Thursday, February 26, 2015

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – When the 2015-2016 school year begins, Arkansas schools will be required to offer high school level courses in computer technology.
            Act 187 of 2015 requires expanded computer technology offerings in charter schools too. The measure was a key part of the governor’s legislative agenda, and was a component in his campaign platform last year.
            The act also creates a 15-member task force of educators, science teachers and people with expertise in computers.  Its responsibility will be to ensure that computer courses are up to date and of the highest caliber.
            The governor also signed Act 160 to require elementary schools to teach cursive, also referred to as longhand, by the third grade. It will be a component of the English language arts curriculum.
            Students who in the future apply for Academic Challenge Scholarships will be affected by Senate Bill 7, which has been approved by both chambers of the legislature and sent to the governor for his signature. It abolishes the Lottery Commission and transfers operations of the state lottery to the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA).
            The Lottery Commission is made up of nine private citizens appointed by the governor, the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. DFA is the state agency that collects taxes and writes budgets for state government.
            When the first tickets went on sale in Arkansas in September, 2009, the lottery was very popular.  After awarding prizes, revenue was enough to provide almost $100 million in scholarships for college and university students. However, sales have steadily declined and will not surpass $80 million this year, according to recent estimates.
Because of declining lottery ticket sales the legislature has had to lower scholarship amounts, in order to preserve the long-term financial stability of the program.
The governor signed Act 139 to prohibit chemical abortions via telemedicine. It specifically prohibits physicians from prescribing the abortion pill known as RU-486 without being present, and directs the physician to make all reasonable efforts to encourage the patient to return to the clinic within 12 to 18 days for a follow-up exam.
The Senate approved SB 265 to authorize the University of Arkansas system to establish a totally online institution known as the eVersity. University officials estimate that 14,000 Arkansas residents are now enrolled in private online college courses. The bill was advanced by the House Education Committee and ready for a vote by the entire House.
SB 183 would give the legislature more authority over the state’s response to federal pollution standards that require significant reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. About half of the electric power in Arkansas is generated at coal-fired plants, so the financial impact will be substantial for the utilities that own those power plants.
SB 183 was advanced by the Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor. According to the sponsor, a goal of SB 183 is to prevent dramatic rate increases and to guard against any threat to the reliability of the power grid.
The Senate approved SB 181 to protect homeowners who hire contractors for repairs to the foundation of their houses. Under the bill, the warranties would not expire when the house is sold and would remain valid for the time period specified in the contract.

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