State Capital Week in Review by By Senator Dave Wallace en-us 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 Community service providers helping youth LITTLE ROCK - Last year 451 Arkansas teenagers were confined in a secure facility because they got in trouble with the authorities. The overwhelming majority, 86 percent, committed non-violent offenses, which includes truancy from school and running away from home. The youths that were jailed last year in Arkansas ranged from age 11 to age 20, more than half were either 16 or 17 years old, and 86 percent were boys. The juvenile detention facilities are operated by the state Division of Youth... Mon, 09 Oct 2017 16:50:03 -0500 Agriculture plays important role in prison revenue LITTLE ROCK - The Arkansas Correction Department houses 18,180 inmates. If it were a city, it would be the 24th largest in Arkansas, but the system is spread across the state in 19 prison units and several other secure facilities. About 1,450 will be in the jails of the 75 counties in Arkansas, waiting until space is available in a prison unit. Arkansas has contracted with Texas to house 333 inmates in Bowie County, across the state line from Texarkana. About 250 inmates are in county jails... Tue, 03 Oct 2017 10:06:49 -0500 University enrollment figures vary LITTLE ROCK - Several Arkansas universities reported record enrollments this fall, while the size of the freshmen class at other institutions has gone down since last year. Each campus compiles official enrollment figures on its 11th day of the fall semester. Different universities begin their fall semester on different dates, so not every campus submitted its enrollment report to the Department of Higher Education on the same day. The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville enrolled its... Tue, 26 Sep 2017 09:36:25 -0500 Family foster children placement increased LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas has made progress in placing foster children with relatives, bringing the state's rate for family placements to the national average. Nationwide, 29 percent of foster children are placed with family members and in Arkansas the rate is 28.8 percent. Two years ago the rate in Arkansas was 14 percent. Increasing the number of family placements has been a goal of the Children and Family Services Division. The improvement was commended by the governor and legislators who... Tue, 19 Sep 2017 09:18:18 -0500 More students taking ACT test LITTLE ROCK - The ACT is the most important standardized test for high school students in Arkansas, and every year parents and educators anticipate the releasing of test scores to see how our students are performing. In the past decade Arkansas students have shown steady improvement because more of them are taking college preparatory courses. However, their average scores have usually been slightly below the national average and on par with neighboring states. This year marks a dramatic shift... Tue, 12 Sep 2017 10:18:14 -0500 Water Provider Legislative Task Force works on water issues LITTLE ROCK - In Arkansas there are about 649 public water associations and 388 waste water systems. Some of those water systems, especially the smaller ones in rural areas, are facing financial and technical challenges that will get more difficult in the next 10 years. Legislators and representatives of water systems discussed those challenges at the first meeting of the Water Provider Legislative Task Force, which was created by Act 1056 of 2017. They also heard an update on the state's... Wed, 06 Sep 2017 13:35:20 -0500 State Capital Week in Review LITTLE ROCK - The state Correction Department has obtained the drugs needed for lethal injection, preparing the way for the governor to set an execution date for an inmate on death row who was sentenced to death for capital murder in Johnson County in 1992. Sidney Burnett, a pastor who was 69 years old, was killed in 1991 by Jack Greene, who is now 62. Greene's attorneys argue that he is mentally ill. The state attorney general said in a letter to the governor that Greene had exhausted his... Tue, 29 Aug 2017 11:54:30 -0500 State Capital Week in Review LITTLE ROCK - The state is in the process of contracting with private sector firms to operate the juvenile detention centers in Arkansas that are now being staffed by state employees. The centers have space for about 200 young people. Since the beginning of this year they have been run by the state Department of Youth Services (DYS). However, for about 20 years prior to this year the department had contracts with private non-profits to operate them. Those contracts were not renewed and the... Tue, 22 Aug 2017 08:40:20 -0500