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View from the Senate: Legislature Approves High-Profile Bills

Arkansas

The legislature approved and the governor signed two of the high-profile bills of this year’s session.

One bill lowers state income taxes by $97 million a year for 579,000 Arkansas taxpayers who earn more than $38,200 a year. It is Act 182.

The other bill raises teacher minimum salaries by about $1,000 a year, over the next four years. It will directly benefit teachers in 168 school districts. It is Act 170.

Arkansas became the fifth state to enact a so-called “trigger” law that will immediately prohibit abortions if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Roe vs. Wade ruling. It is Act 180.

It has exceptions. For example, it would not be an abortion if the procedure were done to save the life or preserve the health of the unborn child, to remove a dead unborn child caused by a spontaneous abortion or to remove an ectopic pregnancy. There is a provision allowing an abortion to save the life of the pregnant mother in a medical emergency.

Act 189 makes fundamental changes in how juvenile offenders are sentenced. Its goal is for fewer juveniles to be sent to lock-ups, and more to get treatment and supervision through intervention in their community.

All judges will have to use a risk assessment system, and no judge could send a youth to a lock-up for a minor offense unless that judge specifically listed reasons for considering the youth a moderate or high risk case.

The state Division of Youth Services (DYS) operates juvenile detention facilities, administers community programs and intervenes in court when juveniles get in trouble.

DYS will be required to monitor all juvenile cases to ensure they are being handled according to new risk assessment methods. The division must develop individual plans for youths in trouble, based on the evidence, and the plans must involve families.

Already, juvenile judges in 19 of the 75 counties in Arkansas rely on validated risk assessments when they rule on a juvenile’s placement. Expanding the use of the assessments will coincide with a decreased reliance on lock-ups. The state has announced the closing of two secure facilities, in St. Francis and in Chicot Counties.

The juvenile justice bill was approved in the Senate by a vote of 35-to-0 and in the House by a vote of 95-to-0.

Senate Bill 256 to prohibit legislators and state constitutional officers from lobbying was approved by the Senate and advanced by the House Rules Committee.

The elected officials it affects may not register as a lobbyist, not only in Arkansas but also in other states. SB 256 has bipartisan sponsorship, and passed the Senate by a 34-to-0 vote.

SB 150, which grants cities greater authority to offer broadband Internet service, passed unanimously in both chambers and was sent to the governor.

More than 500 Arkansas state troopers would get a five percent pay raise, on top of merit raises and cost-of-living raises, under an amendment to the State Police appropriation that got a favorable vote in subcommittee.

The Joint Budget Committee must affirm the vote, and legislators must identify a source of revenue to fund the raises.

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