Last month, the 21 Republican women in the 92nd Arkansas General Assembly formed a new caucus to advance a series of bills that are working their way through committees and chambers.
Two members of the Republican Women’s Legislative Caucus — Sens. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, and Jane English, R-North Little Rock — said the group’s genesis was a “same place at the same time” creation.
“It just so happened that it all collided. And we just started meeting together and saying what initiatives can we tackle that’ll be good for all of Arkansas, that we would like to see a group of legislators take leadership of and get behind and that everyone can come along and be supportive of,” said Davis, who appeared with English on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics.
The caucus’ “Dream B.I.G. Arkansas” initiative (Dream Bold Initiatives for the Good of Arkansas) is a compilation of several bills that deal with education, juvenile justice, broadband expansion, child care entrepreneurship, and healthcare. Some measures from the group are on the Governor’s desk, in House or Senate committees, or headed to the chamber floors of the two ends of the capitol.
English, who chairs the Senate Education committee, is the lead sponsor on SB 153, which awaits Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s signature. The bill requires schools to develop improvement plans based on scientifically-proven methods to increase literacy and to work with children who have dyslexia or special education needs in K-12 schools.
“We’ve had people for so many years who have worked hard to try and get that system to change to more science and reading because we’ve had for years kids who obviously weren’t learning how to read. We have a whole generation of folks. And we figured out, or research has figured out, that there’s a better way to do the teaching [for] both dyslexia and just all of our kids out there,” English said.
Davis is spearheading SB 150, a bill that would amend current state telecommunications law to allow government entities such as cities to enter into the broadband service through a public-private partnership and to seek grants or loans for deployment of broadband. Currently, SB 150 has passed a Senate committee and is awaiting action on the Senate floor.
“About 40% of Arkansans don’t have access to broadband as defined by the FCC, so we decided to change that,” she said. “Our bill simply lifts the ban on cities and counties being able to either partner in a public-private partnership or go out on their own when no one will partner with them and apply for some of these grants that are available through the federal government.”
Another primary piece of legislation for the women’s caucus involves UAMS becoming recognized as a National Cancer Institute, a designation that would bring new cancer research and treatment to Arkansas. The NCI status requires state funding in the $10-20 million per year range as well as private funding.
The UAMS measure, SB 151, has cleared the Senate and awaits action in the House. It creates a trust fund for the money for NCI status, but today, no one is clear where the $10-20 million in state funding will come from to seed it.
Possibilities include a tax on medical marijuana or applying the tobacco tax to e-cigarettes and vaping products. Other special revenue options are also being explored.
“We’re talking to the people who know where maybe some of those pockets of money are, and we’re just trying to come up with the best way to do it,” Davis said.
You can watch more of their full interview in the video below.