State Capitol Week in Review From Senator Terry Rice

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LITTLE ROCK – 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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