The legislature advanced a major highway program and tougher new ethics laws.
Senate Bill 336 is part of the governor’s proposal to raise funding for highway construction and maintenance. The Senate approved the measure and sent it to the House of Representatives, where it received a favorable vote in committee.
The bills is supported by a significant portion of the business community, as well as representatives of Arkansas trucking companies.
It levies a new wholesale sales tax on gasoline and diesel, which will result in an additional 3 cents a gallon on gas and 6 cents on diesel. The new state rate for gasoline will be 24.5 cents a gallon, and for diesel it will be 28.5 cents.
When fully in effect, in Fiscal Year 2021, this new wholesale sales tax will generate $59 million a year for state highway projects and $12.6 million each a year for both cities and counties.
Increases from one year to the next will be limited to 0.1 percent per gallon.
Both the Senate and the House have approved SB 249 to SB 256 to strengthen laws on ethics for public officials and campaign finance. SB 249 increases the maximum fine that the Ethics Commission can impose, from $2,000 to $3,500. SB 256 prohibits a legislator or constitutional officer from being a registered lobbyist, not only in Arkansas but in other states.
Act 191 will improve enforcement of the new ethics laws by increasing the staff of the state Ethics Commission from nine to 11 employees.
Several measures affecting public schools advanced. House Bill 1419, which would require public schools to offer individual classes to home-schooled students, was endorsed by the House Education Committee.
HB 1182 would make it a primary offense to use a cell phone while driving through a school zone when children are present. A police officer could stop drivers solely for the purpose of finding out if they were using a phone, which they could not do if it were a secondary offense. Both chambers have approved HB 1182.
Both chambers have approved and sent to the governor HB1014 to require high schools to teach bleeding control and the use of a tourniquet, as a component of health classes.
HB 1356 requires schools to treat students no differently although they may owe money for lunches. It was endorsed in House committee. For example, schools could not make students wear wrist bands if they had a debt for meals.
The House also approved HB 1437, which professionals who work with children to notify law enforcement if they have reason to believe there is a serious and imminent threat of violence targeted at a school.
The list of occupations is long, and includes doctors, teachers, social workers, foster parents, school counselors and school officials, mental health professionals and advocates for children.
The House approved and sent to the Senate HB 1431to prohibit abortions after 18 weeks of gestation, except in cases of medical emergency that threatens the life of the mother.