Thursday, January 31, 2013

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
        LITTLE ROCK –  The state Capitol was the scene for some very good news when the governor, legislators and officials of the state Economic Development Commission announced that a steel mill would be built in northeast Arkansas that will hire about 525 workers.
        The plant will take about 20 months to build, and about 2,000 people will be hired during construction.  The 525 permanent jobs will have an average salary of more than $70,000 a year.
        The legislature will be asked to issue about $125 million in general obligation bonds to help finance the project and pay for infrastructure improvements.  It will be the first use of Amendment 82 bonds for economic development.
        In the 2003 regular session, the legislature referred Amendment 82 to voters.  In 2004 in a statewide election, Arkansas voters approved the measure.  It gives economic development officials more tools to land a “super project,” which is defined as one in which more than $500 million is invested and more than 500 jobs are created.
        Here is how the $125 million will be used:  $50 million in a direct loan to the company, $50 million for site preparation, $20 million for pilings and work to prepare the site below the surface and $ 5 million for the costs of issuing bonds, such as fees and insurance.
        Other incentives include $15 million in job training, from the governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund and the Department of Workforce Services, tax credits for each new employee, rebates and exemptions on energy bills and equipment purchases, as well as tax breaks for installing recycling equipment.
        The governor and economic development officials scheduled a presentation to the entire Senate to discuss specifics of the steel mill project, particularly the legislature’s issuance of general obligation bonds.
        Also last week, the Senate approved SB 134 to prohibit abortions if the physician can detect a heartbeat in the fetus.  The bill has exceptions for women who become pregnant because of rape or incest, and in cases where the mother’s life is endangered.  SB 134 would require first that the physician conduct a test to determine whether a heartbeat can be detected, and if so the physician may not perform the abortion.
        The Senate also approved SB 71 to remove churches and places of worship from the list of locations where people with concealed carry permits are prohibited from bringing firearms.  Now, the list includes churches, jails, courthouses, police stations, schools, college campuses, sporting events and bars. 
By removing places of worship from the list of prohibited places, SB 71 allows churches to better manage their security.
        The Senate approved SB 93 to assess the readiness and capability of public schools to respond to acts of violence against students, teachers and school personnel.  The Senate Education Committee will conduct the study and report to the legislature by September 1, 2014.
        Two separate bills to begin the process of building a new long term care facility for veterans, SB 3 and HB 1013, have been passed by the Senate and House respectively.  The state Veterans Affairs Department last year closed the nursing home for veterans in Little Rock because of serious financial mismanagement and the poor condition of the physical plant.

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