BY MELANIE BUCK –
State Representative John Maddox served in his first legislative session this year, representing District 20, which includes portions of Polk, Sevier, and Montgomery Counties. “Governor Hutchinson called this session the most pro-growth and pro-business legislative session in history,” said Maddox. And indeed, several measures were passed by the legislature and signed by the governor in hopes of providing tax relief to businesses, industries, and individuals, and encourage growth across the state.
The passage of the Tax Reform and Relief Act of 2017 is one that Maddox is particularly proud of. The Act lowers the income tax rate for Arkansans making below $21,000 per year and will impact 650,000 people. For those making under $21,000, their tax rates were previously between 0.9% – 4.4% Those rates have been dropped to 0% – 3.4%.
Legislation was also passed that created an income tax exemption for retired military members. “This will bring us in line with how the surrounding states treat military pensions and help us recruit and retain military retirees,” Maddox explained.
In his first session, Rep. Maddox co-sponsored several bills. One will reduce, and fully exempt by 2022, repair and replacement parts for manufacturers. “This should be very beneficial for all manufacturers located in the state.” Another he co-sponsored was legislation reducing the unemployment insurance tax for employers by reducing the number of weeks an individual can claim unemployment from 20 weeks to 16. “We listened to testimony and reviewed data that showed that a significant amount of people were purposely waiting until the 18th or 19th week of unemployment before returning to work,” Maddox explained. With a lesser time period to collect, legislators hope that the unemployed will seek employment quicker, saving the state and businesses a considerable amount. This will save every county in Arkansas thousands of dollars. Arkansas is currently in a record-breaking trend when it comes to unemployment data, with the state’s rate in a steady decline since 2011 and has hit a new record low for the last several months. In March 2017, it declined to a record 3.6%.
“I also sponsored legislation that will shift the payment of juror orientation costs from the county to the state. In the research I did I found that the Administrative office of the Courts has a substantial fund balance and can easily afford to pay for the costs.”
Maddox co-sponsored legislation which reduces the developmental disabilities waiting list. From 500 to 900 people with developmental disabilities would move off the current waiting list and receive home-based or community-based services under a plan announced by the governor. He proposed allocating about $8.5 million from the state’s tobacco settlement revenue to provide the services and shorten the waiting list, which now has about 3,000 people on it. Under the formula for this method of Medicaid spending, the federal government would provide an additional $20.5 million, so the total amount of new spending on services for people with developmental disabilities would be about $29 million a year.
The state Department of Human Services said that currently about 4,200 people with disabilities receive home or community services. A common alternative to community and home-based services is to place the person with disabilities in an institution, such as a Human Development Center (HDC).
The Arkansas General Assembly also passed the “speed limit law” that gives the Arkansas Highway Department the ability to raise the speed limit to 75 mph on certain interstates and 65 mph on certain highways which they deem it appropriate and safe. There is no word yet on whether any of the highways in Polk County’s borders will be affected.
Several pieces of pro-life legislation was passed through during the general session as well including Act 45, the Arkansas Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Act; Act 383, which states an abortion can only be performed by a physician; and Act 733, the Sex Discrimination by Abortion Act, which outlaws an abortion if the reason is the sex of the child.
To combat prison overcrowding, lawmakers passed the Criminal Justice Reform Act, which places more focus on mental health and attempts to prioritize the incarceration of dangerous and violent felons over nonviolent ones. This legislation was part of the governor’s legislative package. Gov. Hutchinson signed the Mental Health Crisis Stabilization Centers Bill into law that will establish three regional centers to reduce the incarceration rate of those with mental illness and to increase public safety.
Maddox reports the Arkansas General Assembly will be heading into a special session the first week of May, with a focus on healthcare. “We are going to attempt to pass legislation which will allow the state of Arkansas to seek waivers from the federal government requiring work requirements for persons who are receiving insurance through the Arkansas Works program,” said Maddox. The legislation will also require a small premium to be paid and limit the amount of people who are eligible for the program. Upon passage, it will be sent to the federal government for their approval.
“In the next session we want to continue with the pro-business and pro-growth policies,” said Maddox. “We also want to continue to attract business to the state of Arkansas with these policies and continue to incentivize work and reduce the role of
government in peoples lives.”
Rep. John Maddox can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 479-394-6060.