The legislature has approved and the governor has signed a package of bills sponsored by female lawmakers. The coalition of legislators dubbed their package “Dream BIG for Arkansas.”
Act 198 expands access to the Internet by allowing towns, cities and local government entities to acquire, lease or build facilities to deliver broadband services.
Act 181 the process of designating the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute at UAMS as a National Cancer Institute.
Act 83 requires schools to include literacy in their school improvement plans, and to follow curricula and use materials and methods proven scientifically to be effective in helping children with dyslexia.
A driving force behind the bill is the recognition that only 38 percent of third graders read at “ready” or “exceeding” on 2018 standardized reading tests (ACT Aspire).
Act 131 encourages entrepreneurship in child care facilities, especially in rural areas and other places where there is a lack of child care. It requires DHS to simplify its licensing requirements and grant applications, and to eliminate duplication and unnecessary paperwork.
The legislature has enacted most of a package of bills proposed by the veterans’ caucus, including Act 171 to ease the deadlines for school transfer applications for children whose parents live on a military base.
Act 148 authorizes the Adjutant General of Arkansas to remove officers from the National Guard if they are substandard in carrying out their duty, deficient in character, medically unfit or unsuited for military service.
The governor’s authority to order the militia into service now includes using the militia to address cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities in state information systems, thanks to Act 149.
The former site of the Southeast Arkansas Community Correction Center may be donated to an Arkansas-based non-profit organization that serves veterans, under Act 160. No inmates have been housed at the site since 2016.
The Senate approved SB 445 to permanently move the date of primary elections to March in years when there is also a presidential election. Our primaries have traditionally been in May, and in both major political parties the eventual candidate has virtually wrapped up the nomination by then. The goal of moving up the date to March is to make the Arkansas primary more relevant in national politics.
The Senate Committee on Revenue and Taxation advanced SB 447 to increase the homestead property tax credit from $350 to $375. In 2018, a total of 716,525 property owners received tax credit benefits of $230,000,000.
The act will save homeowners more than $12.5 million a year. It also transfers $8.2 million from the excess amounts in the property tax relief fund into a grant program for updating voting machines. The state chief financial officer will determine the amount needed to maintain the property tax relief fund, and any excess will be transferred to general revenue for tax relief.
The excess also can be used for financial aid to school districts whose revenue has declined as a result of Amendment 79, which voters approved in 2000 to create the homestead credit and place limits on growth in taxable value of property.