Friday, August 12, 2011

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – Hundreds of new state laws approved earlier this year by the Arkansas legislature have now taken effect.

Under the state Constitution, bills without an emergency clause go into effect after 90 days have passed from the date the legislature adjourns sine die. This year sine die was on April 27 and the effective date for newly enacted laws was July 27.

The major new ethics law to come out of the 2011 session was Act 48, which prohibits legislators from becoming registered lobbyists until they have been out of office for a year. All 35 members of the Senate were co-sponsors.

Act 303, the Financial Transparency Act, has officially become law. It directs the state Finance and Administration Department to set up an Internet web site where all state government financial transactions can be viewed. The act requires the web site to be in operation by July 1 of next year.

Act 987 removes the limit on charter schools in Arkansas, which had been 24. When the number of charter schools gets to within two of the limit, the limit will increase by five. For example, if the state Board of Education approves 22 charter schools the maximum number allowed will go up to 29. There are 17 open enrollment charter schools in Arkansas now.

Act 570 puts in place numerous changes in sentencing of convicted criminals to make sure state prisons have enough room for violent offenders. The act also changes procedures for parole and probation.

Prison officials report that new procedures authorized by Act 570 have already had an effect. About 600 inmates have been granted parole under the law, lowering the prison population to about 15,500.

Act 811 prohibits smoking in a car in which children younger than 14 are riding. Previously, the prohibition was in cars in which children younger than six were present.

Some bills have an emergency clause that makes them effective immediately when they are signed by the governor. Appropriation bills that pay for state government operations take effect on July 1, the first day of the state fiscal year.

Other bills have specific dates when they take effect. For example, Act 304 authorizes the state Health Department to set up a prescription drug monitoring program to track any excessive dispensing of controlled substances. If the Health Department comes up with adequate funding, the drug monitoring program would become operational on March 1, 2013.

Some bills create new programs but don't take effect unless funding becomes available. For example, Act 197 requires city water systems serving more than 5,000 people to add fluoride. However, water systems are exempted from Act 197's requirements until they have sufficient money for start-up costs. Also, funding for start-up costs cannot come from taxes or fees, so water systems that want to fluoridate will have to get donations from private foundations.

Act 640 of 2011 sets training standards for dispatchers who take 911 calls for emergency responders. The Law Enforcement Training Academy in East Camden will conduct the training, which is optional for 911 call centers. Funding comes from fees paid by telephone customers. The state Board that oversees the program recently approved a $120,000 payment for training.

No comments: