JUVENILE JUSTICE: SB982, “An Act to Improve the Effectiveness of the Juvenile Justice System,” passed both chambers and is off to the governor’s desk. This critical piece of legislation seeks to stop the ineffective and costly practice of incarcerating youthful offenders who are at low or moderate risk of re-offending. Youth who pose minimal risk to public safety are proven to have better outcomes when they are placed in effective community based programs where they can have active involvement from their family, their school, and their community to address the problems that contribute to their criminal behavior. Plus, community-based interventions save taxpayers money, and increase the likelihood that the outcome will be a good one. That’s good for everyone.
EDUCATION: As part of the state general improvement fund legislation passed this session, the Arkansas Better Chance pre-K program will receive $3 million in much-needed new funding. That falls far short of the $16 million increase in annual state funding that ABC needs to make the program whole again after going without a dime of new money for eight years. This increase, however, is an important first step by Arkansas policymakers in recognizing that new investments in high-quality pre-K are needed. We must provide our youngest learners with the building blocks they need for future success. But the job is far from over. We need more funding to maintain the high quality of our ABC programs. Without it, some will have to reduce the number of children they serve or even close their doors.
TAX AND BUDGET: A bill to reinstate generous capital gains tax cuts was sent to the governor’s desk for signature this week. The bill (HB1402) 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.
A bill that would have given state employees paid maternity leave failed to make it out of senate committee this week. This bill (HB1426) would have provided 6 weeks of paid leave at up to $500 a week after the birth of a child for state employees.
Despite a host of legal challenges for similar bills in other states, a bill that would require drug testing for eligibility for public benefits reached the governor’s desk this week. The bill (SB600) is a pilot program that is estimated to cost $2 million a year and fails to provide drug treatment programs for individuals who test positive.
STAY TUNED: AACF will be hosting post-legislative conferences soon. We’ll keep you posted about times and locations for those events. We will also be releasing legislative briefs in the coming weeks to analyze the impact of bills passed this session and how those new laws will affect the issues you care about.