There was a flurry of activity at the State Capitol this week as the session nears its end. Next week, perhaps the final one of the session, promises to be busy as well.
EDUCATION: Earlier this week, the senate passed HB1485: a bill that creates a special education taskforce who will research and recommend best practices to improve services in Arkansas’s schools. The bill has now moved to the governor’s office to be signed into law.
HB1958 failed in House Education Tuesday. The bill would have reserved two percent of each district’s NSLA funds into a grant fund that could be used for programs of the Positive Youth Development Act. Districts would have been required to work in collaboration with non-profits such as Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs to develop after-school and summer programs.
As of release of this summary no word is out on funding for pre-K in revenue stabilization. That’s the process for deciding how general revenue gets distributed among the many needs of state government. We are hoping to hear later today but it could be Monday. We know it won’t be the $16 million for which we have worked.
TAX AND BUDGET: The Working Families Opportunity Act (HB1344), a bill that would provide tax relief for low-income working Arkansans, failed to advance out of the House Committee this week. This bill would have targeted tax credits to thousands of Arkansans who were left out of other tax cuts passed this session. Just one day later, a bill (HB1402) to reinstate generous capital gains tax cuts for the wealthy passed the House and headed to the Senate. The bill reinstates the old 50 percent tax break on capital gains and full tax exemption for capital gains income that exceeds $10 million. This tax cut primarily benefits the wealthy and is estimated to cost $11.8 million a year by 2017.
State employees could soon be eligible for paid maternity leave because of HB1426, which passed the house this week. This bill allows state employees to take 6 weeks of paid leave at up to $500 a week after the birth of a child.
JUVENILE JUSTICE: The final outcomes of three important juvenile justice bills were determined late Thursday evening in the House of Representatives:
- HB1197: the Fair Sentencing for Minors Act would have eliminated life without parole sentences for minors and replace it with a life with possibility of parole after 30 years. It failed to pass.
- SB848: This bill will establish the use of a valid risk assessment tool to inform judges before making a disposition on a delinquency case. It passed out of the House and will now be sent to the Governor.
- SB982: This bill passed the House by a vote of 81-0 and will now go to the Governor. It will improve the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system by creating commitment reduction services and a Youth Justice Reform Board to ensure accountability of all services designed to reduce incarceration by expanding proven effective community-based programs.
HEALTH: This week, SB600 passed out of the House Public Health Committee and will now go to House floor for a vote any day now. The bill creates a pilot program to drug test applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). According to the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, this program will cost at least $1.75 million to implement.
A bill that requires Private Option enrollees to be notified that the current coverage program will end on December 31, 2016 also passed out of the House and Senate. House Bill 1363 will require DHS to provide these notifications mainly at annual renewal time. David Ramsey of the Arkansas Times wrote about the bill earlier this week.