State Capital Week in Review by By Senator Dave Wallace en-us 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 Voter ID addressed LITTLE ROCK - A Senate committee has advanced legislation that requires voters to present a photo ID before they can cast a ballot. Under House Bill 1047, numerous types of identification are acceptable. They include drivers' licenses, military and student IDs, public assistance card, concealed carry permits and passports. People who have no valid form of photo ID can get one for free, after making a sworn statement that they do not have any other acceptable form of ID. A person who lives in... Tue, 28 Feb 2017 09:29:55 -0600 Senate votes to limit attorneys' fees LITTLE ROCK - After a lengthy and impassioned debate, the Senate voted to refer to voters a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit attorneys' fees in civil lawsuits and limit the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded. The measure is Senate Joint Resolution 8. The Senate vote is a virtual guarantee that it will be one of the proposed constitutional amendments that the legislature will refer to voters this session. In each regular session the legislature may refer up to... Mon, 20 Feb 2017 15:27:42 -0600 Senate passes bills LITTLE ROCK - The Senate passed two bills to streamline state agencies and make them more efficient. Other bills are in the pipeline. Senate Bill 256 transfers the relatively small Arkansas Energy Office to the larger Department of Environmental Quality. The legislature created the Energy Office in 1981, a period when the country was recovering from oil shortages and long lines at gas stations. Its mission is to help people make their homes and offices more energy efficient, and helps agencies... Tue, 14 Feb 2017 09:46:55 -0600 Arkansas taxpayers to benefit LITTLE ROCK - After putting the finishing touches on a $50 million-a-year tax cut for low income families, lawmakers turned their focus to legislation that exempts military retirement benefits from the state income tax. About 657,000 Arkansas taxpayers will benefit from Act 78 of 2017, which reduces or eliminates individual state income taxes for people whose incomes are less than $21,000 a year. About 29,000 Arkansas veterans, who served long enough to qualify for military retirement... Tue, 07 Feb 2017 09:40:21 -0600 Disability funding approved LITTLE ROCK - From 500 to 900 people with developmental disabilities will get home assistance from a funding measure approved by the legislature. The home services will allow them to live at home, rather than in an institution. The waiting list for home services has been about 3,000 people, and some of them had been on the list for more than 10 years. The sponsors of HB 1033 estimate that the additional funding would shorten the waiting list by 500 to 900 people. Revenue for the services will... Tue, 31 Jan 2017 10:04:29 -0600 State Capital Week in Review LITTLE ROCK - By a unanimous vote in both chambers, the General Assembly approved legislation to postpone for 60 days implementation of the medical marijuana amendment. Arkansas voters passed the amendment in the November general election. It created a commission responsible for writing new regulations for the growing and selling of medical marijuana. For example, the commission will determine how cultivation facilities and dispensaries will keep records, and how they will maintain... Tue, 24 Jan 2017 09:04:31 -0600 State Capital Week in Review LITTLE ROCK - One of the most important developments in state government in 2016 was the full implementation of lower personal income taxes for about 688,000 middle class Arkansas taxpayers. Combined with other tax cuts approved by the legislature in 2015, the reduced income taxes will save Arkansas families about $100 million a year. Even taking into account lower revenue due to the tax cuts, state government ended the fiscal year with a budget surplus of $177 million. The fiscal year ended... Tue, 27 Dec 2016 09:08:53 -0600 Legislators to consider tax cut proposals LITTLE ROCK - Legislators will consider several different tax cut proposals when the General Assembly convenes for the 2017 regular session. The governor has proposed an income tax reduction for low-income wage earners, those earning $21,000 a year or less. It would lower taxes for about 657,000 Arkansas residents, which is approximately 44 percent of 1.5 million people who pay state individual income taxes. The governor's proposal would completely exempt anyone whose annual income is less... Tue, 20 Dec 2016 09:42:14 -0600