State Capitol Week in Review From Senator Terry Rice

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LITTLE
ROCK – The Senate passed legislation to increase the homestead property tax
credit, which will save more than 716,000 Arkansas homeowners about $12.5 million
a year.

Senate
Bill 447 also allocates $8.2 million for Arkansas counties to upgrade their
voting machines.

Homeowners
who claim the property tax credit now get $350 each year. SB 447 would raise
that to $375. The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 34-to-0 and sent it to
the House of Representatives.

Legislative
leaders announced that they would seek a tax reduction of almost $100 million
for Arkansas taxpayers who claim the standard deduction. The lost revenue would
be offset by increases in taxes on cigarettes and “vapes.”

The
Senate also passed SB 464 to keep confidential any information that may help
identify the manufacturers of the lethal injection drugs used by the state
Correction Department to execute inmates convicted of capital murder.

Anyone
who recklessly disclosed information could be found guilty of a felony if it
led to the identification of the producers of lethal injection drugs.

The
Correction Department has had difficulty maintaining drugs used for lethal
injection, in part because pharmaceutical companies sometimes face boycotts and
protests from opponents of capital punishment.

Both
the Senate and House have approved HB 1439 to prohibit abortions before 18
months of gestation. It has exceptions for medical emergencies or if the mother’s
pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

Both
chambers also passed HB 1561 to authorize a pilot program allowing companies to
test driverless cars. Only three vehicles could be on the roads at any one
time. Arkansas will become the 30th state to allow tests of
autonomous vehicles.

Both
chambers have passed SB 145 to promote renewable energy production. Supporters
of the bill say it could double the number of jobs in the field of installation
of solar panels. The state’s major electric utility did not oppose the bill
because it was written so as to prevent cost-shifting to existing utility
customers who don’t have solar equipment.

It
allows people to lease solar panels, rather than own them, which supporters say
will promote further development of renewable energy.

The
House approved HB 1567 to require physicians, clinics and health care providers
to electronically enter evidence from rape and sexual assault into a computer
data base maintained by the state Crime Lab.

Victims
and law enforcement can then track the progress of the evidence in the rape
kit. The bill is a follow-up to legislation enacted in 2015 creating a system
of collecting and maintaining evidence. It should help prevent backlogs, and
should help authorities solve other cases because DNA testing can be used to
catch offenders of other crimes after they are submitted into a data base.

The
governor signed Act 416 to raise $95 million a year for highway projects. The
revenue will come from motor fuels taxes, registration fees on hybrid and
electric vehicles and new casino taxes.

Next
year, Arkansas voters will decide whether to permanently extend a half-cent
sales tax, with revenue going for highway projects.

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Tammy Teague

Tammy Teague

Mansfield native, with roots in Scott County. Daughter, sister, wife and Christian. Education: 1995 MHS graduate; 1999 Arkansas Tech University Graduate - BA in Journalism. Career: Managing Editor - The Citizen; Copy Writer - Southwest Times Record; 20+ years experience in the news.

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