• New Funding Model Considered for Higher Ed

    The State of Arkansas is home to over 40 institutions of higher education, including 10 four-year universities, 22 two-year colleges, 12 private universities and 1 academic health center.

    Currently, the state supported institutions are funded based on enrollment.
    However, the Department of Higher Education has outlined several goals including increasing graduation rates, increasing the number of non-traditional students enrolling, and improving affordability by reducing the amount of time needed to graduate.

    A change in the way we fund our colleges and universities has been presented as a way to help achieve these goals.

    In a vote of 87-10, with 3 members voting present, the House approved HB1209, a bill to adopt a productivity-based funding model for state supported institutions. The model itself is not included in the bill, rather it directs the Higher Education Coordinating Board to implement a model based on the following priorities:

    • Differences in institutional missions;
    • Completion of students’ educational goals;
    • Progression toward students’ completion of programs of study
    • Affordability through on-time completion of programs of study;
    • Limiting the number of excess credits earned by students;
    • Efficient allocation of resources;

    If this bill is signed into law, the department will present its funding formula policy to the coordinating board by April 2017.  After approval by the board, the policy will be presented to the legislature. The legislation also specifies that no institution can receive a cut of more than 2% in any given year.

    Bills addressing higher education are presented first in the House Education Committee. The Education Committee schedules meetings for every Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 10am.  These meetings are streamed live and also archived at arkansashouse.org.

    The committee has advanced several more pieces of legislation to the House to address next week.

  • Legislative Update | January 27, 2017

    The House began this week by passing an income tax reduction for Arkansans making less than $21,000 a year.  In a vote of 90-2, with 5 members voting present, the House passed HB1159 also known the Tax Reform and Relief Act of 2017.

    The legislation passed this week creates a legislative task force to explore future tax reform.  The task force is required to complete a report by September 1, 2018.  The report will include proposals for tax cuts and job growth.

    The House passed two other tax-related measures this week.  HB1157 makes clear that Arkansans have only one homestead property tax credit per year.  And HB1156 requires that Arkansas corporate income tax returns be filed by April 15 beginning this year.

    In the third week of the session, the House also passed legislation which makes clear that an individual can be charged with harassment for communication on an electronic device including communication through social media.

    The House passed HB1032, the Arkansas Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act.  The vote for this bill was 78-10 with 2 members voting present.  The legislation prohibits the procedure known as dilation and evacuation (D&E).  The legislation makes exceptions if the life and health of the mother is at risk.

    Other bills heading to the Senate include HB1147 and HB11185. HB1147 states the driver’s license of military member will not expire while the individual is living out of state if he or she applies for an extension of the expiration date.

    HB1185 allows for a death certificate to be issued for a stillbirth occurring after 12 weeks gestation.  Currently, one can only be issued after 20 weeks gestation or if the fetus weighs 350 grams or more.  This bill does not require a certificate be issued, but rather upon the request of the parents.

    In the upcoming week, we will be addressing legislation regarding funding for higher education and tax breaks for retired military members.

  • Legislative Update | January 20, 2017

    Currently there are 3,000 Arkansans with intellectual or developmental disabilities waiting for community-based or in home services.  The needs range from adaptive equipment at home to day treatment programs.

    This week the House took the first step in an effort to eliminate this waiting list.
    In a vote of 93-0, we approved HB1033.  This legislation calls for the diversion of $8.5 million from the tobacco settlement fund to fund the needs of the waiting list.  This money is currently not being used on any other program.  The state funds would be then matched by $20 million in federal funds.

    It is expected the funds will assist 500-900 of those on the list.  This bill is now heading to the Senate.

    Meanwhile, heading to the Governor’s desk is a bill that allows the Medical Marijuana Commission more time to implement rules for growers and dispensaries.

    The Medical Marijuana Amendment passed by voters in November, gave the commission 120 days to be appointed and create all rules and regulations regarding growing and dispensing.

    The sponsor of the bill said while rules can be passed quickly, 120 days did not allow enough time for public input and participation in the process.

    HB1026 gives the commission 180 days. And it requires the commission to begin accepting application by July 1, which aligns with the start of the fiscal year.  The date in the amendment approved by voters in November was June 1.

    It has passed both the House and the Senate and is now waiting on the Governor’s signature.

    The House Revenue and Taxation Committee has advanced two tax cut proposals. HB1159 targets tax cuts to those making under $21,000 a year.  HB1161 provides an earned income tax credit for those who already qualify for the federal credit.

  • Legislators Consider Tax Reductions

    As with every legislative session, one of the greatest challenges we face will be to balance a budget that does not burden tax payers while providing needed services.

    This year, we will consider tax exemptions for retired military living in our state and competing proposals for other tax reductions.

    Before we can begin any tax reform, we must have a clear picture of the current economic situation for the state.

    That is why the House Revenue and Taxation Committee this week began with a review of the Revenue Stabilization Act and the current budget forecast.

    Approximately 54% of our General Revenue comes from state income tax.  Another 36% comes from state sales tax.

    The current growth rate for revenue is 1.5%. Six months into the fiscal year, there is now $38.2 million more in revenue than this time last year. The forecast shows we will fund the current year’s budget and will have a $5.4 billion budget to balance for the next fiscal year.

    All bills calling for tax cuts have been directed to the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.  That committee is expected to begin running bills on Thursday of next week.

    In the Governor’s State of the State address, he asked for the legislature’s support not only for his tax proposals, but for increases in funding for foster children in the state and for mental health centers.

    He is also requesting the legislature to redirect portions of the tobacco settlement funds to help reduce the number of Arkansans on the waiting list for disability services.

    Chairs of standing committees and members of Select Committees were announced moments after members were sworn in on Monday.

    The House has posted a list of all committees including chairs and vice-chairs at www.arkansashouse.org.

    The House reconvenes on Tuesday at 1:30 pm.  As a reminder, the House streams all committee meetings held in the Capitol and all House Chamber proceedings live.  You can also find recorded proceedings in the Video Library on the website.

  • 2017 Legistalive Session Begins

    Work for the upcoming legislative session will begin just minutes after we are sworn in on Monday. The 2017 Regular Session begins at noon on January 9. With 200 bills already filed, we expect committees to begin hearing testimony on proposed legislation this week.

    Although no one can say with certainty what issues will take the most time or gather the most headlines, we do know that education funding, criminal justice reform, and tax proposals will be on the agenda for the 91st General Assembly.
    This week we received the monthly revenue report. It shows a net available general revenue of $2.6 billion so far for this fiscal year. Fiscal years begin in July. The report show revenues are $38.2 million or 1.5% above levels a year ago, but $8.8 million below what was forecasted.

    We will take this information into consideration as we work to craft a budget for the next fiscal year. Several tax cut proposals are being brought forward. One bill has been filed that would lower income taxes for those receiving military retirement benefits.

    Education has historically been the largest budget priority for the state. This year, we will once again be asked to approve increases in education funding. In its annual adequacy report, the Education Committee recommended of an increase of $45.6 million for the next fiscal year. We also expect to consider a new funding formula for higher education.

    The Criminal Justice Reform Task Force was created in 2015 to research ways to address prison overcrowding and ways to promote seamless reentry into society for inmates scheduled to be released. As a result of the work by the task force, we expect to see several pieces of legislation filed to address the issue.
    On Tuesday, the Governor is expected to speak to the legislature in the House Chamber. In this speech, the Governor will describe his proposals and ideas for the upcoming session.

    As a reminder, all House proceedings in the Chamber and House committee meetings held in the Capitol building are streamed live at www.arkansashouse.org.

  • Teach Again Campaign Helps Teachers Become Relicensed

    You can never tell where a teacher’s influence will end. Teachers inspire us and push us all to our fullest potential. There are over 32,000 such dedicated professionals inspiring our students every day in Arkansas.

    But if we take a look at young people who are enrolling in educator preparation programs, we know we may be facing a shortage of teachers in years to come. To ensure excellence in our education, the Arkansas Department of Education is offering a quicker route to license renewal for those who have left the profession.

    This program is available for a limited time to teachers who left the profession and no longer have a current license, those who received an initial license but did not convert to a standard license, and retired teachers who do not have a current license.

    The Teach Again campaign began at the beginning of November and will last through March 31, 2017. While the current rules require 60 hours of professional development, the Teach Again program is waiving that requirement and allowing qualified individuals to complete 36 hours if they do so by the end of March.

    Renewal requirements also include completing a licensure application, paying the $75 application fee and completing the required background checks. Free online professional development is available through Arkansas IDEAS.

    Since the campaign began, more than 200 eligible candidates have started the process and 15 have completed the requirements. To get started, those interested should first fill out the contact form at www.arkansased.gov . ADE will send the program application, background check instructions, and resources needed to complete professional development requirements.

    Arkansas students need and deserve passionate, motivated and effective teachers.  If you meet the requirements for the Teach Again program, consider re-igniting your passion for teaching.

    And for those just beginning to consider a career in teaching, please know that the Department of Education offers numerous paths to licensure.  Visit  www.arkansased.gov to find out more.

  • Support for Marijuana Legalization Declining in Arkansas

    A new poll by Talk Business shows that support for medical marijuana legalization in Arkansas is declining. An August 2015 Talk Business Poll showed support for medical marijuana prescribed by physicians at 84 percent, but as voters understand more about the issue it has lost a significant amount of support.

    “Talk Business released the poll late yesterday afternoon that showed 58% of voters could potentially support the measure, but that’s a 26% reduction of the support they enjoyed this time last year. I think parents, businesses, and community leaders are really starting to take a look at the negative impact legalizing medical marijuana will have,” said Kevin Russell, Chairman of The Coalition for Safer Arkansas Communities. “These measures will not only have an effect on our workforce, the safety measures concerning children and marijuana use is a huge concern as there are too many unanswered questions.”

    There are currently two competing ballot measures. One would allow the sale of medical marijuana through regulated dispensaries. The other would allow residents living over 20 miles away from a dispensary to grow up to 10 marijuana plants at their home.

    “Previous polling has shown the ‘grow your own’ aspect of this initiative struggles to find support. This is where things get dangerous. Without FDA approval, allowing folks to grow marijuana plants in their home without proper safety precautions is a disaster waiting to happen and will make it incredibly difficult for authorities to regulate,” said Russell.

    The Coalition for Safer Arkansas Communities is dedicated to fighting any initiatives to legalize marijuana as the facts overwhelmingly show that states that legalized marijuana lead non-legalized states in teen marijuana use, meaning less educational achievement, lower IQ, more school dropouts, traffic fatalities, and eventual unemployment.

    “We are making a lot of progress in our efforts to educate the public,” said Russell. “We still have more work to do.”

    For more information on the effects of marijuana, how to volunteer, and where you can donate, visit KeepArkansasSafe.com.

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  • Arkansas Ends Fiscal Year with $177.4 Million Surplus

    The state of Arkansas has ended the fiscal year with $177.4 million left in the bank. The amount left after all of the expenses are paid is referred to as the surplus.

    The legislature will determine how that money is spent in the 2017 Regular Session.

    We are now three months away from beginning the state budget process for the next year. So now is the time to be reviewing how our state performed over the past 12 months.
    In Fiscal Year 2016 (July 1, 2015- June 30,2016) gross collections which included all state taxes and fees totaled $6.4 billion. This is a decrease of $19.2 million from the year before, but $42.6 million more than what was predicted.

    However, the net available revenue for the previous year was up. The net available revenue is what is available to the state budget after individual and corporate refunds and funds for our constitutional offices are disbursed.

    The net available revenue totaled $5.3 billion. This is 2.2% more than the year before.

    The fiscal year ended above forecast as a result of improving growth in individual income tax collections. The net gain was 4.4 percent over year ago and 3.0 percent or $82 million above forecast. Corporate Income tax collections after refunds also added to results above forecast. Among smaller collections categories, tobacco taxes were above year ago collections and above forecast. Revenue from Games of Skill was also up 18 percent over prior year.

    The state budget process is central to the administration of state government. As well as allocating resources, budgets set policy, and lay the foundation for future planning and program review. However, state fiscal conditions change throughout the fiscal year. Tracking these conditions is crucial in addressing fiscal challenges that arise.
    While we are always relieved to see that our economy is growing and there is money left over from the previous year, we are cautious approaching every new budget to ensure we can provide our you with the services you pay for such as quality education, resources for our foster children, care for our elderly and so much more.

    To read this year’s entire revenue report, visit arkansashouse.org.

  • Coalition for Safer Arkansas Communities Fights Marijuana Legalization

    As you know, ballot initiatives to legalize both medical and recreational use of marijuana are collecting signatures that, if passed, will open the pathway to increased substance abuse and make our communities less safe.

    While pot proponents are cynically using cancer and epilepsy patients to promote marijuana for medical use, the truth is only 5-10% of medical marijuana patients have cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, or HIV. Compassion is not the real motivator behind these bills, but, just like Big Tobacco, a few people stand to make a lot of money. Unfortunately, also like Big Tobacco, the taxpayers will pay far more down the road for the consequences of legalization than they will ever get in tax revenue.

    For employers, the impact on productivity, workplace safety, compliance and litigation is staggering. According to the US Department of Justice: National Drug Intelligence Centre. The Economic Impact of Illicit Drug Use on American Society (2011). Overall, lost-work productivity (including absenteeism and poor job performance) associated with substance abuse accounts for more than two-thirds of the total $193 billion that drugs cost employers and the nation annually. In fact, the Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice states that employees who test positive for marijuana have 55% more industrial accidents, 85% more injuries, and absenteeism rates that are 75% higher than those who test negative on a pre- employment exam. The National Law Review warns that the growing conflict between drug and employment law in the states where legalization has occurred is “ripe for future litigation.”

    Probably the most dire consequence is the effect on our youth. Last fall, the American College of Pediatricians said “Marijuana is addicting, has adverse effects upon the adolescent brain, is a risk for both cardio-respiratory disease and testicular cancer, and is associated with both psychiatric illness and negative social outcomes. Evidence indicates limited legalization of marijuana has already raised rates of unintended marijuana exposure among young children…” The facts overwhelmingly show that states that legalized marijuana lead non-legalized states in teen marijuana use. Marijuana use as a teen increases the rate of addiction from 9 to 17%, almost 1 in 6 kids getting addicted. Addicted teenagers mean less educational achievement and lower IQ and more school dropouts, traffic fatalities, and eventual unemployment.

    Coalition for Safer Arkansas Communities is dedicated to fighting these initiatives in order to keep our communities safe but WE NEED YOUR HELP to fight the false propaganda being fed to our youth and our state downplaying the harmful effects of marijuana legalization.

    As parents, teachers, medical professionals, law enforcement officials, business owners, and community leaders, it is our job to step up to the plate and protect our community. We have the facts but need your help combating false and misleading information’ from pot proponents.

    Please support this campaign by doing these simple, but important steps:

     

    Combating the misleading information being spread by the big pot industry is expensive. Every contribution we receive goes directly towards getting our message out and defeating these ballot initiatives. Whether it’s $1,000, $500, $250, $100, or even $50 – EVERY contribution we receive gets us one step closer to victory.

    We have a great resource in our website and we are adding new information frequently. Please engage the campaign by following us on Facebook and finding a way to volunteer in your community.

    States that have legalized are suffering from the consequences of their folly and responsible people are bemoaning the fact they did nothing to stop it when they had a chance. We have the chance to take a stand against the marijuana industry and keep Arkansas from becoming a drug house, like Colorado.

    Please join with us and learn from their mistake before it is too late.

    Respectfully yours,

    Kevin Russell, Chairman
    Coalition for Safer Arkansas Communities

    P.S. Please share with your friends and consider a donation of $500, $250, $100, or $50 today to help us get our message out. Thank you, in advance, for your support.  To learn more about the Coalition for Safer Arkansas Communities initiative, visit keeparkansassafe.com

  • Arkansas Partners with USDA to Combat Food Insecurity for Kids

    On average, families spend an additional $300 each month on food during the summer. Working parents who know their children are safe, supervised and fed during the school year must make other arrangements for their kids in the summer. In Arkansas, there are about 280,000 children who are eligible for reduced price meals at their schools during the school year. So what happens during the summer months?

    That is where volunteers and non-profits across the state have worked to fill the gap by opening the doors of their churches, community centers, and schools to be a summer meal site.

    This summer close to 200 sites are available for children in our state. The meals are paid for by the USDA and must meet certain guidelines to ensure proper nutrition.

    Parents do not need to apply to the program to get a free summer meal for their kids, and it does not interfere with other benefits they may be receiving.

    Arkansas ranks highest in the nation for food insecurity according to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap 2015 report. In that report, 19.7 percent of households and 28.4 percent of children were unsure of where they will get their next meal.

    There are USDA authorized Summer Meals Sites in almost every county in Arkansas. Parents and care givers can find a summer meals site in their communities by:

    • Going to http://www.fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks interactive map that will show meal sites near you.
    • Calling 1-866-3-HUNGRY (a live operator will ask for your address and give you a list of sites.)
    • Texting FOOD to 877 877 (you will be asked for your zip code and receive a list of sites in your area.)

    You can also help this summer by offering your time. The best sites have organized, well-run activities that keep the interest of the children and teens coming back to the site day after day. Some of these activities include arts and crafts, tutoring, reading programs, cooking or any other creative ideas you may have. Many sites have enlisted local fire and police departments and local businesses to make presentations. The only limitation is your imagination.