Thursday, March 19, 2015

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – The Senate passed and the governor publicly endorsed legislation to overhaul the state’s system of vocational, technical and occupational education.
            Legislative leaders have been working for at least two years on broad changes to how the state offers job training. Currently, students and people in established jobs navigate a mix of courses offered by state agencies, universities and two-year colleges, vocational schools, adult education centers and high schools.
            Senate Bills 368 and 371 are two of the measures that accomplish the overhaul. After they were approved by the Senate the governor held a press conference in the state Capitol to endorse them and to announce that $15 million for new job training was available from funds at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
The business community also supports them and has been actively involved in their preparation. Corporate executives have gone on record saying that Arkansas employers have good and well-paying jobs available, but there is a lack of people with the jobs skills needed to fill them.
SB 368 creates a 13-member board on which all the major industries of Arkansas will be represented. They will determine which job skills are most in demand in the modern global economy, and they will coordinate course offerings among various government entities so that funding is spent as efficiently as possible.
SB 371 allows school districts to partner with local two-year colleges so that high school students can take concurrent courses in technical fields. 
The bill clarifies that the school district can use its state funding for the concurrent courses and that they qualify as an alternative learning environment. 
Essentially, the bill removes a potential obstacle to students’ taking the college courses by ensuring that schools don’t lose any state funding.
Another bill of importance to school districts is HB 1377 to allow school districts to be granted the same waivers from state regulations as any charter schools that draw students from the district. Even though they are public schools that receive state aid, charter schools don’t have to comply with all of the same rules as regular schools. The House approved HB 1377 and it was then sent to the Senate Education Committee.
The governor signed Act 393, which allows school district personnel who have a concealed carry permit to bring a handgun to school facilities. This will help smaller schools that don’t have sufficient revenue to hire security officers
The Senate passed SB 600 to create a two-year pilot project in which new applicants for welfare would be tested for illegal drug use.  About 10 percent of all recipients will be tested in two years. 
When the General Assembly convenes in regular session in 2017, legislators will have a year’s worth of data on the costs of testing all adults who apply for benefits. SB 600 will not affect minors, unless they are minors who are also parents of children receiving benefits. It was sent to the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor.
The Senate also passed SB 757 to set up a legal process for landowners to seek compensation when a government regulation causes the fair market value of their property to fall by 20 percent or more. After passing in the Senate, it was referred to the House Committee on City, County and Local Affairs.

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