Friday, April 24, 2015

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – After a 19-day recess, the legislature officially ended the 2015 regular session on April 22, when it completed a few housekeeping measures and adjourned sine die.
            The legislative session began on January 12 and lasted until April 2, when lawmakers finished business. The recess allowed time for proofing and processing the 1,289 bills that became acts. In all, 2,063 were introduced this year.
            When the legislature adjourns sine die, it means that it cannot reconvene before the next regular session unless the governor calls a special session. Sine die means “without a date certain,” in other words, there is not an authorized date for convening again.
            The next regular session will be the 2016 Fiscal Session, which begins on the second Monday in February of next year. Before then, a special session to address major changes in the Medicaid system is likely, the governor has said.
            The 2015 regular session lasted 82 days. It is the shortest session since the 1991 session, which lasted 73 days. Two years ago the regular session lasted 101 days. 
The legislature met in special session in 2014 to expand the capacity of state prisons, to shore up the public school employee health insurance system and to place a moratorium on lottery games played on computers.  The governor called a special session in 2013, also for the legislature to address financial problems in school health insurance.
The final bill approved in the 2015 session was Senate Bill 633, to require applicants pay a $5 fee each time they take the written test to get a driver’s license.  Currently, there is no charge after the third time. 
State officials estimate the bill will generate an additional $215,000 in revenue because last year the written test was administered 43,000 times to people who had failed it three times already. The additional revenue will go to the State Police.
SB 633 was sent to the governor for his signature. It is expected to become Act 1289 of 2015, making it the final bill enacted in the 2015 regular session.
The signature achievement of this year’s session was Act 22, which reduces state income taxes for Arkansas residents who earn between $21,000 and $75,000 a year. The act will save middle class taxpayers about $100 million a year.
The legislature also approved the governor’s plan to relieve prison overcrowding, through an expansion of existing prison space and enhanced parole and probation. The plan also mandates more drug treatment for inmates and authorizes the Correction Department to place inmates in other states and regional jails.
In order to strengthen the cash flow of the lottery scholarship program, the legislature changed the way scholarships are paid out. College freshmen will get $1,000 and sophomores $4,000.  Currently freshmen get $2,000 and sophomores get $3,000.
Also, to qualify for scholarships high school graduates must score a 19 on the ACT standardized test. The provision that allowed graduates to qualify with a 2.5 grade point average has been repealed.
An act passed this year provides that DNA samples will be collected from everyone arrested on felony charges, not just those arrested for violent crimes.

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