Arkansas Legislature to focus on diverse issues during the eighth week

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 280 views 

The eighth week of the Arkansas General Assembly is likely to include discussions involving agriculture, education and highways starting Monday, and the public can expect more conversation on changes to the criminal justice programs across the state.

There will even be some discussion over which proposed constitutional amendments will appear on the state’s 2016 general election ballot. The following is a rundown of expected events this week in the legislature.

The House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs committee will likely be busy discussing constitutional amendments all week. Committee chairman Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, told the committee Friday that discussions will start Monday and committee members should be ready for a busy week.

Nearly 40 proposed amendments were filed by lawmakers in time before the Feb. 12 deadline. The amendments ranged in issue from education financing to tort reform. On Monday, committee members will discuss proposed amendments on elected officials, the state’s judiciary, public notices among other issues.

Bell told the committee they are likely to meet all week to narrow the 40 or so down to about five or six each from the House and Senate. According to state law, only three constitutional amendments can be referred to voters in a general election.

The House Education Committee is expected to take up a bill that would eliminate the state’s involvement in a test that is part of the Common Core program. The bill from Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, would pull Arkansas out of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers in time for a June 30 deadline.

The bill would also forbid the state Department of Education and the state Board of Education from giving any information to the U.S. Department of Education without getting permission from parents.

Lowery told TB&P while he was not opposed to Common Core, but is opposed to the test due to a lack of participation from other states.

“I take school administrators and teachers at their word when they say Common Core standards may be something that’s been developed nationally, but they have been able to use local control to develop curricula at the local level to enable them to meet the standards,” Lowery said. “That has not been the case with PARCC.”

There will be a meeting on Monday regarding House Bill 1346, a measure that would dedicate sales tax funding from new and used cars and car parts to roads. The transfer would apply only to money raised above $2.2 billion through sales and use tax collections.

The bill, by Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, would steer 70% of that new sales tax revenue to state highways, 15% to counties, and 15% to cities. The funding would increase over time so that it would grow from $35 million in year one to $548 million in year 10.

Douglas said a meeting is planned for Monday with the governor’s office, state agencies, higher education officials and others.

The Senate Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development committee should take up a grain reform bill this week, one of its sponsors said Thursday. Sen. Ronald Caldwell, R-Wynne filed Senate Bill 555 Wednesday.

The bill would allow the Arkansas State Plant Board to mandate grain dealers to post surety bonds, get a license and rescind the license on a temporary basis without a hearing.

Caldwell said the bill was in response to the Turner Grain controversy. Questions arose last year as farmers alleged they were not paid for their grain. The state’s Secretary of Agriculture, Butch Calhoun, said last October that the losses were at least $50 million.

Caldwell said the bill would have likely helped bring the Turner Grain issue to the forefront if it had been in place. Caldwell, who serves on the committee, said the bill would also give producers and farmers a method to contact plant board officials if there is ever a problem.