As expected, several committees and the House met today, in an effort to get through the many bills still left to cover before the end of the session. The AACF staff has been hard at work, doing outreach, building relationships and spending hours in committee meetings watching over bills important to Arkansas’s kids and families.
Watch this video of Jackie Govan, Collaboration Director at the Arkansas Head Start Association, sharing the importance of early childhood education and the need to support the workforce responsible for educating our littlest learners.
Here are updates on the bills we’re tracking:
ARKANSAS MEDICAID: In case you missed it, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg ruled on Wednesday that Arkansas’s work reporting requirement for the Arkansas Works program cannot continue because it violates the purpose of Medicaid. Relevant to the ruling, Senate Bill 99, which would allocate funding for the Department of Human Services – Division of Medical Services (which funds Medicaid) passed out of the Senate Wednesday, but failed to pass off the House floor today.
Moving Right Along
EARLY CHILDHOOD WORKFORCE: Senate Bill 618, sponsored by Sen. Sturch, is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Revenue and Tax Committee on Monday. 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.
IMMIGRATION: House Bill 1684 passed unanimously out of the Senate Education Committee today. 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.
JUVENILE JUSTICE: House Bill 1755, which limits the use of solitary confinement on juveniles under age 18, passed off the House floor on Wednesday and has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It is scheduled to be heard on Monday.
Senate Bill 506 passed out of the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Thursday. The bill extends the operations of the Youth Justice Reform Board until June 30, 2021. It’s scheduled to be heard by the House on Monday.
SCHOOL VOUCHERS: Senate Bill 539 passed out of the Senate on Thursday and has been referred to the House Education Committee. The bill would create a statewide voucher program, allowing the use of public tax funds to pay for private school tuition.
VAPING TAX: Senate Bill 571 was amended twice this week by House members. The bill now lowers the tax rates on income below $22,199, to be paid for by taxing e-cigarettes at the same rate as tobacco products.
RESTRICTIONS ON FOOD ASSISTANCE: House Bill 1731 passed out of the House on Monday and was referred to the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee. The bill would deny parents 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 failed to get off the House floor this week and was re-referred to the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor. The bill would restrict the items purchasable with food stamps.
House Bill 1775 passed out of the House and has been referred to the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee. The bill would expand work requirements for low-income Arkansans who receive SNAP, including those with dependent children older than 6.
MINIMUM WAGE ROLLBACKS: Two bills that would roll back the voter-approved minimum wage increases cleared the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor. Both bills aim to cap the state minimum wage at $9.25 per hour for certain Arkansans. House Bill 1752 passed late Thursday night and would cap the wage for workers employed by businesses with fewer than 25 employees, by nonprofit developmental service providers, and by nonprofits with operating budgets of less than $1 million. House Bill 1753 was amended on Monday and passed the committee on Tuesday. This bill would cap the minimum wage for workers under age 20. Both bills would exclude thousands of Arkansans from the wage increases to $10 on January 1, 2020 and $11 on January 1, 2021, which were approved by 68 percent of Arkansas voters last November.
CHILD WELFARE: House Bill 1488 has been rescheduled 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.
INTERNET SALES TAX: Senate Bill 576 passed out of the Senate on Monday and has been referred to the House Committee on Revenue and Taxation. The bill would require the collection of sales and use tax by certain online sellers, as well as reduce the corporate income tax rates.
Heading to the Governor
JUVENILE JUSTICE: Senate Bill 573, sponsored by Sen. Leding and Rep. Clowney, passed the Senate on Monday and the House on Thursday. The bill ensures inmates, convicted and sentenced as adults for offenses committed before the age of 18, aren’t prevented from participating in the educational, training or rehabilitative programs available at the correctional facility where they are housed. It also allows the parole board to discharge offenders who committed an offense as a minor, under certain circumstances, and provides for the reinstatement of the right to vote for individuals discharged from parole.
EDUCATION: House Bill 1409, which requires all elementary school students in Arkansas public schools to have at least 40 minutes of recess each day, passed out of the Senate on Wednesday and will go to the Governor for signing.
HEALTH: House Bill 1263 passed out of the Senate on Wednesday and will go to the Governor. The bill authorizes pharmacists to dispense nicotine replacement products without a prescription.
Signed into Law
SCHOOL DISCIPLINE: Senate Bill 381 is now Act 557. The law, co-sponsored by Sen. Elliott and Rep. Vaught, prohibits the use of corporal punishment in Arkansas public schools on children with certain disabilities.
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.