Wintry weather and record snowfall didn’t prevent the House chamber from heating up week five of the legislative session. From tax cuts to sports agents and snowball fights, House members wasted no time in getting down to business.
After observing “Ronald Reagan Day” Sunday, the full House convened and as expected passed the highly publicized ethics reform legislation. House Bill 1284 will implement a one year “cooling off” period before lawmakers can become lobbyists, and remodel legislative travel policy to be more cost efficient. We also passed the senate version of the Ethics Reform Bill on Thursday. When ethics reform is signed into law, we will be the first Assembly to ever place limitations on our behavior during and after we serve the people of this great state. While this is a start, I will continue to push for a longer "cooling off" period.
Also on Monday, we passed a bill requiring sex offenders to register all electronic information, such as online social networking accounts, with local law enforcement. The bill is now headed to the Senate.
Tuesday we passed House Bill 1211, which adds spina bifida and Down syndrome to the list of conditions named in our state law defining “mental or physical impairment.” This clarification will remove roadblocks for Arkansans applying for developmental disability services.
A bill designed to create a sales tax holiday for the purpose of back to school shopping was filed Tuesday by Rep. Matthew Shepherd. House Bill 1369 would provide economic relief to Arkansans by reducing the cost of school-related items. The measure would exempt clothing and accessories, school and art supplies and instructional materials from state sales tax the first weekend of August every year. If approved by both chambers and signed by the Governor, Arkansas families would enjoy the benefits of tax-free school shopping as early as August 2011. I fully intend to support this beneficial piece of legislation when it reaches the full House floor.
As snow began to blanket the State Capitol Wednesday, House members moved full steam ahead and passed the Athlete Agent Reform Act by Rep. David Sanders, which increases the charge for sports agents who unlawfully give money or gifts to student athletes.
House members also passed a bill that would help to prohibit public employees from “double dipping,” or receiving salary and retirement benefits simultaneously. Rep. Allen Kerr’s House Bill 1018 would define “terminate” under eligibility requirements in the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System. Therefore, a public employee would no longer be able to cheat the system and take themselves off payroll to fabricate termination before returning to work. “Double dipping” is nothing more than unprincipled politics as usual and I am proud to be a part of its termination!
Lawmakers in the House and Senate filed 25 constitutional amendments by Wednesday’s deadline. These amendments must first be passed by the Legislature and then referred to the 2012 ballot for Arkansas voters to approve. Most of the 25 amendments are “shells,” meaning they lack content, but can be amended later to include details.
Also on Wednesday, Rep. Ann Clemmer filed House Joint Resolution 1005 which requires that 35 percent of the Arkansas Lottery’s proceeds be used for scholarships. Currently, only 22 percent is used to provide college scholarships to Arkansas students. More money equals more scholarships for students!
The full House passed a measure on Thursday that would require local law enforcement agencies to also notify the Arkansas State Police when a child is missing. This will guarantee information is communicated in a timely manner so that missing children are found quickly.
What to watch for:
· U.S. Census data for Arkansas was released this past week, which means the Legislature will begin to propose options for congressional redistricting soon. Early results indicate that 39 out of our 75 counties lost population. Thirty-seven of those counties are located in the first and fourth congressional districts. I will keep you updated on redistricting developments as the session progresses.
· Tax cut proposals will continue to surface in the House and Senate Committees on Revenue and Taxation next week. On the House side, look for Rep. Shepherd’s Back to School Tax Holiday (HB 1369), Rep. Lane Jean’s bill to decrease the sales tax on natural gas and electricity for manufacturers (HB 1052), and Rep. Ed Garner’s Arkansas Capital Gains Reduction Act of 2011 (HB 1002).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
I also encourage you to visit http://www.arkansashouse.org where you can view live stream committee meetings and proceedings happening on the House floor from anywhere in the state.