout industry in Arkansas generates an estimated $180 million in revenue every year. 

March 15, 2019

This week, the House passed legislation which willchange the way our communities respond to emergencies, the way we regulate our businesses, and the way our government is structured.

One of the many bills passed on the House floor in the 9th week of the session was The Arkansas Public Safety Act (HB1564).

This bill transforms the state’s 911 network. It will shift the network from the current analog system to an internet protocol-based network. New technology will allow callers to use wireless and IP-based devices to call 911 and transmit text, images, video, and data. 

It will consolidate the number of Public Safety Answering Points in the state in an effort to reduce the number of times a caller is transferred.

To fund upgrades, the bill increases the public safety charges on cell phones from 65 cents/month to $1.30/month. It also removes the 65 cent charge per purchase on prepaid cellular plans and adds a 10% charge per purchase. 

In 2016, counties and cities subsidized 911 by $25 million. The changes outlined in HB1564 are expected to reduce the burden on counties and cities by $16 million.

Another bill passed this week aims to reduce the amount of red tape on business owners in Arkansas.

In a vote of 92-0, the House passed HB1527. This bill requires the Legislative Council to review each occupational authorization and each occupational entity on an annual rotating basis.

 Last year, Arkansas became one of eleven states chosen to participate in the Occupational Licensing Policy Learning Consortium, an initiative funded by a grant from the United States Department of Labor and supported in partnership with the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments, and the National Governors Association.

 Governor Asa Hutchinson appointed 17 individuals to the Red Tape Reduction Working Group to review and address occupational licensing regulations that create unnecessary barriers to labor market entry.

 HB1527 was the one of the recommendations from the working group. This bill requires that the occupational authorizations and the occupational entities be divided into 6 groups. The Legislative Council will review one group each year to ensure it is the least restrictive form of authorization while still protecting consumers.

With a vote of 82-0 and 10 members voting present, the House passed the Transformation and Efficiencies Act of 2019.

This bill reduces the number of cabinet-level agencies by nearly 65 percent, from 42 to 15. A cabinet level secretary will serve as the executive head of each department. 

The departments listed in the bill are:

·      The Department of Agriculture
·      The Department of Commerce
·      The Department of Corrections
·      The Department of Education
·      The Department of Energy and Environment
·      The Department of Finance and Administration
·      The Department of Health
·      The Department of Human Services
·      The Department of the Inspector General
·      The Department of Labor and Licensing
·      The Department of the Military
·      The Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism
·      The Department of Public Safety
·      The Department of Transformation and Shared Services
·      The Department of Veterans Affairs

 Other legislation passing the House this week includes:

HB1409-requires elementary schools to provide at least 40 minutes of recess.

HB1750-requires the Department of Transportation to annually provide legislators with the location of the most congested and most dangerous routes in the state.  It also requires the department to list expenditures on highways in each congressional district. 

HB1631-states the maximum speed limit for a vehicle on a controlled-access highway is 75 mph if the highway is located outside an urban area and has at least 4 lanes that are divided by a median strip.

HB1625-makes the act of encouraging suicide a Class D felony.

HB1689-increases the penalties for passing an authorized vehicle stopped on a highway. It increases the maximum fine from $500 to $1,000.

 HB1647-amends the eligibility requirements for the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship to include the applicant’s superscore on the ACT. 

 HB1552-allows for licensing of DACA recipients for nursing licenses.

 You can watch all House proceedings atwww.arkansashouse.org.

March 12, 2019

March 8, 2019

Arkansas ranks forty-fourth in the nation when it comes to maternal mortality rates.  Maternal mortality is defined as the death of a woman who is pregnant or dies within 42 days after the end of the pregnancy.

 Arkansas currently has 35 maternal deaths per one hundred thousand 100,000 live births, compared with the national average of 20 deaths per one hundred thousand 100,000 live births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 Thirty-five states in the nation either conduct or are preparing to conduct organized maternal mortality reviews that help prevent maternal death through data collection, data analysis, and implementation of recommendations.

 With roughly half of pregnancy-related deaths being preventable, state maternal mortality review committees can be instrumental to as to understanding why women are dying during pregnancy, childbirth, and the year postpartum.  The committees also help in improving maternal health and preventing future deaths.

This week, the House passed legislation to create such a review committee in Arkansas with HB1440. 

Arkansas also ranks 46th in the nation for infant mortality.

 In 2018, almost eleven percent 11% of babies born in Arkansas were preterm.

 To improve infant mortality, the House also passed HB1441 which directs the Department of Health to establish the Maternal and Perinatal Outcomes Quality Review Committee. This committee will review data on births and develop strategies for improving birth outcomes. 

 On Monday, the House passed two pieces of legislation addressing highway funding.

 In a vote of 71-26, the House passed SB336.  This bill outlines $95 million in additional funding in three ways.

 First, it diverts all revenue from casino gaming that exceeds $31.2 million to the State Highway and Transportation Department Fund.

 Second, it includes a wholesale tax on fuel raising gas prices by 3 cents a gallon and diesel by 6 cents a gallon.

 And third, it imposes a $100 registration fee on hybrid vehicles and a $200 registration fee on electric vehicles.

 The second piece of legislation addressing highways before the House was HJR8.

 This is a proposed constitutional amendment which would permanently extend a ½ cent sales tax for the purpose of funding state highways.  The current ½ sales tax funding highway improvements is set to expire in 2023.  This resolution will be on the ballot for voter approval in November 2020. 

 Other legislation passing the House this week includes:

 HB1522-This ensures that soldiers and airmen of the Arkansas National Guard are afforded the same benefits and protections as active duty soldiers when they are called on state active duty.

 HB1407-This bill requires truth in labeling of agricultural products that are edible. The bill states the seller cannot sell the product under the name of another food.   

 HB1263-This bill allows pharmacists to prescribe certain types of tobacco cessation products.

 HB1278-This bill allows pharmacists to administer childhood vaccines to children age 7 and older under a written protocol by a physician.

 HB1565-This bill seeks to provide funding for a national cancer institute-designated center at UAMS.  The bill provides the funding by diverting existing taxes on medical marijuana from general revenue to the institute trust fund. The trust fund would also receive new revenue created by a 50 cents per pack tax on cigarette rolling papers, removing a border tax exemption on cigarettes and increasing the minimum mark price on cigarettes. In addition, HB1565 raises the legal age to use or possess vape or tobacco products to 21, with an exception for military.

 HB1506-This bill imposes a criminal penalty (class A misdemeanor on first offense & class D felony on second offense) for theft of items from a cemetery or grave site.

HB1251-This bill amends the definition of practice of optometry.

HB1569-This bill allows school districts to develop policies for distribution of excess food. As long as health department standards are met, this bill would allow schools to give students the left-over food from lunch to take home. 

HB1290-This bill allows pharmacists to provide access to oral contraceptives.

And SB10 which prohibits level 3 and level 4 sex offenders from wearing a costume or passing out candy during the two weeks before and after Halloween.

The House will enter the 9th week of the session on Monday.  You can watch all House proceedings atwww.arkansashouse.org

March 6, 2019

The House Rules committee advanced HB1565.  This bill seeks to provide funding for a national cancer institute-designated center at UAMS.  The bill provides the funding by diverting existing taxes on medical marijuana from general revenue to the institute trust fund. The trust fund would also receive new revenue created by a 50 cents per pack tax on cigarette rolling papers, removing a border tax exemption on cigarettes and increasing the minimum mark price on cigarettes. In addition, HB1565 raises the legal age to use or possess vape or tobacco products to 21, with an exception for military.

The House Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development Committee advanced HB1615. This bill creates a farm to school and early childhood education program within the Arkansas Agriculture Department.

The committee also advanced HB1640 which designates the Alligator Gar as the official game fish of Arkansas. 

The House State Agencies Committee advanced HB1523. This bill states a correctional or detention facility shall not place an inmate known to be pregnant, in labor, or in post-partum recovery in restraints unless the facility makes a determination that the inmate presents a substantial flight risk.

The committee also advanced HB1503 which allows voters additional time to complete their ballot.  The bill increases the time from 5 minutes to 10 minutes.

The House Insurance and Commerce Committee advanced SB290 which allows inactive CPA’s to place licenses on inactive status.

The full House passed HB1506. This bill imposes a criminal penalty (class A misdemeanor on first offense & class D felony on second offense) for theft of items from a cemetery or grave site.

The House also passed HB1251 which amends the definition of practice of optometry.

The House will convene again on Thursday at 1:30pm.

March 5, 2019

The House Education Committee advanced HB1569. This bill allows school districts to develop policies for distribution of excess food. As long as health department standards are met, this bill would allow schools to give students the left-over food from lunch to take home.

The Education Committee also advanced HB1018. This bill allows school districts with more than 20,000 students to increase the number of school board members to nine. 

The House Public Health, Welfare, and Labor Committee advanced HB1627. This bill states the Department of Health may provide prescription monitoring information to federal prescription drug monitoring programs or other states’ prescription drug monitoring programs

The committee also advanced HB1658 which requires legal residency in Arkansas for licensure as osteopathic physician.

The House Public Transportation Committee advanced HB1646. This bill adds railroad operating facilities to the list of critical infrastructure sites where unmanned aircraft, or drones, are prohibited. 

The House Judiciary Committee advanced HB1506. This bill imposes a criminal penalty (class A misdemeanor on first offense & class D felony on second offense) for theft of items from a cemetery or grave site.

The Judiciary Committee also advanced SB318. This bill prohibits female genital mutilation of a minor. It also creates awareness programs concerning & statistical tracking of unlawful female genital mutilation.

The House Revenue and Taxation Committee advanced SB345. This bill phases down a tax credit used by health insurance companies to reduce insurance premium taxes.  

The full House voted in favor of HB1290. This bill allows pharmacists to provide access to oral contraceptives.

The House also voted in favor of SB10, which prohibits level 3 and level 4 sex offenders from wearing a costume or passing out candy during the two weeks before and after Halloween.

The House will reconvene on Wednesday at 1:30pm.

March 4, 2019

On Monday, the House passed two pieces of legislation addressing highway funding.

In a vote of 71-26, the House passed SB336.  This bill outlines $95 million in additional funding in three ways.

 First, it diverts all revenue from casino gaming that exceeds $31.2 million to the State Highway and Transportation Department Fund.

 Second, it includes a wholesale tax on fuel raising gas prices by 3 cents a gallon and diesel by 6 cents a gallon.

 And third, it imposes a $100 registration fee on hybrid vehicles and a $200 registration fee on electric vehicles.

 The second piece of legislation addressing highways before the House was HJR8.

 This is a proposed constitutional amendment which would permanently extend a ½ cent sales tax for the purpose of funding state highways.  The current ½ sales tax funding highway improvements is set to expire in 2023.  If this resolution passes both chambers, it would be on the ballot for voter approval in November 2020.  The resolution passed the House with a vote of 67-30.

 The House also passed legislation designed to study infant deaths and pregnancy-associated deaths in Arkansas.

Arkansas ranks 44th in the nation in maternal mortality. HB1440 would establish the maternal mortality review committee which would identify factors contributing to maternal deaths and review medical records.

 The House also passed HB1441 which directs the Department of Health to establish the Maternal and Perinatal Outcomes Quality Review Committee. The committee will review data on births and develop strategies for improving birth outcomes.  

Arkansas ranks 46th in the nation for infant mortality.

 The House passed HB1522 which ensures that soldiers and airmen of the Arkansas National Guard are afforded the same benefits and protections as active duty soldiers when they are called on state active duty.

 The House passed HB1407. This bill requires truth in labeling of agricultural products that are edible. The bill states the seller cannot sell the product under the name of another food.   

 The House passed HB1263. This bill allows pharmacists to prescribe certain types of tobacco cessation products.

 The House also passed HB1278. This bill allows pharmacists to administer childhood vaccines to children age 7 and older under a written protocol by a physician.

 The House will convene on Tuesday at 1:30pm.

February 27, 2019

February 25, 2019

With a vote of 78-13 and 2 members voting present, the House passed HB1489. This legislation addresses petitions for constitutional amendments. It removes the attorney general’s office from the process of developing ballot titles.  It also make violating rules on signature collection a Class D felony.

The House passed HB1439.  This bill prohibits abortions after 18 weeks’ gestation except in the event of a medical emergency. This bill passed with a vote of 77-13.

Other bills passing the House on Monday include:

HB1304-This bill amends the Arkansas Speed Trap Law. It requires Legislative Audit to include information to determine if a municipality is potentially abusing police power in the agency’s routine audit reports. 

HB1413-This bill states private school and home school students who enroll in an endorsed concurrent enrollment course in a public school should not be charged for the course unless the district also charges public school students.

HB1438-This bill makes repeat offenses of voyeurism and video voyeurism a Class C felony.

The House will convene again on Tuesday at 1:30pm.

February 21, 2019

On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee advanced several pieces of legislation includingHB1437.  This bill requires mandated reporters to notify law enforcement if he or she has a good faith belief that there is a threat to the safety of students or school employees.  This legislation would make the failure to notify a Class A misdemeanor. The bill identifies several professions as mandated reporters including clergy, physicians, and teachers.

The committee also advanced HB1438. This legislation makes repeat offenses of voyeurism and video voyeurism a Class C felony.

The House Education Committee advanced HB1413 which states private school and home school students who enroll in an endorsed concurrent enrollment course in a public school should not be charged for the course unless the district also charges public school students.

The House Public Transportation Committee advanced HB1304 which amends the Arkansas Speed Trap Law.  This bill requires Legislative Audit to include information to determine if a municipality is potentially abusing police power in the agency’s routine audit reports.

The House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee advanced SB298.  This bill seeks to lower unemployment taxes paid for by employers. The bill outlines a sliding scale based on the unemployment rate. 

The House passed SB161.  This bill concerns special license plates and certificates for persons with disabilities.  It states the special license plate issued by the DFA should contain the international symbol of access and not display the word “disabled”.

The House also passed HB1496 which amends the requirement for an antique motor vehicle license plate from vehicles 25 years of age to vehicles 45 years of age or older.

The House will reconvene on Monday at 1:30pm.

February 19, 2019

We are now entering the 6th week of the session.

 On Monday, the House passed HB1403. This bill allows for an additional sentence of 1 to 10 years in prison if certain offenses are committed in the presence of a child.  The offenses include murder, aggravated robbery, felony assault or battery, and rape.

The House passed HB1301 which creates temporary and provisional occupational licenses (90 days) to individuals with a similar active occupational license in another state. 

In a vote of 91-0, the House passed HB1426. This bill prohibits the spouse of a county election commissioner, a county party chairman, or the spouse of a county party chairman from working as a poll worker for elections. 

The House also passed HB1446.  This legislation updates the Colorectal Cancer Prevention, Early Detection, and Treatment Act. In 2015, colorectal cancer was the second leading cause of cancer death in Arkansas. 

The House will convene on Tuesday at 1:30pm

February 13, 2019

The House State Agencies Committee advanced HB1402. This bill requires special elections to be held with the preferential primary or the general election. If it is called in a year where the preferential primary or general election is not held, the legislation specifies dates in May or November.

The House Insurance and Commerce Committee advanced SB105 which allows a government entity, on its own or in partnership with a private entity, to apply for grants or loans to provide broadband in unserved areas.

The House Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative, and Military Affairs Committee advanced SB4. This bill creates a legislative task force to examine issues related to veteran affairs.

In a vote of 56-40, the House voted in favor of SJR3. This resolution seeks to apply to the United States Congress to call a convention of states for the purpose of proposing amendments to the United States Constitution under the provisions of Article V. The resolution states the proposed amendments would be limited to imposing fiscal restraints on the federal government, limiting power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limiting terms for members of congress.

The House will convene on Thursday at 1pm.

February 8, 2019

With a vote of 91-0, the House passed a bill titled the Teacher Salary Enhancement Act. 

HB1145 brings the minimum starting teacher salary from $31,400 to $36,000 over the next 4 years. The bill includes the entire salary schedule.  We’ve posted it on our websitewww.arkansashouse.org.

Currently, there are 168 schools in the state paying the minimum salary.

The House also passed HB1321 which increases the homestead property tax credit from $350 to $375.

The House passed SB153 which enhances the Right to Read Act.  This bill would require public schools and open-enrollment public charter schools to include a literacy plan in their annual school level improvement plan.  The plan would have to include curriculum and professional development aligned with the literacy needs of that school and based on the Science of Reading initiative. This bill also requires the Arkansas Department of Education to make a list of material and resources available that are supported by the Science of Reading.

The House Public Health, Welfare, and Labor committee voted to advance HB1302, An Act to Create the Red Tape Reduction Collective Rulemaking Act of 2019. This bill creates a process by which similar agencies could submit rules and regulations collectively which would serve to expedite process.  It would help ensure that agencies needing to respond to new legislation for occupational licensing do so in a timely manner.

The House will convene on Monday at 1:30pm.

February 1, 2019

The House has now completed the third week of the Regular Session.

Today, the House Public Transportation Committee passed HB1006.  This bill increases the minimum fine for passing a stopped school bus from $250 to $500.  It also makes the offense a Class A misdemeanor.

The same committee advanced HB1182 which allows law enforcement to stop a driver using a handheld device in a school zone.

The House Public Health, Welfare, and Labor Committee advanced HB1176.  This bill sets standards, goals, and potential assistance to create human breast milk banks & depositories in Arkansas.

The Public Health committee also advanced HB1296 and HB1317.  HB1296 ensures occupational licensing boards do not revoke licenses solely based on delinquency of student loan payments.

HB1317 gives Office of Medicaid Inspector General access to Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.

The Judiciary Committee advanced legislation including HB1233. This bill clarifies for community corrections that a probationer’s probation begins upon judge issuing verdict. 

The House Education Committee advanced HB1021 and HB1020.

HB1021 requires newly elected school board members to receive training and instruction on how to read and interpret an audit report in their initial training.

HB1020 allows school districts to consider out of state school experience when considering teacher salary schedule.

The full House passed several bills including HB1012.  This billauthorizes the issuance of a Purple Heart recipient special license plate to a surviving spouse.

The House also passed HB1100. This bill gives a veteran more options to prove his or her veteran status when they go the DMV for a license.  This designation makes it easier on veterans to receive access to benefits. 

The House passed HB1239 which updates what is included in a search for a parolee’s residence.  Currently, law enforcement officers and probation officers are not allowed to search an out-building or garage. 

The House will convene again on Monday at 1:30pm.

January 30, 2019

The House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee advanced legislation that will allow a former prison facility to be transferred to a non-profit group helpingveterans.

The Arkansas Department of Community Correction owns the former site of the Southeast Arkansas Community Correction Center in Pine Bluff.  The facility has been vacant since 2015, but there are costs to maintain the site.  

HB1249 would allow the agency to donate the building to a non-profit group serving veterans released from incarceration.

According to testimony in committee, there are currently 1,200 veterans house in the Department of Correction.  There was testimony in committee that this new facility could also assist homeless veterans and those returning from war zones.  

The legislation states the transfer must be approved by the Governor.

The State Agencies Committee also passed legislation changing the date for run-off elections of county and municipal offices.  Currently, run-off elections are held three weeks following the date of the general election.  HB1246 extends it to four weeks after the general election.

The House Agriculture, Forestry, and Economic Development Committee passed HB1264.  This legislation allows a chiropractorwho is trained to work with animalsto provide services to animals without the immediate supervision of a veterinarian.

The House Insurance and Commerce Committee advanced a bill changing the financial reporting date for charitable organizations.  Currently, charitable organizations must file financial reports with the Secretary of State’s office on August 1st of every year.  HB1247 changes the deadline to 180 days after the last date of the organization’s fiscal year.

The House Aging, Children & Youth, Legislative & Military Affairs Committee advanced legislation aimed at opening more childcare facilities in the state.  HB1128 requires the Department of Human Services to post all the regulations and necessary information to start a child care facility in one central location on the agency’s website.

The committee also passed HB1022 which states that a mandated reporterwho in good faith notifies the Child Abuse Hotline is immune from civil and criminal liability.

The House convenes on Thursday at 11am.

January 25, 2019

The House has now wrapped up the second week of the Regular Session. More than 250 bills have been filed in the House so far.  And more than 150 have been filed in the Senate.

 Committees heard proposals on everything from restructuring our state government to rules about sunscreen use in schools. 

 The House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee started reviewing the government transformation legislation.

HB1070 contains the general provisions for the transformation.  It creates 15 departments.

If passed, a secretary will serve as the executive head of each department.  The secretaries will be appointed by the Governor.  Currently, there are 42 agencies reporting directly to the Governor.

Ultimately, 16 pieces of legislation will be filed.  After each proposal is vetted by the committee, the sponsor will consolidate all the changes to one comprehensive bill for a vote. We’ve posted a chart of the proposed changes on our website www.arkansashouse.org.

Meanwhile, the State Agencies Committee advanced legislation concerning how contracts and purchases are made by the state.

In 2017, the Arkansas Legislative Council began a review of the state’s procurement laws and practices.  As a result of that study, 62 recommendations were identified as opportunities to make government purchasing more efficient.  After numerous hearings, the recommendations were ultimately drafted into 6 bills.  5 of those bills were advanced to the House.  Changes include setting a standard review threshold for all service contracts over $100,000, requiring contracts over $350,000 to include a coversheet with relevant information for members to review, and empowering the Office of State Procurement to make participation in contracts mandatory for state agencies.

 The House Judiciary Committee advanced legislation to reduce the costs of a concealed carry license.  HB1036 reduces the costs of the initial application from $100 to $50.  It reduces the costs of the renewal fee from $35 to $25.

 The Education Committee passed HB1167 which allows students to apply their own sunscreen at school or on field trips.  Currently, sunscreen can only be applied in school by a school nurse since the FDA considers it an over the counter medication.

 The House Revenue and Tax Committee advanced HB1005.  This bill seeks to clear up confusion for retailers regarding the sales tax on candy and soft drinks.  The legislation requires DF&A to either provide a list of products to be taxed or not subject a retailer to penalties if the retailer demonstrates a good faith effort to collect and remit the tax payments. 

On Thursday, the House passed legislation aimed at protecting employees when it comes to microchip technology.  HB1177 provides rights for employees including the right to refuse an implant, have it removed, and access to the data collected.  The bill also ensures that the employer is responsible for costs incurred. The bill passed with a vote of 84-4.

In a vote of 97-0, the House passed HB1016.  This legislation reduces the amount of time that a petition to seal a criminal record can be open before a court can act upon it.  It reduces the time from 90 days to 30 days.  The sponsor of the legislation explained this reduction could be beneficial to offenders who have served their sentence and are attempting to reintegrate into society.

The House also passed HB1076 which amends the Achieving a Better Life Experience Program.  This program allows Arkansans with disabilities to save up to $15,000 in an account without impacting eligibility for many public benefits.  HB1076 ensures that in the event of a death, the money in that savings account cannot be seized by Medicaid but can instead be transferred to a designated beneficiary.

We will continue to update you throughout the session.

Remember you can watch all committees and House floor proceedings at arkansashouse.org.

January 18, 2019

It was another historic day in the House Chamber as all newly elected constitutional officers took the oath of office.

Among those swearing in were Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin, Secretary of State John Thurston, Treasurer Dennis Milligan, Auditor of State Andrea Lea, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, Commissioner of State Lands Tommy Land and Governor Asa Hutchinson.

After taking his oath, the Governor addressed the legislature outlining his agenda for this session.

He called for a third phase of tax cuts he referred to as the “2-4-5.9 plan”. It would lower income tax rates to 2% for people who earn up to $8,000 a year, 4% for those who earn between $8,001 and $18,000 a year and 5.9% for people who earn more than $18,000 a year. He is also asking the legislature to increase public safety funding for more state troopers and increase minimum teacher salaries by $1,000 a year.

More than 250 bills have already been filed.  Committees will begin meeting Wednesday morning at 10am.  The House will convene at 1:30pm on Wednesday. 

As a reminder, the House streams all meetings on our website atwww.arkansashouse.org.

January 11, 2018

December 20, 2018

December 14, 2018

November 23, 2018

Did you know that every frozen Butterball turkey was produced right here in Arkansas?  And that may not be the only thing on your plate this holiday season that came from the work of an Arkansas farmer.

Our farmers produce everything from the main course to the ingredients of the pecan pie.

Arkansas is number three in the nation in turkey production.  And we are the sixth largest producer in the United States of sweet potatoes. 

Our farmers also have a hand in the pecan and pumpkin pies.  We are one of fourteen states in the nation to grow pecans.  And while we are proud to be home to many pumpkin patches across the state, we do not produce enough to support every supermarket.  Arkansas pumpkins however can be found at your local farmers markets or pumpkin patch.

Corn is another major crop.  Our farmers harvested more than 595,000 acres of corn last year.

Although few go shopping for actual soybeans during the holidays, there is a very good chance the soybean plays a significant part in your feast.  This year Arkansas ranks as 10th in the nation in soybean production. Soybean oil is used in cooking and frying foods.  Margarine is a product made from soybean oil.  Salad dressings and mayonnaises are made with soybean oil.  It is also used for animal feed for farm animals.

 Agriculture contributes more the $21 billion in economic value for the state. For those Arkansans who do not live on a farm or have relatives who are farmers, we encourage you to reconnect your children with the origin of food.  Visiting a farm can build a conceptual understanding of food sources, while also providing an opportunity to form healthy eating habits.

So this holiday season, thank a farmer.  And look for the “Arkansas Grown” label at your local supermarket as another way to show your appreciation.

November 16, 2018

Bill filing for the 2019 Regular Session began this week.  Eight bills and two proposed constitutional amendments were filed on the first day.

In recent sessions, more than 2,000 bills wereultimately considered.

You can review the bills as they are being filed with a link we have provided on our websitewww.arkansashouse.org.

 Another development at the Capitol this week was the presentation of the Governor’s balanced budget proposal.

Governor Asa Hutchinson told members his proposal provides funding for 24 new State Troopers and an increase in starting teacher salaries.

His proposal for teacher salaries mirrors the recent recommendation of the Education Committee to raise the minimum salary by $1,000 each year. He is also proposing the creation of a $60 million program to address funding needs of school districts below the new minimum.

 Other proposed increases include $68 million for Department of Human Services, $4.1 million for higher education, $2.3 million for Arkansas State Police, $2.5 million annually for the state’s Crisis Stabilization Centers; $1.13 million increase for the Division of Ag; and $1.55 million increase for UAMS.

The Governor’s proposal also includes a tax cut of $111 million over the next two years. 

The budget anticipates an additional $20 million will be collected next year in Internet sales tax. The United States Supreme Court recently upheld the ability of states to compel out-of-state sellers with no physical presence in the state to collect state sales and use taxes.  A bill addressing the tax collection has already been filed.

The executive branch is required to submit a balanced budget proposal.  However, the budget is ultimately approved by the legislature.  It is our job to review the new recommendations.  We will also be reviewing the research and recommendations of the Tax Reform and Relief Task Force. 

We will continue to update you as we approach the session.  The 2019 Regular Session begins on January 14. 

November 9, 2018

The Arkansas House continued a long standing tradition to hold a House Caucus the Friday after the election. The freshmen members drew for seniority positions and then all members chose their seat in the chamber for the duration of the next two years.

This is the first opportunity many of us have to meet our new colleagues.

The House will have more women and more minorities serving next year. In fact, records have been broken for the legislature.

There will be 25 women serving in the House.  This ties the record for the House set in 2009. However, with 7 women serving in the Senate, there will be more women serving collectively in the legislature in the history of our state.  This record is broken on the same year we will be celebrating the centennial of Arkansas ratifying the 19thAmendment.

We also have more minorities serving in the House than ever before. There will be 13 African Americans serving in the House next year.

Members will have more experience in the House than the previous two decades.

We have 10 members who will come into the chamber serving their 5th term.
–     21 members will be serving their 4thterm.
–     27 members serving their 3rdterm.
–     20 members beginning their 2ndterm.
–     22 members are incoming freshman.

The political make-up is 24 Democrats and 76 Republicans.

In years past, membership for standing committees has been determined on the same day as the caucus.  The House voted in favor of a rule last year to allow the Speaker to select the membership of all committees.  Those announcements will be made on the first day of session.

The Regular Session begins January 14.  Bill filing begins next week.

We will continue to update you.  In the meantime, be sure to check our website and social media posts for more information about the 92ndGeneral Assembly.

November 2, 2018

There a few updates this week from the Capitol.  Budget hearings continue.  A new revenue report was released.  We have new recommendations for funding education.  And there are several important dates ahead leading to the next legislative session.

The latest General Revenue Report shows October revenue at $435.4 million.  That is 5% more than October 2017 and 5.9% above forecast.

Four months into the fiscal year, net available general revenue is now $114.6 million above year ago levels.

This week, the Education Committee presented the Speaker with recommendations for funding education in the next two fiscal years.

The committee spends more than a year reviewing every component of public education to determine what areas need increased funding.  This is referred to as the Educational Adequacy Study.

Currently, the state provides schools with $6,781 per student for the school year.  The recommendation from the committee is to increase that to $6,880 per student next year.  The recommendation for Fiscal Year 2021 is $6,985 per student.

Included in report is a recommendation to increase the minimum teacher salary by $1,000 each year. 

This will bring the minimum salary for teachers with a BA to $33,800 and for teachers with an MA to $38,450 by Fiscal Year 2021.

There are several important dates ahead.  On the Friday after the election, November 9, the newly elected and returning members will convene for a House Caucus.

The newly elected members will draw for seniority positions.  Then all members, in order of their seniority, will chose their seat in the chamber for the duration of the 92nd General Assembly.  

Budget hearings began October 16 and will continue through mid-November.  The Governor’s balanced budget proposal will be presented to members on November 14.

From December 3-6, members will return to the chamber for the Legislative Institute.  This is a 4 day behind the scenes look at the law making process designed primarily for freshman members.

Members can begin filing bills on November 15 .  The 2019 Regular Session begins January 14.

Be sure to check our website www.arkansashouse.orgfor updates after the election. 

October 26, 2018

Historical buildings tell a story.  They help us understand the people and community who built it at the time.  Historical preservation helps ensure that story continues.  

That is why investments are made to preserve our State Capitol.  Thousands of visitors from across the country and even around the world tour our Capitol every year.

This week, the House proudly opened its chamber doors to let the public see the work of the latest restoration project.

The entire floor of the chamber has been restored to what architects had in mind more than 100 years ago.

The desks, which were originally installed in the 1960’s, were replaced.  The Capitol historian had discovered 1914 blue prints from architect F.H. Peckwell. Although, the House began using this chamber back in 1911, this original design for the desks had never been utilized until now.

Our architect, Gary Clements and Associates, and contractor, Baldwin and Shell, used the blue prints to design the quarter sawn white oak desks and Speaker’s rostrum.  This design not only creates more space but brings the chamber back to what the first designers of the Capitol had in mind.

We also replaced the carpet and added new technology to assist members who are hearing impaired. The outdated voting machine, which records all votes taken in the House, was replaced with digital technology.

The completion of project was the final step of phased restoration for the chamber that began in 2008.  It began when cracks began to appear in a plaster column.

Since then, every section including the galleries and the stained glass dome has been restored back to the original designs for the building.

The costs for the latest project totaled close to $1 million. All construction projects go through a bidding process and are approved by the House Management Committee.  While restoration can be costly, the cost of not maintaining the building is far greater. Prior to this latest series of restorations, there had not been a significant update to the chamber in more than 30 years.

It is a humbling experience to make decisions in the chamber.  The historical character of the building forces us to think of the decisions made decades ago that either moved our state forward or set us back.

Although we have the privilege of working here, the House chamber belongs to Arkansans.  We invite you to the see the work for yourself next time you are at the Capitol.  In the meantime, check out the photos of what the chamber looked like before, during construction, and the completed restoration atwww.arkansashouse.org.

October 5, 2018

On October 16, legislators will begin meeting at the Capitol to review budget needs for the next fiscal year. Budget hearings are expected to continue through the middle of November.  During that time, members will review budget requests from boards, commissions, and state agencies.

On November 14, the Department of Finance and Administration is scheduled to present an annual forecast and recommendations for a balanced budget by the Governor.

We know from recent revenue reports that Arkansas’s financial outlook looks optimistic. General revenue for the current fiscal year is already $93.7 million more than this time last year.  That is 2.3% above the forecast for that period.  Individual income tax, corporate income tax, and sales tax collections are all showing an increase from last year.

For the month of September alone, general revenue was 9.8% or $50.7 million more than September 2017.

The Arkansas Tax Reform and Relief Task Force has been meeting on a regular basis for more than a year.  The task force has been reviewing existing tax structures and the implications of possible reductions.  The task force expects to make recommendations for tax cuts and have legislation drafted before the session begins.  Any new legislation would have to be enacted through the normal legislative process during the session.

The 2019 Regular Session begins January 14. Unless extended by a 2/3 vote, Regular Sessions are scheduled to last 60 days.  Therefore, 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 meetings take place in the MAC building located directly behind the Capitol.  They are open to the public.  We will post the agendas daily on our websitewww.arkansashouse.org  as well as our social media pages.

September 28, 2018

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in Arkansas and in the United States.  Breast cancer continues to be one of the most frequently diagnosed cancers in Arkansas.  Today, one in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.

In 2015, there were 2,168 new cases of female breast cancer in Arkansas. That same year, 394 women died of the disease.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease. 

There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer. But there are things you can do that might lower your risk such as exercise and reducing alcohol intake.

Finding breast cancer early and getting state-of-the-art cancer treatment are the most important strategies to prevent deaths from breast cancer.

In 2017, we passed legislation in hopes of increasing the accessibility of new technology that could help save lives. Act 708 requires insurance companies to cover the cost of a breast ultrasound or 3-D mammogram without charging a co-pay or deductible.  While traditional mammograms are effective for many women, the ultrasound can detect changes in women with dense breast tissue.  

States that have demanded that insurance companies treat ultrasounds and 3-D mammograms the same as traditional mammograms have seen a reduction in deaths and the number of biopsies needed.   

American Cancer Society screening recommendations for women at average risk are as follows:

·      Women between 40 and 44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year.

·      Women 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.

·      Women 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms. 

The Arkansas BreastCare program provides breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services for eligible Arkansas women. If you qualify, you can receive services at no cost to you.  Visitwww.arbreastcare.com to learn more.

September 21, 2018

Early voting for the upcoming election begins statewide on October 22.

We encourage you to begin making plans to vote.  The first step is to make sure you are registered.

If you are not already a registered voter, you have until October 9 to mail in your voter registration form.

To register in Arkansas you must fill out a paper Voter Registration Application.

You can find an application at the following:

    • The Arkansas Secretary of State Elections Division: 1-800-482-1127.
    • Local revenue or DMV office.
    • Public library.
    • Disability agency.
  • Military recruitment office.

We have posted a link to download a registration application on our website www.arkansashouse.org .

Never assume you are registered to vote until you have received your voter registration card from the county clerk.

Feel free to call your county clerk and inquire about the status of your application or you can check your registration status online at www.voterview.org.

You can also find your polling place onwww.voterview.org.

In most counties, early voting is conducted at the county clerk’s office. In counties with off-site early voting, local newspapers will publish the designated sites.

During a preferential primary or a general election, early voting is available between the hours of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, ending at 5 p.m. on the Monday before the election. Off-site early voting hours may vary by county; watch your local newspaper or contact your county clerk for information.

If your name or address has changed, you may update your information at the early voting site.

Voter turnout during a mid-term election is typically much lower than during a presidential election year.

However, the results of mid-term elections have an enormous impact on our state.  On this ballot, Arkansans will decide the outcome for the office of the governor, attorney general, and state representative just to name a few.  Depending on the outcome of ongoing legal challenges, there could be up to 5 ballot issues before voters.  We have also posted a link to a guide explaining the ballot issues in detail at www.arkansashouse.org.

You can find sample ballots including local races by contacting your county clerk.

September 14, 2018

From 1999 to 2016, the suicide rate in half of all U.S. states increased by more than 30.  Arkansas was one of those states.

Last year, suicide was the leading cause of violent death in Arkansas.  There were 621 Arkansans who died by suicide in 2017.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, a time to share resources and shed light on this highly stigmatized topic.

While suicide is often associated with mental illness, more than half of all people who die by suicide have no known mental health condition, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Researchers agree that multiple factors can affect an individual’s level of risk, such as economic hardship, relationship problems, substance use disorders, physical health problems, recent crises and a host of other factors.

Rural communities and communities with distressed economic conditions also show higher rates of suicide.

In the last legislative session, the General Assembly passed Act 811 which created the Arkansas Lifeline Call Center.  This call center is housed in the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) and answers calls to the national hotline that are made in Arkansas.

An average of over 1,000 Arkansans call the lifeline each month. Callers in crisis are able speak to someone here in Arkansas who has a strong understanding of the resources available in the state. This number is available for many reasons – whether a person is contemplating suicide or is having feelings of anxiousness, depression, hopelessness, or they just want to talk.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Veterans can access the Veteran Crisis Line by calling the national line and pressing 1. Anyone can also text the crisis line by sending TALK to 741741, or chat online at www.chat.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

The ADH Injury and Violence Prevention Section works to prevent suicides through education, resources, and awareness. To learn more about the trainings and resources that are available for your group, business, or school, visit http://www.healthy.arkansas.gov/programs-services/topics/suicide-prevention.

September 7, 2018

Half of all the rice grown in the United States, is grown right here in Arkansas. With more than 9 billion pounds of rice produced each year, Arkansas grows more rice than any other state.

September is National Rice Month, a time to celebrate the harvest of the small but mighty grain that has been growing in our state since 1910.

Several Arkansas farmers experimented with rice in the early twentieth century, but William H. Fuller of Carlisle is known as the father of the Arkansas rice industry.  He was on a hunting trip in Louisiana when he first saw rice being cultivated.  Noting similarities between the Louisiana soil conditions and those of the Grand Prairie, he resolved to experiment with rice on his own land.

Today, rice grows in more than 40 counties in Arkansas.  There are 2,300 rice farms in our state.  Of those farms, 96% are family owned and operated.

The annual Arkansas rice crop contributes billions to the state’s economy and accounts for approximately 25,000 jobs, crucial to rural communities.

Arkansas rice farmers are decreasing their use of natural resources.  Collectively, the industry is using more than 30% less land and energy than it did 20 years ago.  During that same time span, farmers have reduced water usage by half.  The industry also gives 100,000 pounds of rice annually to fight food insecurity in Arkansas.

Consuming Arkansas-grown rice helps support our neighbors who continue to produce a quality food supply. One half cup of rice contains only 100 calories.  It’s naturally sodium, cholesterol and gluten free. And at 10 cents at serving, its budget friendly.

If you are looking for ways to incorporate more Arkansas rice in your diet or if you are looking for recipes, try searching the hashtag #nationalricemonth on social media. 

August 31, 2018

Arkansas has a great deal to celebrate this Labor Day.  Our unemployment level now stands at 3.7%.  The national level is 3.9%. The state’s unemployment rate has been at or below 4% since March of this year.
Every year, the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services issues the Arkansas Labor Market and Economic Report.  This report not only tells us what industries are growing or decreasing, it also projects what our labor market will look like in the coming years.
All major occupational groups are estimated to see net gains in employment. Food preparation and serving workers, including fast food, is predicted to lead the state in net growth with new jobs. Other top growing industries include forging and stamping, education, and health services. Service unit operators, oil, gas, and mining are occupations projected to see a decrease.
When it comes to the highest paid professions in our state, internal medical physicians topped the list with an annual average salary of $266,980. Surgeons ranked second on the list. The top 5 highest paying occupations also include orthodontists, gynecologists, and anesthesiologists.
Retail salespersons is the category estimated to have the most employees across the state with more than 37,000. Cashiers is the second largest occupation with more than 34,000 Arkansans.
The average wages of the top 5 largest occupations in Arkansas are as follows:
Retail salesperson                $24,640
Cashiers                               $19,540
Truck Drivers                        $39,430
Food Prep/Serving Workers $18,820
Office Clerks                         $26,380
The report also indicates that occupations for every level of education is projected to see growth. Educational attainment of the state’s population aged 25 years and over shows that 84.7 percent have earned at least a high school diploma or equivalent.

There are more than 1.3 million Arkansans who make up our workforce.  Working Arkansans are the foundation of our state’s success.  We thank you for your hard work and hope you enjoy a well-deserved holiday.

August 24, 2018

During the next two weeks, the legislature will be meeting in committees to review hundreds of rules from state agencies, commissions, and constitutional offices.

Often times after the legislature passes a law, agencies must make rules to determine how those laws will be carried out or enforced.

The procedures that agencies follow is typically known as the “rule making process.”  It is designed to ensure the public has an opportunity to review and comment before it is adopted.

Rules flesh out details not written in legislation but are needed to administer a program.

For example, in 2013 the General Assembly passed a law allowing certain counties to establish a vote center which would allow voters from any precinct to cast a ballot at that center on Election Day.  To ensure the law is correctly applied, the Secretary of State’s Office drafted rules that established standards for the maintenance and testing of equipment.  The office also needed to establish procedures for vote centers to follow if the electronic system failed.

With more than a thousand laws passed every session, some rules become outdated over time.  That is why during the last session we passed Act 781.  This allows agencies to present rules they wish to repeal before legislative committees.  Agencies will also present a list of rules that will continue to be enforced.

The committees will then make recommendations to Legislative Council which will meet before the end of the year to vote on the changes.

These meetings will begin August 27 and continue through September 7.  We will not be meeting on Labor Day.

More than 100 agencies are scheduled to present their rules.

On our website you will find a list of the daily schedule and the rules that will be presented to the committees on that day.  Visitwww.arkansashouse.org.  

August 17, 2018

August 10, 2018

A recent survey conducted with 1,400 adults found that only one-third could name all three branches of government.  Only 37% of those surveyed can name rights guaranteed under the First Amendment.

This is not the only study that shows a need for more civics education.  Studies also tell us that there is a clear relationship between informed citizens and active participation in government. That is just one of the reasons why we take the month of September to visit with schools in our district.

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

The resolution encourages public school districts to plan special events with their local legislators.  Examples could include allowing legislators to visit classrooms, reading to students, or present guest lectures. Districts could also sponsor panel discussions in which administrators and teachers discuss issues facing their schools. 

The information we learn from this face to face interaction becomes invaluable during the legislative session. Our education committee hears testimony on hundreds of bills every session. Knowing the needs of our schools in advance helps guide our decision making process in a fast-paced environment.

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

      We hope all of you have a great first week back to school.  We hope to see you very soon!

August 3, 2018

Out of every 100,000 Arkansans, 14 will die from a drug overdose. If this trend continues, the drug overdose death rate may surpass the motor vehicle death rate, which was 20 per 100,000 in 2016.

In short, drug overdoses are killing us. Nearly 116 Americans die each day from an overdose of a legal opioid prescription pain killer or a lethal dose of illegal heroin.

The young age at which many drug overdoses occur increases the burden these deaths place on our communities. Between 2014 and 2016, the average age of a drug overdose decedent was 43 years. During the same time period, the average age at death from all causes was 71, which means that overdoses shortened many people’s lives by close to three decades The issue is complex, baffling, and heart-breaking.

In the 2019 Drug Threat Assessment Report from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), methamphetamine is cited as our state’s most significant drug threat.  The use of pharmaceutical drugs like Oxycontin and Hydrocodone continues to increase posing another significant threat.  And now heroin use is slowly but inexorably increasing.

According to the report, the continued growth of heroin appears to be a direct result of the abuse of pharmaceutical drugs, whose abusers transition to the drug due to the price and availability.  Adding to the already increasing concerns of the drugs dangers, law enforcement is finding that half of all heroin confiscated in the state is laced with fentanyl.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. It is 30-50 times more potent than heroin and 50-100 times more potent than morphine.

Arkansas is certainly not alone in this struggle.  In fact, just this week at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), legislators from around the country shared what their government is doing to combat this growing epidemic.  We will continue to study effective policies in other states to determine what legislation may be needed in 2019.

In the last session, we passed Act 284. This allows pharmacists in Arkansas to order, dispense and/or administer naloxone without a prescription. It provides greater access to more Arkansans and first responders in the event of a drug overdose.

In 2018 alone, law enforcement agencies have administered naloxone 68 times to overdose patients.

There are positive developments when it comes to our state’s battle with drug use.  In the last 5 years, drug abuse rates among our youth has declined every year.  We look forward to seeing this rate decline.

If you or a family member is struggling with addiction, we encourage you to visit.www.artakeback.org.  This site has valuable information on opioid addiction and links to treatment centers across the state.

July 27,2018

July 20, 2018

The impact that teachers have on students is far-reaching and life-changing. If you have ever considered making a difference in the lives of Arkansas children, now is a perfect time. 

The Education Committee recently reviewed a report on teacher shortages in our state. The Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) now says there is a critical shortage in 15 areas of study.  These include Art, Chemistry, Computer Science, English/Language Arts, and Math.

There is also a concern with the number of Arkansans enrolled in teacher preparation programs. The number of students studying to be a teacher has dropped from 6,161 in 2013 to 3,563 in 2018.  That is a 42% decline.

And keeping good teachers has also been a challenge.  Since 2009, an average of 10% of new teachers did not return to the classroom after their first year of teaching.  An average of 31% did not return after 5 years.

The Education Committee is taking all of this information into consideration as it develops recommendations for the next session. 

In the meantime, ADE has implemented several initiatives aimed at recruiting more teachers. 

There are currently 60,317 people in Arkansas with an active teaching licenses.  However, during the last school year only 33,228 were employed as teachers.  In an effort to bring more licensed teachers back to the profession, the number of required professional development hours have been reduced to 36 hours. Free online professional development is available through the ArkansasIDEAS portal at http://ideas.aetn.org.

There are 58 schools in the state partnering with colleges and universities to recruit more young people to the profession through a program called Teacher Cadets.  Arkansas Teacher Cadets targets students with exemplary interpersonal and leadership skills.  It features a curriculum based, hands-on approach which educates students how to become a successful teacher and enables them to put their knowledge to work through a classroom internship.

There are also several financial aid incentives including loan forgiveness and tuition reimbursement for prospective teachers.  Visit arkansased.govto learn more.

July 15, 2018 – ACT

When temperatures in Arkansas rise, it is difficult to imagine that any parent could ever leave their child alone in a vehicle, but it is possible and often fatal.

Nationwide, an average of 37 children die each year in hot cars. Even the best of parents or caregivers can unknowingly leave a sleeping baby in a car; and the end result can be injury or even death.

The Arkansas Department of Human Services and Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) has tips for parents to stop this tragedy before it starts.

To ensure your child’s safety, always check your vehicle for children before you leave, and if parents find themselves in this scenario, “ACT.” Before locking the vehicle and leaving it, families must avoid forgetting the child, create reminders and take action, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Safe Kids Worldwide campaigns.

— Avoid this event by never leaving a child alone in a vehicle for any amount of time. When the vehicle is unattended, lock the doors so that children cannot enter.

— Create reminders. Place a purse, briefcase or phone near the child’s car seat to ensure that you will look before leaving your vehicle. Parents or grandparents can also place a stuffed animal in the child’s car seat when it is not in use and place the stuffed animal in the passenger seat when the child is riding with them. This will remind adults to check for the child. Be certain of a child’s location at all times, and plan ahead with caregivers to call and inform you of whether he or she is present.

T — Take action if you see a child left in a vehicle. Call 911 immediately, and if possible, rescue the child from the vehicle after receiving emergency instructions.

Though parents may think prior air-conditioning will help to keep their car cool after they exit, they should know that within five minutes on a 90-degree day, the temperature within a vehicle reaches that of the outdoors, and for every nine minutes the interior temperature increases 15 degrees.

For more resources visitwww.archildrens.org.

July 6, 2018 – Arkansas Declaration of Learning

May 25, 2018  – Farmer’s Market

It is estimated that for every dollar you spend at the grocery store, only 11 cents goes to a farmer. More than 30 cents of every dollar goes to pay for processing, packing, and transporting.

This summer, Arkansans have an opportunity to give our farmers a larger share of the profit all while accessing fresh locally grown produce. There are more than 100 farmers’ markets across the state. While some operate year round, you will
never have trouble finding one near you in the summer months.

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

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

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

In the summer, Arkansans can find locally grown strawberries, blackberries, peaches, and watermelons just to name a few. Because of the nutrition and affordability, many vendors have now started accepting EBT cards from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. In some cases, SNAP recipients can double their
purchasing power at a participating market.

Arkansas is home to more than 43,000 farms. 97% of those farms are family owned. Take the time this year to support our state’s number one industry.
You can find a farmers’ market near you by visiting
www.arkansasfarmersmarketassociation.com

May 18, 2018  – Boating Safety

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

Before you head out on the water this summer, we want to remind you of a few of the laws we’ve passed to keep our lakes and rivers a safe place for you and your family.

Anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1986, and of legal age to operate a motorboat or sailboat, must have successfully completed an approved Arkansas Game and Fish Boating Education Course and carry proof while operating a motorboat or sailboat on
Arkansas water.

The traditional method is an instructor-led class. These classes may be a couple of hours each night for three to four nights or a full-day Saturday class.

In 2017, the General Assembly passed Act 1072 which ensured that the course may be taken on line. Boat Arkansas is the official online course of Arkansas Game and Fish. You can study and take the test from the comfort of your own home at
www.boat-ed.com/arkansas. There is a fee of $24.50.

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

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

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

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