Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Legislators have begun pre-filing bills in anticipation of the regular session that begins January 12.
            Measures filed in the Senate include a bill to restructure lottery scholarships, in order to maintain the long-term financial viability of the system. Changes to the lottery system are Senate Bills 3 and 5. 
Also, a shell bill to lower taxes for middle class wage earners has been filed. It is Senate Bill 6. Another measure, Senate Bill 4, would streamline the process under which terminally ill patients can use experimental medications.
Senate Bill 2 would implement the constitutional amendment approved by voters in November to require legislative approval of state agency regulations.
Measures filed in the House of Representatives include House Bill 1002, to implement the constitutional amendment that restricts contributions to political candidates by corporations and labor unions, and that also restricts gifts from lobbyists to elected officials. The amendment was approved by voters in the November election.
HB 1003 targets light pollution.  If enacted it would regulate streetlights and outdoor lighting fixtures to reduce glare and minimize their impact on nocturnal wildlife.  Also, reducing nighttime glare would benefit astronomers who study outer space.
HB 1004 would require electric utilities, under certain conditions, to compensate customers who generate power. It would promote electricity production by industries that have the technology to install generating capacity.
HB 1012 would allow close family members of the victim to witness the execution of persons convicted of capital murder.  There are now 31 men on death row in Arkansas. The most recent execution in Arkansas took place in 2005. 
HB 1008 is still in shell form. According to the bill title, it would regulate the fairness of bidding practices used for construction of public projects.
In addition to proposed bills, proposed constitutional amendments have been introduced. One that originates in the House would call a constitutional convention, if the legislature refers it to the ballot and it is approved by a majority of voters in a statewide election in 2016.  Senate Joint Resolution 1 would change procedures in courtrooms and civil claims. It also would have to be approved by voters.
When the legislative session convenes on January 12 the bills will be referred to the appropriate committees, where lawmakers will review them in detail and the public will be given the opportunity to speak on them.
In the 2013 regular session, a total of 2,492 bills were filed – 1,300 in the House and 1,192 in the Senate. Of those, 1,520 became law.
Highway Projects Postponed
            The state Highway and Transportation Department has removed projects costing an estimated $30 million from its January bid list, because of concerns about whether federal funding will be available to complete them in a timely manner.
            Due to inaction by Congress on a long-term highway bill, state highway departments are slowing their building campaigns. The director of the Arkansas department said that the federal government is putting states in a real bind because of lingering questions about highway funding.

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