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90th General Assembly Continues to Progress

BY STATE REPRESENTATIVE NATE BELL –

In less than a month’s time, the 90th General Assembly has tackled tax cuts, health care, and has made significant advancements in education policy.

Last Friday, Governor Hutchinson signed a bill to lower middle class income tax rates in our state by 1%.  This will amount to a savings of around $300 a year for a family making $50,000 and will reduce the tax bills of 600,000 taxpayers earning between $21,000 and $75,000 a year.

The other big development of the week came when the House passed a bill that is aimed at restructuring Arkansas’s health care policies in response to the ACA. (Obamacare)

Senate Bill 96 creates a task force which will study and present findings for health care reform by the end of this year.  Supporters of the bill called it a compromise for those on either side of the debate over the Medicaid expansion known as the Private Option. I am a co-sponsor of the bill which was amended in House committee to add sponsors. It will now go back to the Senate for approval of the amendment before heading to the Governor’s desk.

The House also passed the appropriation bill which will continue to fund medical services provided by the Department of Human Services through the next Fiscal Year. I voted for both bills when presented.

In a unanimous vote, we moved forward with a plan to offer a computer science course in every public high school in the state.  This will be at no cost to the school districts as they can use a program called Virtual Arkansas.  The course will teach coding, programming, web design and robotics.  In recent years Arkansas has seen a decline in college graduates with degrees in computer science.  Currently, only 2 percent of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates have computer science degrees, but 60% of STEM jobs are in that field. Our efforts to offer these courses in high school will help put our students ahead of the curve. I’m excited to see several bills progressing that address job training and career readiness for “blue collar” jobs and positions not requiring 4 years of college.

Other pieces of legislation moving out of the House this week include a bill that would prohibit a doctor from prescribing abortion inducing medication via telemedicine.  HB1076 requires a physician be in the room when a patient takes the first round of medication.  It also requires the physician to see the patient for a follow up visit in the weeks after.

The House also passed a bill known as “Andi’s law.”  The bill is named in memory of the Polk County murder victim and daughter of the bill’s sponsor Rep. Rebecca Petty.  Andi’s law allows victims’ families to witness the execution of the person convicted of killing their loved one.  Currently, families are allowed to witness the proceeding via closed circuit television in a separate room. I spoke in favor of this bill in committee and on the House floor.

We have several major issues remaining before us. I expect members will begin addressing prison overcrowding and criminal justice reforms with proposed legislation this week.  I’m also expecting members to file proposed Constitutional Amendments as that filing deadline is quickly approaching.

I have filed 10 bills so far this session. 5 have already passed out of the House and one of them is now Act 21.
At least 3 of the remaining bills will be presented in committee this week.
You can see all of my bills and monitor their progress at:
http://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/assembly/2015/2015R/Pages/MemberProfile.aspx?member=Bell

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