Tax Cut, Private Option, Lottery Debates Coming In New Week

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 48 views 

A busy week last week may be foreboding as lawmakers head back to Little Rock Monday for the fourth week of the Arkansas General Assembly.

The state Senate voted 27-7 Thursday to approve Senate Bill 96, sponsored by Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs.

The House Public Health, Welfare and Labor committee, which received the bill late Thursday, is expected to discuss Senate Bill 96 at a 10 a.m. hearing Tuesday in Room 130 of the capitol.

The discussion over the bill has been at a fever pitch since a Jan. 22 health care speech by Gov. Asa Hutchinson at the University of Arkansas for Medical Services.

The plan, outlined in Hendren’s bill, would set a Dec. 31, 2016 expiration date on the Private Option. In the meantime, a 16-member task force would look at issues related to the Private Option and the issue of healthcare.

Hutchinson said the debate over the Private Option, which began in 2013, has been “politically toxic” for the state. Also, Hutchinson said the program’s future is not sustainable financially with the state facing a $200 million a year price tag by 2021.

Hutchinson’s tax cut proposal – Senate Bill 6 – is also expected to be discussed this week in the Senate.

The House voted 95-2 Thursday to approve the $100 million tax cut, which is geared toward middle-class taxpayers.

House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, who cosponsored the bill with Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, told House members Thursday that the bill was a first step in “providing our citizens responsible tax policy.”

The bill is going back to the state Senate to concur with a House amendment involving the state’s capital gains rate. A Senate amendment would set the rate at 30%, while the House amendment sets the rate at 40%. If the Senate approves the amendment, the bill will be sent to Hutchinson’s desk for signature.

Expect a lot of committee action this next week. The House Education Committee is expected to take up three bills, one of which involves the possession of concealed handguns in a university, college or community college building.

Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, filed House Bill 1077.

According to the bill, the concealed carry law would be amended to allow a staff member to possess a concealed weapon.

“A licensee may possess a concealed handgun in the buildings or on the grounds, whether owned or leased by the public university, public college or public community college, of the public university, public college or public community college where he or she is employed unless otherwise prohibited by Arkansas Code 5-73-306 if he or she is a staff member.”

However, the bill would not change state law that forbids “the storage of a handgun in a university or college-operated student dormitory or residence hall.”

The Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee is expected to take up Senate Bill 7. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, would abolish the Arkansas Lottery Commission and create the Arkansas Lottery Division of the Department of Finance and Administration.

An original plan, sponsored by Hickey, called for the abolishment and having the Arkansas Department of Higher Education operate the lottery.

However, the change was made after Gov. Hutchinson said he believed DFA, which handles income and sales tax information in the state, would be a better fit.

The committee is also set to take up a Senate bill to create uniform physical fitness requirements for the state’s new firefighters.

Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs, introduced Senate Bill 149 earlier in the session.

The bill, if approved, would allow the Arkansas Fire Protection Services Board to “adopt a candidate physical ability test for pre-employment testing of firefighting candidates for use as an evaluation tool in the selection of firefighters to ensure all candidates possess the physical ability to complete critical tasks effectively and safely.”

The test, which would be nationally recognized, would be administered on a pass-fail basis with candidates not being ranked based on completion times.

The Arkansas Fire Training Academy would give the test, with a certification card valid for one year after the test is given.

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