State Capital Week in Review by By Senator Dave Wallace en-us 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 Tourism is important to Arkansas economy LITTLE ROCK - Tourism continues to be an important part of the Arkansas economy, and tourism officials continue to adapt their marketing strategies to meet the changes and challenges of promoting the state in national markets. In the past, Arkansas tourism relied heavily on promoting the availability of outdoor activities such as boating, hunting and fishing. In order to make Arkansas more appealing to women and families, in recent years the state's marketing campaigns have expanded and... Tue, 15 Aug 2017 11:08:00 -0500 State Capitol Week in Review LITTLE ROCK - Many of the bills passed earlier this year took effect at the beginning of August, 90 days after the legislature officially ended the regular session on May 1. Of the new laws that affect public education, one of the most important is Act 930 of 2017. It makes broad changes in how the state Education Department holds local school districts accountable, and how the state helps districts when they fail to adequately educate students. The 60-page law deletes much of the old system,... Tue, 08 Aug 2017 09:35:59 -0500 Broadband access in all schools LITTLE ROCK -The governor, educators and the state's top telecommunications officials announced that all Arkansas public schools now have access to high speed Internet service. The project to expand broadband access in schools began two years ago. With its completion, Arkansas is now one of only six states in which all schools have data transmission capacity of at least 100 kilobits per second per student. Actually, Arkansas is well ahead of that minimum standard and the average capacity... Tue, 01 Aug 2017 08:29:39 -0500 Sales tax holiday Aug. 5-6 LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas will hold its annual sales tax holiday on Saturday, Aug. 5, and Sunday, Aug. 6. Clothing and footwear that cost less than $100 per item will qualify for the exemption. However, if you buy an item that costs more than $100 you must pay the state and local sales taxes on the entire amount. Accessories costing less than $50 qualify for the exemption. Examples include wallets, watches, jewelry, sun glasses, handbags, cosmetics, briefcases, hair notions, wigs and hair... Tue, 25 Jul 2017 09:04:21 -0500 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