House, Senate debate flurry of legislation

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 2,405 views 

One can always determine the pending ending of a legislative session by the full committee agendas, chamber calendars, and late-night debates on the floors of the Senate and the House.

On Tuesday (April 4), members of the 94th Arkansas General Assembly met late into the evening to consider, advance and stall scores of bills.

Among the highlights from Tuesday’s daylong business:

SB549, a bill to cut the state’s top income tax rate from 4.9% to 4.7% and to lower the state’s top corporate income tax rate from 5.3% to 5.1% passed the House Revenue and Tax committee. The bill, supported by legislative leadership and Gov. Sarah Sanders, now moves to the full House floor for consideration. If approved, it heads to the governor’s desk.

The House of Representatives approved two measures that will impact school funding immediately and in the future. HB1688, a bill that outlines the foundation formula spending per pupil in Arkansas public school, advanced in the House. The measure sets the FY 2023-2024 foundation funding amount at $7,618 per student and the 2024-2025 amount at $7,771 per student. The foundation funding amount is multiplied by a school district’s average daily membership from the previous school year to determine state money sent to a district. It passed 77-3 and now heads to the Senate Education Committee.

HB1689 would revamp the funding formula that drives planning for education spending in the legislature. The current formula, based on a typical school of 500 students, doesn’t fund smaller schools adequately, the bill’s sponsor said. HB1689 would change base funding for school districts, allow districts with fewer than 500 students extra money, and would add a “weighted allocation” to schools with students living in concentrated poverty. The bill passed 83-5 and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Two proposed constitutional amendments saw action on Tuesday. HJR1006, which would allow vocational and technical schools to receive lottery scholarship funding, was approved by the full House on a 97-0 vote, the day after it cleared a House panel. It will now be considered in the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee.

That panel also heard testimony on SJR15, by Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forrest. The resolution would assign counties to the selection of the state’s five State Highway commissioners. Currently, the five commissioners are picked from the state’s four Congressional districts with a fifth at-large member, who can be from any Congressional district. SJR15 would equalize representation among clusters of counties. It failed to receive five votes to advance from the committee.

Lawmakers can refer up to three proposed constitutional amendments per regular session.

Lastly, the House Judiciary Committee met past 10pm on Tuesday to debate SB495, the Protect Arkansa Act. The bill restructures sentencing and parole policy in the state. It is the largest measure in Gov. Sanders’ criminal justice reform package.

After lengthy questioning and discussion, committee members agreed to reconvene Wednesday to continue the debate.