On Monday, the House passed two pieces of legislation addressing highway funding.
In a vote of 71-26, the House passed SB336. SB 336 is a compromise bill that has something everyone hates. However, it is the only highway legislation that has had a chance of ending the decades of highway maintenance decline. As Majority Leader I started working with my colleagues and the Governors office last summer. We went from a position held by many that funding would rely entirely on an enormous gas tax to a position of using existing general revenue to lower the dependence on a tax as the sole source of funding.
This bill outlines $95 million in additional funding in three ways.
First, it diverts all revenue from casino gaming that exceeds $31.2 million to the State Highway and Transportation Department Fund.
Second, it includes a wholesale tax on fuel raising gas prices by 3 cents a gallon and diesel by 6 cents a gallon.
And third, it imposes a $100 registration fee on hybrid vehicles and a $200 registration fee on electric vehicles.
The second piece of legislation addressing highways before the House was HJR8.
This is a proposed constitutional amendment which would permanently extend a ½ cent sales tax for the purpose of funding state highways. The current ½ sales tax funding highway improvements is set to expire in 2023. If this resolution passes both chambers, it would be on the ballot for voter approval in November 2020. The resolution passed the House with a vote of 67-30.
There is no such thing as a perfect bill and the two highway bills are a long way from perfect. Bottom line it is not about want you want. It is about what you can pass.
The House also passed legislation designed to study infant deaths and pregnancy-associated deaths in Arkansas. Arkansas ranks 44th in the nation in maternal mortality. HB1440 would establish the maternal mortality review committee which would identify factors contributing to maternal deaths and review medical records.
The House also passed HB1441 which directs the Department of Health to establish the Maternal and Perinatal Outcomes Quality Review Committee. The committee will review data on births and develop strategies for improving birth outcomes. Arkansas ranks 46th in the nation for infant mortality.
The House passed HB1522 which ensures that soldiers and airmen of the Arkansas National Guard are afforded the same benefits and protections as active duty soldiers when they are called on state active duty.
The House passed HB1407. This bill requires truth in labeling of agricultural products that are edible. The bill states the seller cannot sell the product under the name of another food.
The House passed HB1263. This bill allows pharmacists to prescribe certain types of tobacco cessation products.
The House also passed HB1278. This bill allows pharmacists to administer childhood vaccines to children age 7 and older under a written protocol by a physician.