Last week, the Arkansas Republican Women’s Legislative Caucus passed a package of five new laws that its legislative leaders think will make a significant impact on broadband, education, entrepreneurship, healthcare, and juvenile justice.
Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, championed one of the healthcare bills and the juvenile justice overhaul. She says the legislation enjoyed overwhelming support and leaves more for state lawmakers to capitalize on.
SB 151 designated UAMS as a National Cancer Institute, a status that can draw more research dollars to the state as well as expand cancer treatment access. While the bill designating UAMS for NCI status doesn’t describe where the funding will come from that’s associated with it, budget leaders and the governor are working on a path to secure a little over $10 million in annual funding for the effort.
“I think they’ll get there,” Irvin says of the funding bill. “$10 million to be able to get $70 million in annual economic activity in return, for me, is a good investment. And it’s an investment in the citizens of Arkansas because if we can help them survive cancer with an NCI-designated institute at UAMS Rockefeller Center, then that just is going to be tremendous for the people of the state of Arkansas.”
Irvin defended tax changes that have taken effect over the past several sessions, including some tax increases in the current session. Lawmakers have proposed tax hikes through tobacco-related products as well as motor fuel taxes and other revenue sources to fund highways. These tax increases come on the heels of three sessions of tax reductions on income taxes and the grocery tax.
“We spent 18 months on a task force for tax reform and relief. And during that process, we really learned about what was happening in other states and we really looked at our tax policy to make sure that it was good and sound tax policy and to make sure that we were fiscally responsible. And when you look at that, I think it’s important for us to break all that down to make sure we’re funding the right things appropriately and that we have good tax policy that keeps up with what’s going on with today,” Irvin said.
“I really believe that there’s been a balancing of everything that’s been going on. We’ve cut taxes strategically in different areas, particularly in income taxes, grocery tax cuts, all the different tax cuts we’ve passed since 2015, and so it’s really just about a balancing. And then it’s about also priorities and figuring out where you want to spend that money appropriately and where you’re going to get the biggest bang for your buck,” she added.
JUVENILE JUSTICE, A START
Irvin was the lead sponsor and has been active for several sessions on an overhaul of the state’s juvenile justice system. SB 152 reorganized an oversight board on the issue, required validated risk assessment tools for juvenile offenders, created a plan for more community-oriented services, and redirected funding for juvenile offender facilities. Irvin said the results of the new legislation will lead to more data-driven decisions that can hopefully keep some youth offenders from falling into a life of crime.
“It’s about being smart when it comes to criminal justice reform and juvenile justice reform, it’s being smart about it. And the way you be smart about that is making sure that you have the correct data for those kids,” she said. “[It’s] using the data that we can collect to make a better-informed decision and to create a tailored assessment and needs plan for that child. And so, I think it’s a phenomenal bill. It’s been six years of my life that I’ve been working on this, so it’s been a long journey. But the juvenile judges have been great, the community service providers have been great, DYS has been great, everybody involved has done a great job.”
Irvin said that reforms to the juvenile justice system won’t stop with this new law.
“It’s going to allow those communities to figure out what’s going to work for them, so this is just the beginning. As it gets implemented and as it rolls out, it really requires collaboration between the juvenile judges and their community and their community service providers to figure out what they need in order to help those youth. And that could be starting faith-based organizations, coming in to play, creating programs for those kids, working with their school systems and everybody in that community to figure out what do we need here to help these kids make better choices and improve their situations.”
You can view Sen. Irvin’s full interview below. Here is a recap of the five new laws spearheaded by the Arkansas Republican Women’s Legislative Caucus.
SB 150 – Amends the Telecommunications Regulatory Reform Act of 2013 in an effort to expand broadband services to rural Arkansas;
SB 151 – Designates UAMS as a National Cancer Institute;
SB 152 – Reforms the state’s juvenile justice system;
SB 153 – Requires school districts to create literacy plans in its annual school-level improvement plan; and
HB 1225 – Encourages more child care and early childhood facility entrepreneurship through promotion and red tape reduction.