Despite being a three-day week at the Capitol, it was jam-packed! Several bills worked on by AACF staff cleared important hurdles, and we are gearing up for the sprint that comes in the last several weeks of the session. When legislators return Monday from Spring Break, it’s possible they’ll begin meeting Monday through Friday in an attempt to wrap things up before the end of April.
Watch this video of the passage of Senate Bill 381.
Here are updates on the bills we’re tracking:
EARLY CHILDHOOD WORKFORCE: Senator Sturch filed Senate Bill 618 on Wednesday. The bill seeks to address the need for high-quality educators for Arkansas children aged 0 to 5 with a four-year pilot program incentivizing early childhood educators to advance their education in the early childhood discipline. The bill would provide a tax incentive for qualifying early childhood program directors, teachers and instructional staff who meet certain criteria. The credit amount would increase based upon the level of education attained.
SCHOOL VOUCHERS: Sen. Johnson filed Senate Bill 620 on Wednesday. The bill would establish a five-year private school voucher program in Pulaski County. The bill would take $3.5 million a year in public-school funds to provide vouchers for around 500 students to attend private schools.
Moving Right Along
TOBACCO AND VAPING TAX: Senate Bill 571 passed out of the Senate on Wednesday afternoon. The bill would address the state’s high adult and teen smoking rates by taxing e-cigarettes and increasing taxes on tobacco, while providing tax relief for low-income Arkansans. It has been referred to the House Committee on Revenue and Taxation.
RESTRICTIONS ON FOOD ASSISTANCE: Three bills that passed out of committee this week would limit access to Arkansas’s food assistance programs. House Bill 1731 would make parents disqualified from receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits during any month in which they are delinquent on child support. It would cut benefits for the entire household, even in if there are children in the home.
House Bill 1743 would restrict the items purchasable with food stamps.
House Bill 1775 would expand work requirements for low-income Arkansans who receive SNAP, including those with dependent children older than 6.
MINIMUM WAGE ROLLBACKS: House Bill 1751, one of three bills filed recently to amend the Minimum Wage Act, passed out of the House without opposition on Wednesday and will be heard by the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Monday. The bill makes technical amendments to the Minimum Wage Act.
House Bill 1753 was given two amendments and has been re-referred to the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor. It is scheduled to be heard Tuesday morning. The bill would exempt employers of individuals under age 20 from the Minimum Wage Initiated Act 5 of 2018. The bill would cap the minimum wage for employees under 20 years to $9.25 per hour, exempting them from the increases to $10 on January 1, 2020 and $11 on January 1, 2021. These increases were approved by 68 percent of Arkansas voters last November.
CHILD WELFARE: House Bill 1488 is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. The bill would create greater oversight of adoptions, especially among the Marshallese population in Northwest Arkansas. It would make it a felony to coerce a pregnant woman to give up her baby for adoption.
IMMIGRATION: House Bill 1552 was not heard this week but is rescheduled to be heard by the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Monday. The bill would allow the Arkansas State Board of Nursing to issue licenses to people who have completed their vocational or professional course work and who have work permits under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy (commonly referred to as DACA status).
House Bill 1684 passed the House by a vote of 75-11 on Tuesday and has been referred to the Senate Education Committee. The bill would require that students who graduate from Arkansas high schools – as long as they’ve attended at least three years – be eligible to pay in-state tuition prices at state colleges and universities. Currently, some students who weren’t born in the U.S. must pay out-of-state or international tuition prices, even if they’ve attended Arkansas public schools for many years.
EDUCATION: House Bill 1409, which would require all elementary school students in Arkansas public schools to have at least 40 minutes of recess each day, passed out of the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday and will go to the Senate floor.
JUVENILE JUSTICE: House Bill 1756 is scheduled to be heard by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. The bill would require parental consent for juveniles to waive their right to counsel, no matter the charge they’re facing.
House Bill 1755, which limits the use of solitary confinement on juveniles under age 18, passed out of the House Committee on Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs on Wednesday.
Heading to the Governor
SCHOOL DISCIPLINE: Senate Bill 381 passed out of the House on Tuesday and will be sent to the Governor to be signed into law. The bill prohibits the use of corporal punishment in Arkansas public schools on children with certain disabilities.
Signed into Law
House Bill 1485 passed the Senate on Monday and is now Act 532. The law amends the list of things that schools can do with the state school poverty program, National School Lunch (NSL) categorical funding, aimed at helping low-income students. It allows NSL expenditures for dyslexia programs and interventions, as well as recruitment and retention of effective teachers. It also prohibits the use of NSL funds for non-recurring teacher bonuses.
As the session progresses, we will continue tracking bills that could affect the welfare of children and low-income Arkansas families. Keep an eye on our blog for the latest news and updates, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for additional thoughts and analysis.