Monday, November 28, 2011

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – The governor has authorized a transfer of money from an emergency fund so that trial court assistants will be paid through December.

However, the funding problem of the trial courts likely will continue unless there is a sudden turnaround in collections of filing fees and court costs. They have gone down dramatically since the summer. The salaries of the trial court assistants are paid from filing fees and court costs.

The legislature can address the problem during the fiscal session, which convenes in early February, 2012. Some legislators had hoped that the governor would use enough money from his emergency fund to pay the trial court assistants until the fiscal session, when the General Assembly could replenish it. They expect the problem to recur in January.

Judges are taking steps in hopes that trial court assistants will not have to cut salaries of the assistants. For example, reimbursements for their travel expenses have been canceled. Also, when the assistants are absent from work the trial courts will not hire substitutes.

The Arkansas Judicial Council is made up of Arkansas circuit judges and Court of Appeals Judges, as well as justices of the Supreme Court and retired judges. The Administration of Justice Fund is where court costs and filing fees are deposited. Besides trial court assistants salaries it pays for a couple of dozen other programs and all of them have been forced to reduce spending.

Finding a steady source of revenue for the 41 drug courts in Arkansas is another issue that some legislators want to bring up during the fiscal session.

Funding for drug courts was scheduled to run out in October, but the state Health Department released enough money from a tobacco settlement account to keep drug courts operating until the fiscal session.

When the state resorts to stopgap measures to maintain programs, in this case drugs courts and trial court salaries, it raises the question of how to most efficiently and wisely spend tax revenues.

Many elected officials strongly believe that it is misguided to use "one time" money to pay for continuing operations. The money in the governor's emergency fund is a text book example of a fund that is dedicated to "one time" expenses such as helping people after a flood or a tornado. Salaries and the operations of trial courts are good examples of ongoing expenses. The legislature expects to budget for them every year.

Arkansas Law on College Athletics

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) recently sponsored a summit at Washington, D.C., to address concerns about violations of its by-laws and the corrupting influence of money, unscrupulous boosters and agents who don't follow NCAA rules.

Delegates discussed the possibility of using Arkansas Act 204 of 2011, the Athlete Agent Reform Act, as model legislation for other states to enact to effectively curb many of the abuses caused by agents.

Act 204 increases the penalty for agents who initiate contact with college athletes before the athlete is eligible to turn professional. The fine had been $50,000 and now it is $250,000.

The state Attorney General's office sent a representative to explain the Arkansas law at the summit, which was attended by university officials, agents and National Football League officials.

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