Sunday, March 5, 2017

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Soldiers and airmen of the Arkansas National Guard who are students at state-supported colleges and universities will have their tuition paid for, under legislation passed by the Senate.
            Senate Bill 278 has several purposes. First is to improve the Guard’s readiness, both for domestic emergencies and foreign missions. Arkansas has lost units to other states that provide more benefits, which means that fewer units are available in Arkansas to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies.
            The loss of Guard units has a negative impact on local economies. In 2016 an estimated $37.2 million was lost in the Arkansas economy due to the loss of Guard units.
            After its passage by the Senate on a vote of 34-to-0, SB 278 was sent to the House Education Committee.
            The Senate passed SB 136, a 55-page bill addressing criminal justice, prisons and sentencing laws. It authorizes the construction throughout the state of mental health crisis stabilization units with 16 beds each. 
The governor’s proposed budget calls for opening three units. Criminal justice experts say there is a need for as many as eight. Police officers will get some training in how to recognize mental health issues and how to deal with people experiencing a mental health crisis. They will be taken to one of the stabilization centers instead of to jail, where treatment for mental health problems is lacking.
It passed 27-to-4 and was sent to the House Judiciary Committee, which gave it a favorable recommendation. The next step is a vote in the entire House.
Both chambers passed HB 1426, which creates a new tuition grant program that will allow students to receive two years of tuition if they study in high-demand fields, such as computer science, technology or welding. They must perform community service and commit to working in Arkansas for at least three years after receiving their degree. The grants will be available in the fall of this year.
The governor signed Act 281, a Senate bill that makes Arkansas the first state to designate the grounds of its Capitol as a site for a monument honoring Gold Star families. Since World War I gold stars have traditionally designated the loss of an immediate family member during wartime.
The monument shall be designed and constructed in the manner recommended by the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation. Williams, who attended the bill signing, is the sole living recipient of the Medal of Honor from the battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. His foundation works to place Gold Star monuments all across the county.
Both chambers have passed HB 1427 to require political candidates to file campaign finance reports electronically, and to require the Secretary of State to maintain those records on a web site with a search function.
Candidates who do not have access to the technology necessary could submit paper records throughout the election cycle. The effective date of the bill is October 1, 2017.
The Senate passed SB 362 to phase out a tax credit program for manufacturers called InvestArk. The bill gradually repeals the sales tax they pay on replacement and repair parts. By the time it has been fully implemented in 2022, it will save Arkansas manufacturers about $12.6 million a year.

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