Thursday, April 9, 2015

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Among the most important economic development legislation approved this year are three new laws that dramatically restructure how Arkansas trains people for the technical job skills they need to work in today’s work place.
            The governor and the sponsors of the three bills described them as foundational and momentum changing, adding that they will make Arkansas more competitive in recruiting industries that pay well.
            At the bill signing ceremony at the state Capitol were the directors of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, the Department of Workforce Services and the Department of Career Education. 
Also attending were the heads of the Higher Education Department and the Education Department. Leaders of the business community were there also.
            The three bills re-organize all the various components of the Arkansas vocational system and put them under the oversight of one board, which will have representatives of the state’s major industries. The board will determine which job skills are in most demand and it will coordinate training programs so that people have access to training.
            Carrying out the will of the board will be a new division within the Career Education Department. It will be called the Office of Skills Development. Act 892 outlines the composition and duties of the office and the new Career Education and Workforce Development Board.
            Act 1131, the Workforce Initiative Act, sets up a funding process for job training programs. 
Community colleges, technical institutes, universities, public schools and private organizations will apply for funding grants.
Money will be awarded to programs that best meet the demand for job training skills. Grant renewals will be based on how well the programs place people in jobs.
            Act 907 outlines the authority of 10 regional boards composed of local industry leaders and whose recommendations will be factored into policy and funding decisions. The act also sets out the responsibilities of the Workforce Development Board, which will oversee job training for people who have a harder time finding jobs and who have to rely on food stamps or welfare.
The board also will oversee job training for young people and workers who have been laid off.
            The governor said that about $17 million will be available for grants to job training programs that meet the new standards.
ABLE Accounts for People Disabilities
            People with disabilities will not lose their eligibility for government services if they open new savings accounts under a state plan known as the “Achieving a Better Life Experience” program. It is labeled ABLE, for short.
            Money placed in the ABLE accounts will not count on their assets tests for government assistance. This prevents a problem that some Arkansans with disabilities had faced, which was that they risked being disqualified for services because they had accumulated too much money. One advocate said that in order to qualify for government services, people with disabilities were forced to remain poor.
            The ABLE accounts can accept up to $14,000 and will be exempt from federal and state taxes. House Bill 1239, approved during the 2015 legislative session, authorized the new accounts and implemented in Arkansas new federal guidelines enacted last year.

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