Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the “call,” or agenda, for the special legislative session that begins Thursday and it includes a number of items besides highway spending, the main issue. A contentious workers comp issue has made the call, despite objections by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.
* Increase spending for highways. The governor has said previously that he wouldn’t back a tax increase, as some have proposed as a long-term solution for highway spending. Hutchinson has proposed using a one-time surplus owed largely to the influx of federal Obamacare money and to divert money that previously went to other agencies to highways.
* End autonomy for the Arkansas History Commission and transfer it to the Department of Arkansas Heritage.
* Merge Crowley’s Ridge Technical Institute into the nearby East Arkansas Community College. This is a contentious local issue.
* “Streamline the process for appointing members of levee boards. This addresses a long-standing burr in Sen. Jason Rapert’s saddle. Periodic flooding has affected land in his district that once was protected by levees. Many levee boards have fallen into disuse. Cleaning up the board process won’t do much about money to fix levees immediately, however.
* The now apparently agreed-on legislation to protect the property rights for an use of an individual’s name, voice, signature and likeness. This is legislation from Sen. Jon Woods to address a concern of Frank Broyles, the retired Arkansas athletic director.
* To loosen what past crimes disqualify certification under the Private Security Agency, Private Investigator and School Security Licensing and Credentialing Act. A 2015 law that tightened rules disqualified some people who were certified.
* To change workers comp law to end payments to the Death and Permanent Disability Trust Fund. As I wrote Saturday, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce has objected to this and fears it will increase business costs. The governor says this will end unfunded liabilities
* To reenact the original date of the sunset of the Arkansas Works Program established by identical Acts 2016 (2nd Ex. Sess.), Nos. 1 and 2. This is part of the elaborate procedural ruse set up to pass the appropriation for the Medicaid expansion financed by Obamacare. The appropriation itself got the required three-fourths vote by inclusion of a poison pill amendment that Hutchinson had pre-arranged to veto. Further technical changes are needed to solidify the legality of the expansion’s continuation.
* To amend the law on school elections to smooth a November school election in Pulaski County this year that otherwise would have been expensive and chaotic because of conflicts in state law on requirements for school and other elections. Education Commissioner Johnny Key insisted on a November election for re-establishment of the Pulaski County School Board because November elections are a goal of the so-called school reform movement, led by the Walton Family Foundation, to whom Key has long been beholden.
* To permit release of juvenile records to a person, agency or organization engaged in bona fide research or evaluation project determined by the Division of Youth Services of the Department of Human Services to have value for the evaluation or development of policies to advance juvenile justice.
* To amend the criminal offense of sexual indecency with a child. This addresses a court case that dismissed an indecency case against a child’s guardian because the wording of the statute covered indecent exposure to a child by “another person,” not a guardian.
* To prohibit identification of schools or districts as being in academic distress pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. § 6-15-428 for the 2016-2017 school year and to prohibit assignment of school ratings pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. § 6-15-2105 for the 2016-2017 school year. This presumably stems from the use of yet another test this school year to determine academic sufficiency, the third in as many years. If such identification is prohibited, will it let the Little Rock School District off the hook and allow a return to local control? Or will the state use this as a way to hold Little Rock in distress another year.
UPDATE: The education department says schools currently is distress can exit under “existing criteria.” But how if there is a new test?
* To amend Ark. Code Ann. § 12-80-104 concerning earthquake resistant design requirements for buildings and other structures. This is being done so that Nucor may build a new steel mill in Mississippi County under looser construction standards. The higher standards would cost more, the governor said.