Legislature convenes for highway-focused special session
Hutchinson is under pressure to find $50 million in order to receive $200 million in federal funds as part of the federal Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act. Governor Hutchinson has acknowledged his approach is a short term solution and has agreed to take roughly $40 million from the state’s rainy day fund, almost $6 million from the half-cent sales tax for highways, and $1.5 million from investment earnings from the State Treasurer’s Office, to achieve the $200 million match.
Alternatively, Republicans and Democrats alike have presented a number of long-term solutions that would provide additional highway funding for years to come. However, Governor Hutchinson has been clear that he does not want to raise taxes by adopting the approaches proposed by legislators. A long-term plan is likely to be addressed in the upcoming 2017 Regular Session.
Also on the call is a clarification to the law regarding workers’ compensation payments under the workers’ compensation law that resulted from initiated measure 1948, No. 4 and to end payments to the Death and Permanent Total Disability Trust Fund. The Arkansas State Chamber will be leading the charge to defeat the bill. The State Chamber’s long standing position is that the Fund should end, only if the corresponding cost increase to employers is mitigated. The worker’s compensation bill will certainly be the most controversial issue on the call.
A number of other matters have been added to the call as well. According to the official proclamation, the agenda items are as follows:
- To increase funding for repair, construction and proper maintenance of Arkansas bridges and roads and to address legislative review of proposed rules of the State Highway Commission.
- To promote efficiency and effectiveness in the operations of state government by transferring the Arkansas History Commission to the Department of Arkansas Heritage and amending the membership, tenure, and duties of certain agencies, task forces, committees, and commissions.
- To merge Crowley’s Ridge Technical Institute into East Arkansas Community College.
- To enhance and streamline the process of identifying and filling board vacancies for certain improvement districts, including levee, drainage, irrigation, watershed and river improvement districts.
- To protect the property rights of an individual in the use of the individual’s name, voice, signature and likeness.
- To address the qualifications of professionals under the Private Security Agency, Private Investigator and School Security Licensing and Credentialing Act.
- To clarify the law regarding workers’ compensation payments under the workers’ compensation law that resulted from initiated measure 1948, No. 4 and to end payments to the Death and Permanent Total Disability Trust Fund.
- To reenact the original date of the sunset of the Arkansas Works Program established by identical Acts 2016 (2nd Ex. Sess.), Nos. 1 and 2.
- To amend the law to enable annual school elections to be held in November, to make technical corrections to the law concerning the annual school elections and to amend the funding structure and other essential administrative provisions concerning certain school elections.
- To amend Ark. Code Ann. § 9-28-217 to permit release of juvenile records to a person, agency or organization engaged in bona fide research or evaluation project determined by the Division of Youth Services of the Department of Human Services to have value for the evaluation or development of policies to advance juvenile justice.
- To amend the criminal offense of sexual indecency with a child.
- To prohibit identification of schools or districts as being in academic distress pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. § 6-15-428 for the 2016-2017 school year and to prohibit assignment of school ratings pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. § 6-15-2105 for the 2016-2017 school year.
- To amend Ark. Code Ann. § 12-80-104 concerning earthquake resistant design requirements for buildings and other structures.
- To confirm gubernatorial appointees
Speaker Gillam has been quoted as saying that although it appears to be a long list for a three day special session, he remains committed to adjourning on Monday. We’ll see if that actually happens.
Other legislators have been quoted in the paper as saying this is a “potpourri of ideas” and should not be included in a three day special session.
Agree or disagree on the number of items included on the call, we can all agree that some of the “potpourri of ideas” won’t pass the smell test.