Friday, January 20, 2017

State Capitol Week in Review From Senator Eddie Cheatham

January 20, 2017

LITTLE ROCK – By a unanimous vote in both chambers, the General Assembly approved legislation to postpone for 60 days implementation of the medical marijuana amendment.
Arkansas voters passed the amendment in the November general election. It created a commission responsible for writing new regulations for the growing and selling of medical marijuana. For example, the commission will determine how cultivation facilities and dispensaries will keep records, and how they will maintain security.
The commission is to determine restrictions on advertising, and how often growing facilities are to be inspected. Under House Bill 1026, which both chambers passed and sent to the governor, the commission will accept applications from entities that want to grow medical marijuana by July 1.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 91-to-0 and the Senate by a vote of 27-to-0.

In other news, the Senate Committee on Revenue and Taxation recommended approval of Senate Bill 115, to reduce individual income taxes for about 657,000 Arkansas taxpayers in the low income brackets. About 120,000 Arkansas residents who earn less than $4,300 a year would not have to pay any state income taxes at all.
The bill was proposed by the governor. It would take effect in 2019 and would save taxpayers about $50.5 million a year.
SB 115 also creates a 16-member legislative task force to work on broader tax reductions. The group will begin work within a month after the final day of the 2017 session.
The other major tax cut bill of the 2017 session would exempt retirement income of retired military veterans from the state income tax, saving them about $13 million a year.
The state Department of Finance and Administration estimates that about 29,000 veterans live in Arkansas.
The income tax repeal for veterans’ retirement is in SB 13 and HB 1003. They would take effect this tax year, beginning January 1, 2017.
Under current law, the first $6,000 of veterans’ retirement income is exempt from state income taxes. The proposed legislation would exempt all their retirement income.
In other business the Senate passed legislation to limit all fines for failure to wear a seat belt to $25, effectively preventing local traffic courts from raising the fine. It is SB 102, and it now goes to the House.
The House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor recommended legislation whose intent is to prohibit purchases of soda and candy with food stamps. Supporters want to promote healthier diets and reduce obesity. Grocery store executives expressed concerns that the burden of enforcement would fall on them. The bill is HB 1035.
The food stamp program is officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. It is funded mainly by the federal government and the state cannot limit food stamp purchases without a federal permit.
HB 1035 directs state officials to ask for authority from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to impose the soda and candy prohibition.
The House Public Health Committee also recommended HB 1033 to use money from a tobacco settlement to pay for home assistance services for people with developmental disabilities.  It would benefit more than 500 people on a waiting list that has about 3,000 on it.
HB 1033 would authorize additional spending of about $28 million in combined state and federal funds.

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