With nearly two months of the regular session in the rear view mirror, there still remains a lot of unresolved issues that the 88th General Assembly and Gov. Mike Beebe must address. Consider:
Tax cuts – During the last two weeks, there was some movement on this major session issue, but for now, the myriad of tax cut measures is stalled as the Senate, House and Governor have competing views. More importantly, there is no clear consensus from leaders in either chamber or the Governor’s office as to how it might play out and frustrations are mounting.
Highways – House Speaker Robert Moore unveiled aspects of his scaled down version of highway funding reform this last week, but still no bill has been filed to explain his five-cent diesel fuel tax increase. Rep. Jonathan Barnett has filed a shell bill for a half-cent sales tax increase, referred to voters, that would fund a bond issue for roads. To summarize, we are lacking details.
Prisons – While we know a lot of the general areas that the legislation will address, we still haven’t seen the official bill. Draft versions have been written, revised and floated between the Governor, legislators and various stakeholders, but the general public lacks a full view of its contents.
Health care – State insurance regulators have been promising for weeks that legislation would be filed "any day now" to lay out what was needed for the state to implement federal health care reform. Still, no bill and no details on what the Insurance Department thinks it must have.
Unemployment trust fund debt – Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson has filed a bill to float bonds to pay back the debt and several bills tinker around the edges to pare back benefits and impose new requirements on those receiving unemployment checks. Still, nothing has been seriously run and lawmakers appear to be growing increasingly content that the President’s suggestion that he might forgive interest will buy more time. This is a $330 million (and growing) problem in need of attention.
Congressional redistricting – We’ll give lawmakers a break on this account since a technical problem beyond their control has resulted in a delay of this big to-do item. Still, no bill and a lot of waiting leaves another unchecked item for lawmakers to hastily deal with in the waning weeks of the session.
Constitutional amendments – There are 25 potential amendment proposals, but none have received an airing and there still hasn’t been an attempt to whittle down the offerings to decide which ones may be referred.
Budget – Of course, the budget is a work in progress throughout the session. The Joint Budget Committee has been steadily meeting its obligations to deal with its most important function: funding state government. However in its fiscal session a year ago, lawmakers moved much more quickly and efficiently on budget bills – a blueprint they might want to replicate in the name of greater progress.
Ethics – Check this one off the list. Lawmakers have passed all they are likely to pass in this session. A cooling off period for entering the lobbying ranks and changes to travel reimbursement were the most aggressive improvements a consensus of legislators could muster.
Jobs and the economy – Have we created any yet through new legislative policies? We only ask because in the last election cycle this was the dominant issue from the local to the federal level. Two months into the session, we’re still searching for new laws that will purportedly achieve this goal.