Legislative Update

Let’s take a look at what happened during the first week of the session.

Here are a few bills we knew were coming:

SB15 – This bill makes Arkansas a part of the Interstate Military Compact for Education. It most likely will only affect those districts surrounding the air force base. The point of the compact is to make sure the children of military families are accommodated when changing schools. It allows those schools to waive some requirements for graduation, participation in extracurricular activities, etc. for those students. This is part of Governor Beebe’s legislative package.

SB65 – This opens up school choice to everyone, regardless of race, except in districts with a standing desegregation order. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the school choice lawsuit earlier this week, but I wouldn’t expect an opinion before the end of this session. There’s no question this bill would lead to segregated schools across the state. It might be worth waiting on some guidance from the Eighth Circuit before taking such a leap. I suspect this won’t be an easy fight.

HB1040 – This bill takes the authority over charter schools out from under the State Board of Education and creates the State Public Charter School Commission. This is a small step towards increasing the number of charter schools across the State.

And outside of education:

SB38 – This bill requires drug testing for recipients of unemployment benefits. This bill has gotten a lot of attention by the press this week, and I really enjoyed reading John Wesley Hall’s thoughts on the issue. This bill is bad for a number of reasons, the constitutionality of the bill that Hall mentions being only one. It would cost more money to implement than it would save.

SB59 – This is an interesting bill. It prohibits the use of campaign funds to purchase tickets to a fundraiser for another candidate. This is currently a way to get around the restrictions on the sharing of campaign funds. I’m interested to see how other legislators really feel about this.

HB1041 – This bill limits growth in state general revenue expenditures to 3% per year. This may sound good in theory, but: 1.) This isn’t the federal government. The state doesn’t operate on a deficit. It balances the budget every year, so this is completely unnecessary. 2.) Why put such unnecessary limits on yourself, especially when they can be easily repealed in the future? The legislature has to approve the budget as it is now. If it’s the will of the current legislature to limit growth in expenditures, then so be it, but don’t tie the hands of future legislatures. Or don’t make future legislatures go to the effort to repeal this if they feel otherwise.

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