• 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.

  • 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.

  • Arkansas Commemorates Memorial Day

    Since the founding of our country, over 1 million men and women in the armed forces have sacrificed their lives in time of war.

    This Memorial Day, we encourage Arkansans to remember that this weekend is about much more than the unofficial beginning of summer. It is a day to remember.

    Arkansans have a proud history of serving their country. Today our state is home to more than 260,000 veterans.

    During WWI, over 71,000 soldiers who served were from Arkansas. Out of those soldiers, 2,183 lost their lives.

    Close to 10% of our state’s population served in WWII. Of the 194,000 Arkansas soldiers serving in various branches of the military, 3,519 were killed as a result of combat.

    We are reminded every day at the Capitol of the lives lost in Vietnam. A memorial on the grounds lists the names of the 600 soldiers killed in combat.

    Since September 11th, 142 men and women from Arkansas have lost their lives serving our country.

    The numbers of our fallen heroes are not just statistics. They are real people, with real families, who lived in real communities.

    We can best honor their sacrifice by remembering their families, who have lost so much.

    The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has posted a link to all ceremonies at all veteran’s cemeteries across the country. You can find the one nearest you by visiting www.cem.va.gov.

    And if you cannot make it to a ceremony, there is a way all of us can pay a small tribute. In an effort to help remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, Congress passed the “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution in December 2000. It asks that at 3pm all Americans pause whatever they are doing for a moment of silence and remembrance.

    We owe it to the heroes that died and the loved ones left behind to make sure that their sacrifices are remembered and that their service to this nation always be honored.

  • Task Force Focuses on Special Education

    Children with special needs have gifts and talents.  Our challenge in education is to ensure these students have the tools to unleash these talents and reach their full potential. Close to 12% of all Arkansas students are enrolled in special education classes.

    Students eligible for special education include those with autism, hearing or visual impairments, emotional disturbances, or any learning disability.

    During the 2015 Regular Session, the General Assembly passed Act1485 creating the Legislative Task Force on the Best Practices for Special Education.  Since August of last year, the 21 member task force has been reviewing practices for identifying students for special education, comparing outcomes with other states, and reviewing support staff services including nurses and teachers aids.

    This week, the task force met to review its findings so far and begin to prepare a final report.

    One issue brought to their attention is the inadequate supply of appropriately licensed special education teachers who want to teach in the field.  A district that cannot find an appropriately licensed teacher must apply to the Department of Education for a waiver.  Currently, 138 districts and charter schools have requested such waivers.

    They have also learned that students with disabilities who are placed in the regular classroom for at least 80% of the school day have higher levels of proficiency than all students with disabilities collectively.

    Discipline is another important area of study for the task force.  There is a significant gap in statewide literacy assessments for students with disabilities who were removed from the classroom for disciplinary measures. The numbers show that 10% of the special education population were either suspended or expelled from school during the 2014-2015 school year.

    All of this information and more will be released in a final report in September.  This will give all members time to review the findings and propose legislation for the 2017 Regular Session.

    Education is the state’s number one fiscal priority.  We want to ensure every child, regardless of their needs, has the resources available in our schools to achieve success.  We will update you on our progress in this area in the months ahead.

  • Arkansas Farmers Help America Celebrate Thanksgiving

    As you begin to shop for your Thanksgiving feast this year, we encourage you to think for a minute about the journey your food has taken.   You will find much of the traditional Thanksgiving meal began its journey on a farm right here in Arkansas.

    Arkansas is number three in the nation in turkey production.  And we are the sixth largest producer in the United States of sweet potatoes.

    Our farmers also have a hand in the pecan and pumpkin pies.  We are one of thirteen states in the nation to grow pecans.  And while we are proud to be home to many pumpkin patches across the state, we do not produce enough to support every supermarket.  Arkansas pumpkins however can be found at your local farmers markets or pumpkin patch.

    Although few go shopping for actual soybeans for Thanksgiving, there is a very good chance the soybean plays a significant part in your feast.  This year Arkansas achieved its highest average soybean yield in history, securing our rank as 10th in the nation in soybean production.

    Soybean oil is used in cooking and frying foods.  Margarine is a product made from soybean oil.  Salad dressings and mayonnaises are made with soybean oil.  It is also used for animal feed for farm animals.

    For those Arkansans who do not live on a farm or have relatives who are farmers, we encourage you to reconnect your children with the origin of food.  Visiting a farm can build a conceptual understanding of food sources, while also providing an opportunity to form healthy eating habits.

    This Thanksgiving, we are thankful for our farmers.  They are the backbone to our economy.

    Farmers contribute to our overall welfare in more ways than society knows.  They produce valuable goods, conserve soil, conserve water, and open space.

    So this holiday season, thank a farmer.  And look for the “Arkansas Grown” label at your local supermarket as another way to show your appreciation.

    – Weekly Column from the Arkansas House

  • Special Session To Begin May 26

    The House will be convening the day after Memorial Day, May 26, to address several issues for what we expect to be a brief Special Session.

    The Governor’s primary reason for calling us back into session is to address an economic development opportunity. We are being asked to approve $87 million in state bonds as an incentive for Lockheed Martin to expand its Camden facility. If Lockheed Martin is awarded a contract by the federal government to manufacture a new tactical vehicle, the Governor says it could double the number of employees for the plant. The state would only release the bonds if the company receives the contract.

    Amendment 82 enables the state to issue bonds to companies making significant investments. It was proposed by the General Assembly during the 2003 Regular Session. It was then referred to the ballot as a Constitutional Amendment in November 2004 and approved by 63.5% of voters.  The first project approved under the amendment was Big River Steel in Osceola. The steel mill plant is now currently under construction.

    Details on the specifics of the project in Camden and how the bonds will be paid back will be discussed at a joint meeting of the Agriculture, Forestry, and Economic Development committee meeting on Tuesday at 1pm. The full House will then convene at 3pm that day.

    The Arkansas Constitution states that the Governor may call a Special Session to address only the items the Governor recommends. Governor Hutchinson is also recommending the legislature address government efficiency by merging a few state agencies. We will also be asked to address the possibility of moving the election primary from May to March. If the primary is moved, we would also look at starting our Fiscal Sessions (held during even numbered years) in April rather than February as has been our previous practice.

    We have posted the entire proclamation on our website. We will also be streaming House committee meetings held in the Capitol and House floor proceedings at arkansashouse.org.

  • Week 9 Session Update

    This week the House Committee on State Agencies narrowed down the number of proposed Constitutional Amendments which could appear on the November ballot in 2016.

    House members had filed 27 proposed amendments this session.  Now 5 of those will be presented to the Joint Committee of State Agencies where 16 proposals from the Senate will also be considered.  The constitution allows for only 3 amendments to be put forth by the General Assembly, so members will face many important decisions regarding the amendments over the next few weeks.

    One of the amendments advanced by the House committee this week would change the definition of “infamous crime” when it comes to our elected officials.  HJR1006 would prohibit anyone from being elected if they are convicted of a felony, have been charged with abuse of office, tampering, or convicted of a misdemeanor where it was found that the individual committed an act of deceit or fraud.

    HJR1012 addresses uncontested elections.  This amendment would allow the legislature to enact laws regarding uncontested candidates on the ballot.

    Another amendment now before the Joint Committee addresses Voter ID.  HJR1007 requires an individual to produce a government issued photo identification before receiving a ballot.

    The election of county offices is addressed in HJR1027.  Under this amendment, county judges, sheriffs, circuit clerks, county clerks, assessors, coroners, treasurers, surveyor, and tax collectors would be elected to 4 year terms instead of 2.

    And the final proposal from the House to be considered addresses the election of our Supreme Court Justices.  HJR1005 would provide for the formation a 15-member Judicial Nominating Committee. The Governor and the Arkansas Bar Association would choose six members each, two would be chosen by the House speaker and Senate president pro tem, and those members would fill the remaining seat through a vote. The commission would choose three people for each open court position for the governor to choose from for one initial term. Retention for subsequent terms would be decided by the voters in a yes-or-no vote.

    We encourage Arkansans to study the proposed amendments and we will continue to update you on the progress.

    We have just wrapped up our 9th week of the Regular Session.  Over 1,000 bills have been in filed by House members.  Our time in committee meetings and floor sessions is increasing as we continue to hear testimony and vote on bills.  Remember you can watch all House committee meetings held in the Capitol and all House floor proceedings at www.arkansashouse.org.

  • Rep. Hammer Appointed to Health Reform Task Force

    March 2, 2015 – Rep. Kim Hammer was appointed to the Arkansas Health Reform Legislative Task Force by House Speaker, Jeremy Gillam.  Earlier in the legislative session, lawmakers approved funding for the Private Option for the next two years and created a task force to develop a course of action for healthcare in Arkansas when the Private Option is set to expire at the end of 2016.

    Other House members appointed to the task force include Rep. Michelle Gray, R-Melbourne, Rep. Deborah Ferguson, D-West Memphis, Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway, Rep. Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna, Rep. Joe Farrer, R-Austin, and Rep. Justin Boyd, R-Fort Smith.

    With Senate appointments, a total of 16 legislators will serve on the task force.  Legislation requires the task force to submit its findings and recommendations to the Governor and the legislature by the end of 2015.

    The members have a big job ahead over the next several months.  The law requires them to recommend an alternative health care coverage model to ensure the availability of services for people covered by the Health Care Independence Program, commonly referred to as the Private Option.  They will also explore and recommend options to modernize Medicaid.

    To achieve this they will identify necessary funding to ensure an effective transition from the Health Care Independence program while minimizing any need to raise General Revenue.  They will also be asked to make recommendations on ways to strengthen employer-sponsored health insurance, increase employment of able-bodies recipients, and encourage healthier behaviors.

    The task force recommendations will set the stage for healthcare legislation next year.