Tax reform tops the legislative docket
LITTLE ROCK — Legislators have begun pre-filing bills in anticipation of the regular session that begins Jan. 14.
So far, 93 House bills and 40 Senate bills have been introduced. Those numbers will continue to go up each day. In the most recent regular session of 2017, legislators filed 1,280 House bills and 789 Senate bills. Of those, 1,127 became law.
Tax reform bills will get a lot of attention this year, mainly because a task force has worked for two years to build a consensus on a package of bills that will simplify and lower state income taxes.
Three high-profile bills that have already been prefiled are HB 1070, HB 1071 and HB 1072. They have the support of the governor and they would reduce the number of cabinet-level agencies in state government from 42 to 15.
Another high-profile bill is HB 1002. It would authorize the state to collect sales taxes on purchases made over the Internet. A United States Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for states to collect sales taxes from out-ofstate merchants who don’t have a physical presence in the state.
HB 1034 would increase the homestead property tax credit from $350 to $375.
Every regular session includes a long list of bills affecting education. So far, bills have been filed to update and strengthen training requirements for school board members, and to add a journalism requirement for Arkansas high schools. Another bill adds penalties for motorists who pass a stopped school bus that is picking up or dropping off students.
SB 17 reduces the license fee for a permit to carry a concealed firearm, from $100 to $50. For people over 65, the bill would lower the fee from $50 to $25. Renewal fees would go down from $35 to $25.
Roughly half of the bills introduced so far are sponsored by the Joint Budget Committee and are appropriations for various state agencies, boards and commissions. By the end of the session, an estimated 250 to 300 separate appropriation bills will be filed.
Legislation to raise minimum teacher salaries has not been introduced as yet, but can be expected soon. The governor and Senate and House Committees on Education have expressed support for pay raises of $1,000 a year.
HB 1007 would allow school districts to consider years of classroom experience in other states when they set teacher salaries.
In preparatory work leading up to the session, the Senate and House committees differed on how much the state should pay for districts’ special education programs.
Also, there will be discussion of changing how the state pays for transportation costs. Now, the state provides $321 per student to school districts for transportation. The cost of running school buses varies among different districts, depending on their geographic size, terrain and quality of roads.
A Senate Joint Resolution has been filed to allow Arkansas voters to change the state Constitution to repeal fiscal sessions, which are held in even-numbered years. If the legislature refers SJR 1 to the ballot, it would be decided by voters in the general election in November of 2020.
Until 2010 the Arkansas legislature met every two years. There were no fiscal sessions before then, and appropriations were effective for two years.
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Editor’s note: Arkansas Sen. Cecile Bledsoe represents the third district. From Rogers, Sen. Bledsoe is chair of the Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.