This is one of the longest sessions on record, but the work this General Assembly tackled in 100 days is truly remarkable.
We passed a one of a kind health care reform measure, an economic incentive package to create 500 jobs in the Delta, and one of the largest tax reductions in state history.
We balanced a $4.9 billion budget which included a $48 million increase in school funding and the first cost of living increase for our state employees in over 2 years. No state services were eliminated or reduced.
This session 2,492 bills were introduced. Out of those, 1,520 passed and have been enacted. That means 61% of the all of the bills introduced in the last three months made it to the Governor’s desk.
Among those were laws that strengthened our efforts to combat human trafficking. We increased sentencing terms and passed outreach measures so that victims know who they can call for help in our state at any given time.
We passed more than dozen bills designed to protect our children from sex offenders, including one that gives the parole board more discretion when sex offenders become eligible for release.
We made several changes to our election laws. One bill makes our prosecutors a non-partisan position. Another piece of legislation creates a vote center on election day where voters from any precinct can cast a ballot much like they do currently for early voting.
We passed substantial economic development incentives. The Big River Steel project was just one of many bills designed to attract more industry. We also passed the Arkansas New Markets Job Act. This creates Community Development Entities to invest in businesses promising to create good wage jobs in low income areas of the state.
And in our tax reduction package, we directed $15 million in tax breaks toward agricultural expenses. Agriculture is our state’s largest industry.
The House Education Committee faced big issues including court decision regarding school choice and a need to increase in per student funding. The safety of our students was also on the forefront of all of our minds as we headed into session exactly one month after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.
As a result of the committee’s efforts, we passed a new law that caps the number of transfers allowed by a district to 3% of its population and removes the racial component from the school choice law.
This General Assembly also passed a bill which requires a study to determine exactly how our schools are responding to acts of violence and how we can improve. And we increased funding from the current $6,267 per student to $6,393 per student for the following school year. For 2014, the amount increases to $6,521 per student.
This General Assembly, which included 13 House members who have served in the armed forces, addressed critical issues facing our veterans. This included the passage of Act 165 which paves the way for the construction of new 150 bed veteran’s home in central Arkansas.
In the last week of session, we also agreed to refer three constitutional amendments to voters.
HJR1009 would ban most lobbyist gifts to elected officials and prohibit corporate campaign contributions. It alters term limits to allow legislators to serve a total of 16 years in either chamber. It also creates an independent commission to set salaries for elected officials.
SJR16 requires at least 75 percent of signatures submitted by initiative campaigns be verified before additional time is given to circulate petitions.
And SJR7 would allow the legislature to approve rules by state agencies before they are implemented. Currently, we review the rules but no approval is required.
You will see all three of these proposals on the November 2014 ballot.
We will continue to keep you updated on the new information we gather in the interim. And you can contact us anytime at arkansashouse.org