Friday, February 25, 2011

Week in Review at the State Capitol- February 25th

What do you get when you cross wild hogs with tax cuts and the Second Amendment? If you guessed week seven of the 88th General Assembly, then you’re correct.

House members began an eventful week on President’s Day, which since 2001, is also recognized as Daisy Gatson Bates Day in Arkansas. We passed a resolution to honor the life and legacy of Bates, who worked as a civil rights leader and advisor to the “Little Rock Nine” as they integrated Central High School in 1957.

A government mandate to require Arkansans to buckle up in the back seat of a vehicle failed to pass the House on Tuesday with a vote of 34-57. House Bill 1356 is an unnecessary intrusion into the private lives of Arkansans, and would have established a $25 fee for adults caught not wearing a seat belt in the back seat.

A tax cut trio is en route to the Arkansas House, after the full Senate passed three measures on Tuesday. Senator Gilbert Baker's Senate Bill 274, a used car tax reduction which raises the exemption on used car sales from $2,500 to $5,000. Senator Bill Sample's Senate Bill 275, a manufacturers' utility tax cut which cuts the sales tax manufacturers pay on natural gas and electricity from 3.25 percent to 2.75 percent. Senator Larry Teague's Senate Bill 276, a grocery tax reduction which cuts the sales tax on groceries by a half-cent.

A bill designed to create a sales tax holiday for the purpose of back to school shopping was approved Wednesday by the Arkansas House with a 90-3 vote. Rep. Matthew Shepherd’s House Bill 1369 would exempt items such as clothing and school supplies from state sales tax the first weekend of August every year. Establishing a tax-free weekend for school shopping will allow working families, teachers and school districts to save money and better provide for students. Most surrounding states already have a similar tax-free weekend in effect. The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Tax cuts will help transform our state into an economic engine for business growth and private sector job creation. In the coming weeks, the Arkansas House and Senate will negotiate which tax cuts to send to the Governor’s office to sign. What’s crucial to remember is cutting taxes does not translate into cutting essential services. Any tax cut measure passed by each chamber and approved by the Governor will be spent from the administration’s projected 2.5 percent growth in state spending. Instead of increasing state spending, we need to cut taxes and stimulate economic development.

Meanwhile, the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs House Committee has begun to review about a dozen proposals for constitutional amendments. The General Assembly is allowed to refer up to three measures to the 2012 ballot for voters to consider. One notable amendment is by Senator Jason Rapert, which would require a 75 percent majority of both legislative chambers to pass a tax increase. Most taxes, including the sales tax, can be raised with only a 51 percent majority. However, the income tax and some other taxes already require a 75 percent majority.

The House State Agencies Committee also considered a bill by Rep. Jon Hubbard Wednesday which would deny state benefits to illegal immigrants except in emergencies. This is a bill I fully supported. Unfortunately after hours of debate, the bill failed in committee with a party line vote of eight Democrats voting no and 9 Republicans voting yes.

While a thunderstorm was brewing outside the Capitol on Thursday, inside lawmakers passed a resolution to finish legislative work by April 1 and return for a “sine die” on April 27. A “sine die” is the final adjournment of the legislative session. We have a number of critical issues to tackle in the final five weeks of the session including highway funding, prison reform and congressional redistricting.

A Senate bill to strengthen Second Amendment rights was passed Thursday in the Arkansas House. The measure prevents cities or counties from taking up guns in case of emergency declared by the governor.

On Thursday, we passed a measure making it illegal to release a hog into the wild. Violators would face a $1,000 fine. Supporters of the bill say Arkansas’ wild hog population has exploded in recent years, which is ironic seeing as though we live in “Razorback Country.”

What to watch for:

· House Speaker Robert Moore revealed a $2.8 billion highway program which includes a proposal to raise the state diesel tax by 5 cents a gallon and another proposal to impose a temporary half-cent sales tax. According to the proposal, the diesel tax would be referred to voters in a special election next year while the half-cent sales tax increase would be placed on the November 2012 general election ballot.

Since commencing the session in January, lawmakers in the Arkansas House of Representatives have filed 607 bills as of Friday afternoon. Only 146 bills from the Legislature have been signed into law by Governor Beebe. The deadline to file bills is Monday, March 7.

As your Representative, I am honored to serve you in the Arkansas House of Representatives. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns you may have. My email is

I also encourage you to visit where you can watch committee meetings and proceedings happening on the House floor from anywhere in the state

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