Thursday, March 23, 2017

State Capitol Week in Review From Senator Eddie Cheatham

March 24, 2017
LITTLE ROCK – As the General Assembly approaches the final days of this year’s regular session,  lawmakers approved bills affecting public and private education, criminal justice, prisons, election procedures, campaign finance and unemployment benefits.

Senate Bill 647 is a 60-page measure that sets up new accountability and assessment tools used in public schools. Educators will be affected by how it changes the methods for designating schools that are in academic distress. The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 23-to-4. It went to the House Education Committee.

The Senate passed SB 746, by a vote of 22-to-5, to set up education savings accounts into which individuals and corporations can donate money and receive tax credits.
Parents can apply for financial help from the accounts to offset the cost of tuition and other expenses of sending their children to private schools. It also was referred to the House Education Committee.
The Senate voted unanimously in favor of HB 1014 to allow teachers to claim up to $250 a year in income tax deductions for expenses they incur buying school supplies for their students from their own pocket. It went to the governor.
Both chambers passed and the governor signed Act 539 to eliminate the death penalty and life without parole for people who commit capital offenses before they turn 18. Those inmates would be eligible to appear at a parole hearing after 25 or 30 years in prison, depending on their original sentence.
The Senate passed a criminal justice measure, SB 177 to require inmates to serve at least 80 percent of their sentence if they have been in prison at least three times previously.
Some lawmakers voiced concerns over the potential $20 million a year in additional costs the bill would create for state prisons.
After it passed the Senate on a 20-to-9 vote, it was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
The legislature approved and sent to the governor HB 1047 to require voters to present identification with a photo in order to cast a ballot. A registered voter without photo ID can sign a sworn statement that they’re registered voters and their provisional ballots will be counted. A false statement would be considered perjury.
Political action committees, exploratory committees and independent expenditure groups must file their finance reports electronically under HB 1010, which has been approved by both chambers and sent to the governor. It is similar to Act 318, approved earlier in the session, which requires candidates to file electronically.
The House approved HB 1707 to permanently move the date of primary elections to March. It was referred to the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee. The primary was temporarily moved from May to March in 2016 so that Arkansas would have a more influential voice in the presidential races.
The legislature has passed and sent to the governor HB 1405 to shorten from 20 to 16 weeks the length of time someone may receive unemployment insurance benefits.
It also lowers the wage base from $12,000 to $10,000, which will lower unemployment insurance taxes for Arkansas businesses by an estimated $50 million a year.

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