The Legislature wrapped up its work today after a week of late nights and a flurry of last-minute budget and tax bills. In the coming weeks, we’ll analyze all the important legislation relating to kids and families and compile them into our Kids at the Capitol report. For now, here’s a quick rundown of some of the week’s most important changes in children’s policy.
The House and Senate approved identical versions of the Revenue Stabilization Act, which is the required balanced spending plan for state general revenue. This is the part of the budget that the Legislature has discretion over (it doesn’t include the parts that are set by federal policy, like the majority of Medicaid spending, for example). It outlines priorities to spend a general revenue budget of $6.2 billion, which is a 2.95% annual increase over the current fiscal year, with the increase mostly allotted to increases in education and prison programs.
If not for yet another tax cut, there would have been more money available for lots of good proposals that were left on the table this session, from afterschool and summer programs to health policy changes to improve our worst-in-the-nation maternal mortality rate. Instead of funding those kinds of priorities, the Legislature approved Senate Bill 549 that cut the state’s corporate and personal income tax rates. The state’s estimate is that it will reduce annual revenue by $124 million, and the national Institute on Tax and Economic Policy estimates that it will reduce revenue by $139 million per year. Either way, it would be enough money to fund a long list of important priorities that our state leaders say we can’t afford.
Both the budget and the tax cut legislation have gone to Governor Sanders for her signature.
Below you will find an overview of bills on AACF’s legislative agenda and that AACF generally either supported or opposed.
Bills on AACF’s Legislative Agenda
Through conversations with partners, advocates and young Arkansans, and through our own policy research, AACF has identified a series of policies that will improve the well-being of Arkansans. The following bills are in support of our 2023 legislative agenda. More information on AACF’s legislative priorities is here.
Passed: Rep. DeAnn Vaught and Sen. Clarke Tucker are the co-sponsors of HB1775. This bill will create foster care leave for state employees and allow employees to have up to 40 hours of foster care leave per calendar year with pay when a child in foster care has been placed in the home of the employee. It has passed both the House and Senate chambers.
Delivered to Governor: Sen. Missy Irvin and Rep. Jimmy Gazaway are the co-sponsors of SB426. This bill will extend maternity leave for state employees to include placement of an adoptive child under 1 year of age and foster placement of an infant under 1 year.
Democracy and Voting Rights
Now Law: Sen. Jim Petty and Rep. Mindy McAlindon’s SB273 is now Act 389. This new law makes a few changes around voting centers (polling locations where any registered voter in a given county can vote) that would make it easier to vote. In runoff elections, it requires counties to try to ensure there is a voting center within the precinct for which the runoff election is taking place. The law also allows county boards of election commissioners to add additional voting centers less than 30 days before an election if they feel that the already established voting centers will not meet demand.
Delivered to Governor: Sen. Jim Petty is the sponsor of SB331. This bill will allow spending up to $25 million for out of school programs across the state of Arkansas. This includes after school and summer programs that are proven to be effective at increasing student achievement, career readiness, and literacy while also decreasing dropout rates. The amount wasn’t included in the state budget though, so it will only be allowed if funding comes from another source.
Delivered to Governor: HB1576, co-sponsored by Rep. Jamie Scott and Sen. Breanne Davis, will prohibit discrimination based on an individual’s natural, protective or cultural hairstyle. It will add such hairstyles to protections in the state Civil Rights Act and explicitly prohibit discrimination by schools and institutions of higher education. The bill is named the CROWN Act – for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” Read our blog post on this bill here.
Recommended for Interim Study: Rep. Denise Garner and Sen. Greg Leding’s HB1761 has been recommended for interim study. This bill aimed to reduce the likelihood of people who are prohibited from owning guns, including convicted felons and domestic abusers, being able to purchase firearms by closing background check “loopholes” on private sales and transfers.
Delivered to Governor: Sen. Jonathan Dismang is the sponsor of SB306. This bill will, pending federal approval, allow the Arkansas Department of Human Services to set Arkansas’s asset limit for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, previously known as “food stamps”) to the federal rate and will allow a family whose assets exceed that level a temporary limit of $5,500 for one year. Read an article about this bill here.
Delivered to Governor: Sen. Dismang and Rep. Vaught’s SB477, cosponsored by most members of the Legislature, will ensure that students who qualify for reduced-price school meals would not be charged for them. They will receive free meals instead, with the price difference made up with state dollars.
Delivered to Governor: Rep. Aaron Pilkington is the sponsor of HB1011. This bill will require Medicaid to reimburse providers for depression screening during someone’s pregnancy.
Delivered to Governor: HB1574 is sponsored by Rep. DeAnn Vaught and Sen. Kim Hammer. The bill will provide a Medicaid supplemental reimbursement rate for pediatric primary care physicians enrolled in the patient-centered medical home program for integrated behavioral health services to better address the child mental health crisis in Arkansas.
Failed to Pass: Rep. Grant Hodges presented HB1754 to the House Committee on Aging, Children and Youth, and Military Affairs on Monday, but he withdrew the bill from consideration before the committee took a vote. It would have eliminated fees and fines in the juvenile court system, while still requiring young people to make restitution to victims in delinquency cases.
Bills AACF Also Supports
The following are bills not formally on AACF’s legislative agenda but that AACF recognizes could have a positive impact on Arkansas’s children and families.
Delivered to Governor: SB390 is sponsored by Sen. Clint Penzo and Rep. Rebecca Burkes. The bill will create misdemeanor and felony criminal penalties for child labor violations (there are no criminal penalties now) and will increase the allowable amount of civil penalties, as well.
Democracy and Voting Rights
Delivered to Governor: Sen. Clarke Tucker’s SB285 will allow a student to have an excused absence if they accompany their parent or guardian to vote.
Now Law: Rep. Austin McCollum and Sen. Kim Hammer’s HB1512 is now Act 421. The new law removes a requirement that registered Arkansas voters living overseas have to request their absentee ballot 30 days before the election for their ballot to be counted.
Delivered to Governor: SB416 sponsored by Sen. Clarke Tucker and Rep. Brian Evans will create a fund for the Imagination Library fund in Arkansas. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library sends an age appropriate book to children registered in the program from birth to 5 years old.
Failed to Pass: Rep. R Scott Richardson’s HB1511 would have required that an electronic child safety alarm be installed in public or charter school buses.
Delivered to Governor: Rep. DeAnn Vaught is the sponsor of HB1538, which will adjust the professional development requirements for public school teachers as well as mandate that private school teachers have the same requirements.
Delivered to Governor: Sen. Clarke Tucker and Rep. Vivian Flowers are the co-sponsors of SB364. This bill will establish a protocol for school districts to return to local control after being under the control of the state board for five years.
Delivered to Governor: Rep. Mary Bentley and Sen. Breanne Davis are the co-sponsors of HB1526. This bill will require that school health curriculum include information about the benefits of breastfeeding.
Failed: Rep. Julie Mayberry and Sen. Kim Hammer are the co-sponsors of HB1447. This bill would have changed the classification of school nurses and increase their pay to a minimum base salary that is at least equal to the minimum base salary required for classroom teachers.
Delivered to Governor: Rep. Tara Shephard’s HB1514 will require that public high schools and state supported institutions of higher education have opioid overdose rescue kits available.
Family Economic Security
Recommended for Interim Study: Rep. David Ray’s HB1046 has been recommended for interim study. The bill aimed to eliminate the sales tax on vehicles that are wheelchair accessible, or for services to make a vehicle wheelchair accessible.
Delivered to Governor: HB1102, co-sponsored by Rep. Pilkington and Rep. Clint Penzo, will require that all newborns be screened at birth for medical conditions as recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Delivered to Governor: HB1129, co-sponsored by Rep. Lee Johnson and Sen. Missy Irvin, will allow for integrated behavioral health services within primary care physicians’ clinics and hospital outpatient clinics. These settings will be able to provide behavioral health screenings and services for behavioral health conditions, which will be reimbursed by Medicaid and insurance companies.
Delivered to Governor: Rep. DeAnn Vaught and Sen. Clarke Tucker are the sponsors of HB1565. The bill will create the Arkansas Legislative Study on Mental and Behavioral Health to be conducted by the Joint House and Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committees. The study seeks to further address the mental health crisis in the state.
Delivered to Governor: HB1385 is sponsored by Rep. DeAnn Vaught and Sen. Breanne Davis. This bill will ensure more women have access to long-acting contraceptives by improving Medicaid reimbursement rates to providers.
Delivered to Governor: Rep. Bart Schulz and Sen. Ben Gilmore are the co-sponsors of HB1562. This bill will ensure that medicines to help reverse the effects of opioid overdoses, such as naloxone, are more widely available and accessible to people at risk of experiencing or witnessing an overdose.
Bills AACF Opposes
The following are bills we believe would be harmful to our state, our state’s children and their families, and our state’s most vulnerable individuals.
Delivered to Governor: Rep. Robin Lundstrum and Sen. Gary Stubblefield are the co-sponsors of HB1615. This bill will make it easier for state-funded organizations to discriminate against others based on the organizations’ religious beliefs. For example, a religious adoption agency could deny a gay couple the ability to adopt, and the state would be unable to intercede. Read an article on the bill here.
Democracy and Voting Rights
Delivered to Governor: Sen. Jim Petty and Rep. Austin McCollum are the co-sponsors of SB272. This bill will allow political interference in elections by allowing the state Legislature’s Joint Performance Review Committee to refer specific counties’ elections to the state Election Commission for review. It would also require random checks of county election operations even if no potential violations were raised.
Delivered to Governor: Rep. Austin McCollum and Sen. Jim Petty are the co-sponsors of HB1513. This bill will create an Election Integrity Unit within the state Attorney General’s office. Election fraud is exceedingly rare, and can already be prosecuted under current law.
Now Law: Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Justin Gonzales’s SB81 is now Act 372. The new law allows certain books to be banned in public libraries and schools and would allow criminal charges and civil penalties to be brought against librarians who loan to minors books determined to be “obscene.” Read an article on the new law here.
Now Law: Rep. Bruce Cozart and Sen. Jane English’s HB1534 is now Act 424. This new law does away with school board zones, regardless of the overall district population, moving instead to each school board seat being considered “at large.” This effectively eliminates fair representation in school board elections.
Delivered to Governor: Rep. Mindy McAlindon and Sen. Kim Hammer are the co-sponsors of HB1559. This bill will make it so that public schools generally cannot require that teachers or staff take implicit bias training. The State Board of Education will also not be allowed to require implicit bias training for teacher licensure or professional development. The bill does allow implicit bias training to be required if 95% of it “is required by an accreditor, grantor, or licensor.”
Recommended for Interim Study: Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Marcus Richmond’s SB71 has been recommended for interim study. This bill would have prohibited state agencies from providing programs targeted toward historically excluded groups, including on the basis of race, gender, color, ethnicity, or national origin in matters of state employment, public education, or state procurement. This could have resulted in the elimination of scholarships to Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native Americans who commit to teaching in the Delta; university retention programs for Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American students, faculty, and staff. It would also have prevented programs designed to recruit more diverse staff in state government. Read an article on this bill here.
Delivered to Governor: Rep. Wayne Long and Sen. Mark Johnson are the co-sponsors of HB1468. The bill will require school teachers and staff to misgender some nonbinary and transgender students and would prohibit them from using a student’s preferred name (unless it’s a direct derivative of the name listed on their birth certificate), without written permission from a parent or guardian. It will also prohibit schools from requiring staff members or students to use a student’s or staff person’s personal pronouns if the pronoun is not consistent with that individual’s gender assigned at birth, even if parental consent is given, in the case of a student. And it will allow for a civil cause of action to be filed if a person is harmed by a violation of the bill. Read an article on this bill here.
Family Economic Security
Delivered to Governor: Rep. Rebecca Burkes and Sen. Clint Penzo are the sponsors of HB1575. This bill will create unreasonably stringent standards for people to access their unemployment insurance benefits.
Tax and Budget
Delivered to Governor: HB1045, co-sponsored by Rep. Beaty, Sen. Ben Gilmore and Rep. Ray, will eliminate the “throwback rule” that had ensured corporations paid taxes on all of their income regardless of how complex tax rules in different states interact. Read an article on the bill here.
Delivered to Governor: Rep. David Ray is the sponsor of HB1454. This bill will let businesses take a tax break normally reserved for individual taxpayers.
Delivered to Governor: Sen. Jonathan Dismang and Rep. Les D. Eaves are the co-sponsors of SB549, Governor Sanders’ first tax cut bill of her administration. The bill will lower the top personal income tax rate from 4.9% to 4.7%, and the top corporate income tax rate from 5.3% to 5.1%. Read an article about this bill here. And another one here. And our blog post about it here.