State Capitol Week in Review
From Senator Larry Teague
May 27, 2016
LITTLE ROCK – Of the 13 items on the governor’s call for a special session, 12 were approved by the legislature.
The top priority was legislation to increase state funding of the Highway and Transportation Department by about $50 million a year for five years, which will qualify Arkansas for an additional $200 million each year in federal highway funding.
The highway bill that does not raise any taxes. The main source of state revenue will be dedicating up to 25 percent of the state budget surplus. Based on the average over the past 10 years, that will be $48 million.
As of July 1, 2016, no longer will a percentage of the temporary half-cent sales tax be transferred to the Constitutional Officers Fund and the State Central Services Fund. The half-cent sales tax took effect when voters approved Amendment 91 in 2012, raising the rate from 6 to 6.5 percent and allocating most of the revenue for highways. This provision will add $8.4 million annually to highways.
The bill creates the Arkansas Highway Trust Fund and transfers $1.5 million in FY 2017 and $20 million in FY 2018 from investment earnings on funds held in the state treasury.
Also passed was a bill to transfer the History Commission from Parks and Tourism to the Heritage Department. It also terminates numerous boards and commissions whose duties have already been fulfilled.
The only proposal that failed to get legislative approval was a bill to merge Crowley’s Ridge Technical Institute in Forrest City with East Arkansas Community College. The bill stalled in committee.
Approved was legislation to identify local levee boards and determine if they need vacancies filled, and to create a process under which the county judge can appoint members. Also, we pass a bill allowing someone to create a property right of their image and autograph, and bequeath it to family after their death.
Legislation to loosen restrictions in licensing of private security guards and investigators was approved. Some current guards had been unable to renew their licenses because of old infractions, such as failure to appear for a traffic violation. Also, we passed legislation to abolish a death and permanent disability fund in the Workers Compensation law.
A bill was passed to put a sunset clause of December 31, 2011, in the Arkansas Works program. Also, we amended school election laws to prevent confusion during the Pulaski County and Helena-West Helena school elections, which will be held on November 8, as ordered by the Education Commissioner. School board candidates can now be included on the same ballot as other candidates.
Legislation was passed to permit release of juvenile records to legitimate research organizations that are gauging the effectiveness of juvenile procedures. Now they can compare the results of different categories, such as imposing tougher rules and detention for high risk youths and more lenient sentences for low risk youths. We passed a bill to close a loophole in laws against sexual indecency with a child.
We postponed the use of standardized test to place schools on the academically distressed list. Schools can come off the list, but since this is the third year in a row that students will take a different test, we’re giving educators a year to get used to the new accountability standards.
Finally, the legislature voted to allow manufacturing and industrial plants to build according to previous earthquake resistance codes.