Friday, April 17, 2009

Lindsley Smith's weekly report from the Arkansas legislature for April 17, 2009

Sent: Fri 4/17/09 5:09 PM
The 87th General Assembly is in recess, with formal adjournment set for May 1. There were no vetoes during the 88-day session, so the duties on May 1 likely will take only a few minutes. Lawmakers will convene in February for their first budget session as set up by voters last November requiring annual sessions.
From Jan. 12 to April 9, lawmakers introduced 2,285 bills, down from 2,816 for the 2007 regular session and 3,176 in 2005. On April 14, the governor signed House Bill 1555 (dealing with funding high-growth school districts) into law, the last act of the session. It’s now Act 1501, compared to 1,755 acts in 2007 and 2,325 in 2005.
The tobacco-tax increase, the 23-item healthcare package, the cut in the grocery tax, the animal-cruelty law and the implementation of the lottery were among the successful pieces of legislation that gathered much of the attention of the media and public during the session. Those issues and others of statewide and national interest will be addressed in these weekly columns.
For this first column of the interim – the period between sessions – we’ll take a look at some key bills that didn’t pass. Some of those are up for interim study by committees; many likely will be seen again in a future session, in current or amended form. After all, it took at least a decade before legislation cutting the state sales tax on groceries became law.
In setting up a trauma network, lawmakers said it also was important to pass laws to prevent or limit the occurrence of traumatic injuries in the first place. With that in mind, lawmakers approved the mandatory seatbelt law, passed limits on talking on cell phones while driving, and banned texting-while-driving entirely.
Those efforts went only so far, though. A bill to require all motorcyclists to wear helmets was defeated in committee, along with an amended version to apply to motorcyclists under age 25. Also failing in committee was a bill requiring motorcyclists to carry $10,000 in health insurance if they choose not to wear a helmet.
The proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution also failed for the second time in as many sessions, as did a bill to grant in-state tuition to children of undocumented aliens if those children attend an Arkansas high school at least three years.
A state panel that studied the effects of global warming saw much of its package defeated, although its supporters say they’re encouraged by the successes they did have. One of the defeated bills would have required electric utilities to buy at least 2 percent of their annual electricity supplies from a renewable energy producer. One of the group’s better moments was the passage of a bill requiring a 20-percent reduction in energy use in state buildings by 2014 and a 30-percent reduction by 2017.
The state of the economy prevented the passage of several bill aimed at cutting taxes. (In contrast, in the 2007 session, lawmakers passed the biggest tax cut in Arkansas history: $319 million, through cuts in the state sales tax on groceries and on energy consumed by manufacturers, a property-tax reduction and an income-tax deduction.). Coming up short this session were bills granting a “back to school” sales-tax holiday, cutting capital-gains taxes on businesses and cutting the income taxes of active military personnel.
A bill requiring insurance companies to cover the treatment and diagnosis of autism also failed in committee.
An effort to put Arkansas as part of a movement to abolish the Electoral College sparked a flurry of interest, was passed in the House and ultimately died in the Senate.
House and Senate committees will soon begin meeting during the interim to see how state agencies implement the laws enacted during the session and to look at ideas referred for interim study.

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