Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – When the legislature convenes in regular session on January 12, Arkansas will have a new governor for the first time in eight years. Asa Hutchinson is replacing Mike Beebe.
The Senate will have four new members – Senator Scott Flippo of Bulls Shoals will represent District 17, Senator Terry Rice of Waldron, District 9, Blake Johnson of Corning, District 20 and Linda Collins-Smith of Pocahontas, District 19. 
There will be 23 Republicans and 11 Democrats in the Senate when the 90th General Assembly begins. There are seven women in the Senate. There are three African-Americans, all of them women.
Only 34 members will take their seats on Day One of the session because the senator from District 16, Senator Michael Lamoureux of Russellville, resigned to become the governor’s chief of staff. His replacement will be elected in a special election set for April 12.
Senator Cecile Bledsoe of Rogers will chair the Committee on Public Health Welfare and Labor. Senator Jake Files of Fort Smith will chair the Revenue and Taxation Committee, Senator Jane English of North Little Rock will chair the Education Committee and Senator Jeremy Hutchinson of Benton will chair the Judiciary Committee.
Senator Ronald Caldwell of Wynne will chair the Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development and Senator Jason Rapert of Conway will chair the Insurance and Commerce Committee. Senator Eddie Joe Williams of Cabot will be chairman of the Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs and Senator Missy Irvin of Mountain View will chair the Committee on City, County and Local Affairs.
Senator Bill Sample of Hot Springs will be chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation, Technology and Legislative Affairs. Senator Larry Teague of Nashville will be the Senate co-chairman of the Joint Budget Committee.
The President Pro Tem of the Senate will be Senator Jonathan Dismang of Searcy. He has appointed four senators to be assistant President Pro Tem, one from each Congressional District. They are Senator Williams from the First, Senator English from the Second, Senator Bledsoe from the Third and Senator Bobby Pierce of Sheridan from the Fourth.
Fiscal issues will dominate the headlines generated by the legislative session. The governor-elect has said he wants to lower income taxes and enhance computer courses in all Arkansas high schools. Legislators will consider proposals to amend the private option form of health insurance that Arkansas enacted two years ago.
For the past two months, during hearings at the Capitol in preparation for the sessions, state agencies have been requesting budget increases.  The Correction Department, which operates state prisons, is seeking approval of a 1,000-bed maximum security unit that would cost $100 million.  
The division of the Education Department that oversees facilities for local school districts has reported to legislators that an additional $65 million is needed to keep up with improvement projects. Several organizations are hoping to expand broadband access in all schools.
Also expected is legislation to raise standards that students must achieve in order to qualify for lottery scholarships. Pro-life legislators have said they will strengthen laws prohibiting abortion. There may be renewed efforts to require voters to present a photo ID in order to get a ballot, and to enact tort reform.

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