State Capital Week in Review by By Senator Dave Wallace en-us State Capital Week in Review LITTLE ROCK - Last year 384 Arkansas residents died from an overdose of prescription painkillers. That is an increase of one person over the previous year, when 383 people died from an overdose of opioid pain medication. In 2014 there were 356 deaths in Arkansas due to opioid overdoses. The Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor heard a report from the state Health Department on the effectiveness of recently enacted laws designed to curb the alarming surge in abuse of... Tue, 18 Jul 2017 09:27:05 -0500 State Capital Week in Review LITTLE ROCK - Thanks to conservative budgeting and a rebound in consumer spending, the state ended Fiscal Year 2017 with a surplus of $15.7 million. Individuals and businesses were spending more, so sales taxes were strong at the end of the fiscal year. Employment figures were strong, which meant that Arkansans were paying income taxes. The strong finish to the fiscal year is an abrupt turnaround from late April, when state agencies were notified they had to trim about $70 million from their... Tue, 11 Jul 2017 11:15:00 -0500 Capital Week in Review LITTLE ROCK -The Arkansas lottery is on track to raising more than $80 million for college scholarships in Fiscal Year 2017. When this year's total amounts are counted, they may not quite equal the amount generated last year. Last year's sales were enhanced by a tremendously high Powerball jackpot that generated a lot of publicity and public interest in January of 2016. Winners in three states shared about $1.6 billion, and Arkansas lottery ticket sales in January of 2016 set a... Mon, 03 Jul 2017 09:30:05 -0500 State Capitol Week in Review LITTLE ROCK - The Senate and House Education Committees have begun work on the next adequacy determination for public schools. Funding levels for this year and next year have already been set, which means that the legislative adequacy study now underway is going to determine school funding levels for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. The adequacy study includes visits to selected schools across Arkansas, as well as surveys of superintendents, principals and teachers. It also includes data from the... Tue, 27 Jun 2017 10:42:08 -0500 State Capital Week in Review LITTLE ROCK - Legislators are moving ahead with a financing plan that allows an additional 500 people with developmental disabilities to move off a waiting list and get services that will help them live more independently. During this year's regular session lawmakers approved Act 50 and Act 775, both designed to help people with development disabilities. Act 50 allows $8.7 million from a state settlement with tobacco companies to be used to match about $20 million in federal funding. The... Tue, 20 Jun 2017 10:57:38 -0500 Proposal to allow voters to decide to increase spending on highway improvements LITTLE ROCK - The Highway Commission voted to begin an effort to put a proposal on next year's ballot, so that Arkansas voters can decide whether to increase spending on highway and bridge improvements. The vote was 5-to-0. The details will be worked out during future meetings and the Commission expressed hopes that a final plan would be ready by October. After the substance of a highway program is finalized, supporters of the initiative can begin collecting signatures. The governor has... Tue, 13 Jun 2017 14:39:13 -0500 Deadlines approaching LITTLE ROCK - Two important deadlines are approaching for students seeking financial aid to attend a state-supported college or university. June 15 is the deadline to apply for the popular Academic Challenge Scholarships, which are funded by the lottery and which help about 30,000 students every year. July 1 is the deadline for applying for an ARFuture grant, which will cover tuition and fees for students who major in science, technology, engineering and math. The application process is... Tue, 06 Jun 2017 10:22:29 -0500 New higher education funding formula underway LITTLE ROCK - The state Higher Education Coordinating Board began work on a new funding formula for colleges and universities, based on legislation enacted during this years' regular session. Act 148 of 2017 directs to board to adopt a funding formula based on productivity measures such as the number of students who complete their degree requirements. The previous formula was based more on enrollment. The new formula also takes into account factors like affordability. For example, under... Tue, 30 May 2017 10:31:23 -0500 State Capital Week in Review LITTLE ROCK -The state Board of Education will consider raising the cap on the number of students who can enroll in the Arkansas Virtual Academy. The academy has received preliminary approval for a higher cap from the Charter Authorizing Panel and the next step is for the request to go before the state Board. If the Board of Education approves, the online school's enrollment cap would increase from 2,000 to 3,000 students. There are two state-approved online schools in Arkansas - the... Tue, 23 May 2017 10:56:30 -0500 State Capital Week in Review LITTLE ROCK - Acts 78 and 79 of 2017 created the Arkansas Tax Reform and Relief Legislative Task Force. The leaders of the Senate and House have appointed the panel's membership. There will be eight senators and eight representatives on the task force, which is charged with recommending changes to the state tax code for lawmakers to consider during the 2019 regular session. Acts 78 and 79 are identical versions of a tax relief measure. One version originated in the Senate and the other... Tue, 16 May 2017 09:09:03 -0500 Three day special session completed LITTLE ROCK - The legislature completed a three-day special session after approving the governor's proposal to limit eligibility in the Arkansas Works health coverage program. The state must gain approval for the plan from federal officials. It would reduce income limits for eligibility in Arkansas Works, which now provides health coverage to about 320,000 Arkansas residents whose incomes are beneath 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The governor said that he was confident that... Tue, 09 May 2017 11:09:48 -0500 State Capital Week in Review LITTLE ROCK - After officially adjourning the 2017 regular session on May 1, the legislature was scheduled to immediately begin a special session to consider a specific issue, whether or not Arkansas should ask the federal government for a new Medicaid waiver. If federal officials approved the request for a waiver, Arkansas would have more control over eligibility and spending in the state's Medicaid program. The governor and public health officials are optimistic that federal approval... Tue, 02 May 2017 11:19:44 -0500 Legislature approves conservative budget LITTLE ROCK - The legislature approved a very conservative budget for state agencies next fiscal year. One of the few agencies that will get a significant increase in spending authority is the Division of Children and Family Services, which is within the Human Services Department. It administers child welfare programs, such as foster care and adoption services. At the recommendation of the governor, the legislature approved an increase in the Division's funding of $27 million a year. That... Tue, 25 Apr 2017 09:04:24 -0500 Laws address neglected children LITTLE ROCK - During the 2017 regular session, lawmakers considered numerous changes to existing law governing placement of neglected children. About a dozen were enacted. Many of the new acts set out clear legal procedures followed by attorneys for the state Children and Family Services Division, attorneys for parents both custodial and non-custodial, attorneys for other relatives of the children and attorneys for the children. For example, Act 1111 clarifies that when a court order has... Tue, 18 Apr 2017 09:37:44 -0500 State Capital Week in Review LITTLE ROCK - On the last full day of the 2017 legislative session, the Senate narrowly defeated a bill that would have required that a majority interest in medical marijuana facilities be owned by people who have been Arkansas residents for the past seven years. The legislature voted on numerous bills to implement the constitutional amendment approved by voters last November, which legalized the sale and cultivation of medical marijuana. Voter approval of the amendment required the... Tue, 11 Apr 2017 08:59:51 -0500 State Capital Week in Review LITTLE ROCK - In the final days of the 2017 regular session, legislators completed work on balanced budgets for state agencies, prison units, public schools and higher education. The Arkansas balanced budget law is called the Revenue Stabilization Act and it is necessarily one of the last and most important bills to be considered by lawmakers. The act allocates more than $5.3 billion in general revenue. The major sources of that revenue are the sales tax and state individual and corporate... Tue, 04 Apr 2017 10:45:31 -0500 Lawmakers address education, prisons LITTLE ROCK - As the General Assembly approaches the final days of this year's regular session, lawmakers approved bills affecting public and private education, criminal justice, prisons, election procedures, campaign finance and unemployment benefits. Senate Bill 647 is a 60-page measure that sets up new accountability and assessment tools used in public schools. Educators will be affected by how it changes the methods for designating schools that are in academic distress. The Senate passed... Tue, 28 Mar 2017 13:53:35 -0500 Campus carry measure goes to governor LITTLE ROCK - The legislature has passed and sent to the governor a "campus carry" measure that was amended numerous times and applies to many more areas than college campuses. As originally introduced, House Bill 1249 would have allowed faculty and staff at state colleges and universities to carry a concealed firearm on campus, as long as they already had a concealed carry permit. That was the version that the House passed by a vote of 71-to-22. It was sent to the Senate, where seven... Tue, 21 Mar 2017 08:25:12 -0500 State Capital Week in Review LITTLE ROCK - The General Assembly gave final approval to legislation that will give law enforcement authorities effective new tools to deal with people going through mental health crises. Act 423 of 2017 will establish three regional Mental Health Crisis Stabilization Centers, each with 16 beds. When people need mental health treatment and are causing trouble, the police can take them to a center rather than to jail, where they will not get any treatment at all. Act 423 also sets up courses... Tue, 14 Mar 2017 11:05:00 -0500 State Capital Week in Review Soldiers and airmen of the Arkansas National Guard who are students at state-supported colleges and universities will have their tuition paid for, under legislation passed by the Senate. Senate Bill 278 has several purposes. First is to improve the Guard's readiness, both for domestic emergencies and foreign missions. Arkansas has lost units to other states that provide more benefits, which means that fewer units are available in Arkansas to respond to natural disasters and other... Tue, 07 Mar 2017 14:43:05 -0600