Thursday, December 17, 2015

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – The legislature had an extremely busy and productive year in 2015.
            During the regular session early in the year, lawmakers approved a $100 million income tax cut for middle class families. Taxpayers who earn between $21,000 and $75,000 a year will see their rates go down, beginning in 2016. The reduction will be from 6 percent to 5 percent on income between $21,000 and $35,099 and from 7 to 6 percent on income $35,100 and $75,000.
            Arkansas taxpayers who make capital gains will pay less in income taxes. Currently they can claim an exemption on 45 percent of their gains, and as of July 1, 2016 they will be able to claim exemptions on 50 percent of their capital gains.
            The legislature approved the governor’s plan to relieve prison overcrowding and better prepare inmates for release into the outside world. It adds prison beds and authorizes the Correction Department to contract with other states to house Arkansas inmates. It adds parole officers and support staff.
The measures expand drug courts to hear charges against non-violent offenders, and it sets up re-entry programs for training inmates with job skills, anger management and coping skills before they are released. Organizations that have the most success in preparing inmates will get financial bonuses. Their success will be measured by the recidivism rate of the inmates they train.
Lawmakers changed the eligibility requirements for lottery scholarships. They also changed how scholarships are paid out, in order to strongly encourage students to stay in college for their sophomore year.
Scholarship recipients had received $2,000 dollars for their freshman year and $3,000 dollars in their sophomore year if they remain eligible.
Now they will get $1,000 dollars in their freshman year and $4,000 their sophomore year. The total amount of the scholarship would still be $5,000 for the first two years, but in order to receive that amount the students would have to stay in school and keep their grades up.
The scholarship amounts awarded for junior and senior years would remain the same. Recipients get $4,000 dollars their junior year and $5,000 dollars their senior year.
Students at two year colleges will get $1,000 dollars their first year and $3,000 dollars their second year, rather than $2,000 dollars each year.
Another significant change is that high school graduates no longer qualify by earning a 2.5 grade point average. They would have to score a minimum of 19 on the ACT.
The changes are meant to improve the lottery’s cash flow and strengthen its long-term financial stability.
Legislators overhauled the state’s vocational education system, to give business leaders more input into the types of job skills that are offered at technical schools. That means two-year colleges, technical schools and adult education centers will focus on teaching the job skills that are most in demand by local industries.
As of January 1, when Arkansas residents renew their drivers’ licenses they will be valid for eight years instead of four.
Legislation approved during the regular session allows school district staff with a concealed carry permit to bring firearms to campus. This benefits especially smaller schools that don’t have resources in their budgets to hire a full-time security guard.

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