State Capital Week in Review by By Senator Dave Wallace en-us Successful completion f the 2018 fiscal session LITTLE ROCK – When the legislature passed a balanced budget law for next year, it signaled the successful completion of the 2018 fiscal session. A few minor details were left to be finished, and official adjournment was scheduled for March 12. The governor planned to call a special session the following day, for lawmakers to work on a problem faced by local pharmacies whose reimbursements have dropped sharply since the beginning of the year. The most dramatic moments of the fiscal... Tue, 13 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0500 Final bills to be considered LITTLE ROCK – As the legislature gets close to wrapping up the 2018 fiscal session, one of the final bills to be considered is the state balanced budget bill known as the Revenue Stabilization Act. Whether in fiscal sessions or regular sessions, the balanced budget law is traditionally among the last measures passed by the General Assembly. The appropriation for the Medicaid program is also one of the last bills approved by the legislature. It is one of the largest expenditures of... Tue, 06 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0600 Arkansas export efforts strong LITTLE ROCK – The World Trade Center Arkansas has compiled the first listing of companies in Arkansas that export products to foreign markets. It is 110 pages long. The Trade Center is a partnership of public agencies under the license of the University of Arkansas that was formed in 2007. The members of its board of advisors are business and civic leaders, including six state senators and one former state senator. Its goal is to strengthen the ties between the Arkansas business... Tue, 27 Feb 2018 00:00:00 -0600 Senate approves long list of appropriations LITTLE ROCK – Some observers may think that fiscal sessions of the legislature lack drama, because of the lack of controversy. Lawmakers focus on budgets and revenue projections. But a glimpse at one day’s work in the Arkansas Senate offers a revealing perspective on the numerous services provided by state government. On the final day of the session’s first week, the Senate approved a long list of appropriations, which authorize spending by state agencies and institutions of... Tue, 20 Feb 2018 00:00:00 -0600 The "Big Six" LITTLE ROCK – Virtually all of the discussion during the 2018 fiscal session of the legislature will be about the budgets in the categories commonly referred to as the “Big Six.” Fiscal sessions begin on the second Monday of February in even-numbered years. This year that is February 12. The “Big Six” categories are institutions of higher education, public schools, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Health, the Department of Correction and... Tue, 13 Feb 2018 00:00:00 -0600 New regulations does not change hauling livestock LITTLE ROCK – Sometimes elected officials and law enforcement agencies must conduct public information campaigns to explain how people are affected when a new law is passed. These days, the opposite is taking place. The Highway Police and legislators are in the rare position of explaining to the public that a new law does not affect them. In this case, it is farmers and people who haul cattle, horses and other livestock. There have been concerns that they would be affected by new... Tue, 06 Feb 2018 00:00:00 -0600 Preparing young people for the best jobs LITTLE ROCK – Civic and business leaders want to increase the number of college graduates in Arkansas, to prepare the state’s young people for the best jobs being created in the global economy. However, members of the Senate Education Committee don’t want policy makers to neglect the thousands of young students who may not attend or finish college. With the idea in mind that not all students are meant to get a university degree, they have sponsored legislation to improve... Tue, 30 Jan 2018 00:00:00 -0600 Arkansas seeking waiver LITTLE ROCK – In a decision that may have significant financial consequences for the Arkansas Medicaid program, federal officials have approved a Kentucky proposal to require recipients either to work or look for a job in order to qualify for some Medicaid benefits. States administer Medicaid and share the costs with the federal government. If a state wants to make any changes in eligibility, it must first gain approval from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.... Tue, 23 Jan 2018 09:08:16 -0600 Governor presents balanced budget proposal LITTLE ROCK – The governor presented his balanced budget proposal to legislators, who will act on the plan during the fiscal session that begins on Feb. 12. The bulk of the increased spending next year would be for the Medicaid program, which subsidizes health care for people with disabilities, the elderly who need long term nursing care, and low-income families. The Division of Children and Family Services, which recruits foster families for children who have been abused or neglected,... Tue, 16 Jan 2018 00:00:00 -0600 Open carry of firearms LITTLE ROCK – In a letter to the State Police, the governor said that open carry of a firearm is not a violation of state gun laws, as long as there is no intent to use the weapon unlawfully. This is the second time since 2015 that a state constitutional officer has written that open carry is legal. An attorney general’s opinion from 2015 says that “in general merely possessing a handgun on your person or in your vehicle does not violate” statutes about firearm... Tue, 09 Jan 2018 08:31:07 -0600 Challenges facing state government in 2018 LITTLE ROCK – Many challenges facing state government in 2018 will have a familiar ring, but will take on a modern twist. A good example is Medicaid. The state administers the health care program for people with disabilities, the elderly and low-income families, and since it was created in the mid 1960s state watchdogs have been working to improve efficiency and accountability. The Department of Human Service administers Medicaid, and the department plans to introduce an innovation in... Tue, 02 Jan 2018 09:21:00 -0600 Tax cuts for Arkansas residents LITTLE ROCK – The past year has been eventful for state government, and the development that may have the most positive long-term impact for the Arkansas economy was passage by the legislature of a $50 million-a-year tax cut for low income families. Act 78 of 2017 will lower state income taxes for everyone whose income is less than $21,000 a year. People whose annual incomes are below $4,300 will be taken off the income tax rolls completely. An analysis by the Bureau of Legislative... Tue, 26 Dec 2017 09:26:32 -0600 Governor thanks commissioners LITTLE ROCK – At the December meeting of the Arkansas Tobacco Settlement Commission the governor made a surprise appearance. He wanted to thank commissioners for their help in providing home care and services to about 500 people with developmental disabilities. They were moved off a waiting list of about 3,000 families who wanted more extensive home care that would allow the person with a disability to move out of an institution. That was made possible because earlier this year the... Tue, 19 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0600 Computer Science growing LITTLE ROCK – Since the legislature enacted a law in 2015 that requires Arkansas high schools to offer computer science, the number of students in computer classes has increased by 460 percent. In the 2014-2015 school year there were 1,104 students in computer science classes and now there are 6,184, according to the state Education Department. The number of teachers qualified in computer science has grown from 27 to 225. The governor made it a priority to expand computer science... Tue, 12 Dec 2017 09:03:54 -0600 School funding LITTLE ROCK – Since its creation in 2005, the state’s program to pay for school facilities has paid local school districts more than $930 million and committed to paying $283 million by the end of 2019. School districts match the state dollars, and since 2005 the combined amount of spending on new school facilities is $2.54 billion. Several types of projects qualify for facilities funding. A common type is construction that makes sure school buildings are safe, warm and dry. Those... Tue, 05 Dec 2017 13:49:20 -0600 Athletic spending up at higher education colleges, universities LITTLE ROCK – State-supported universities in Arkansas spent $176 million on athletics last year, a 6.3 percent increase over the previous year. Two-year colleges spent $600,000. About 72 percent of the income that was spent on sports came from ticket sales, license fees and sources of athletic department income. Almost $26 million, or 13 percent, of the money spent on athletics came from fees charged to students. Universities may spend a certain proportion of their state funding on... Tue, 28 Nov 2017 10:16:41 -0600 Foreign trade important to Arkansas economy LITTLE ROCK - When the governor and the director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission journeyed to China and Japan on a trade mission, it underscored how important foreign trade is to the Arkansas economy. For example, more than 20 companies have manufacturing operations in Arkansas that employ about 5,300 people. Two years ago there were four Chinese companies in Arkansas that hired about 10 workers, but since then our connections with Chinese businesses have changed dramatically.... Tue, 21 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0600 Tax reductions LITTLE ROCK - In its past two regular sessions the Arkansas legislature has lowered state income tax rates and also made significant reductions in other types of state taxes. In preparation for the next regular session, in 2019, a panel of legislators is working on further tax reductions. The Senate chairman of the group has said that further reductions of about $100 million a year should be a starting point for income tax reductions. The Tax Reform and Relief Legislative Task Force has 16... Tue, 14 Nov 2017 09:58:36 -0600 Changes to concealed carry regulations LITTLE ROCK - The Arkansas State Police is working on changes to concealed carry regulations to enforce the intent of Acts 562 and 859, which the legislature approved earlier this year. Act 562 expands the number of locations where a permit holder can legally carry a concealed firearm, such as public facilities. In order to legally carry in those additional locations, the owner of the firearm must complete additional training to obtain an enhanced license. Permit holders who maintain the... Tue, 07 Nov 2017 12:00:56 -0600 Colleges experience decline in enrollment LITTLE ROCK - All state-supported colleges and universities have turned in preliminary enrollment figures to the Higher Education Department. This fall the 11 four-year universities and 22 two-year colleges in Arkansas are experiencing an overall decline in enrollment of 1.7 percent. The numbers are tallied on the 11th day of the fall semester, when state-supported campuses had a total of 146,752 students enrolled. A year ago the total was 149,326. In 2012 the total was 157,151. Two-year... Tue, 24 Oct 2017 10:47:00 -0500