CFC UPDATE: 2015 Session - Bills to Watch

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Dear Friend,

The bills are coming fast and furious now at he legislature as they reach the end of the final week for bill filing.  This update covers some of the key legislation pending on civil rights, economic development, education, elections, the environment and public health.  

Please call your legislators or the Governor about these issues -- your voice and the voices of your friends and neighbors is what keep Arkansas moving forward!  This link has our full legislative directory, and links to specific committees. Contact us if you are concerned about a bill but aren't sure who to contact or what to do to address it.

If you want to receive alerts mostly about just one of those issues you can sign up for targeted alerts covering the issues you care about most HERE.  Our goal is to keep you informed about issues that are going to affect you and your community and let you know how you can make a difference.

One big priority right now is to ask the Governor to include a $16 million cost of living increase for quality pre-K in the budget.  The Governor left it out of his original proposal and legislators are now debating how to divide an expected budget surplus among tax cuts for high income earners.  Pre-K is PROVEN to be the most powerful tool we have to boost student reading and achievement for a lifetime.  Please call the Governor's office at 501-682-2345 and ask him to support a $16 million cost of living increase for quality pre-K.

Join us this coming Tuesday at the Capitol for an Education Day of Action. We have some positive legislation we are pushing that uses research proven strategies to improve education, and we are opposing a slew of legislation that undermines the standards, accountability and funding for our children.  Find details and register Here NOW.

Here are some of the most pressing, and you can see a full list of the bills we are supporting, opposing and tracking on our website: www.citizensfirst.org/bills/

CIVIL RIGHTS:

(Click on any priority topic to find out where each bill is in the process.)

  • We support SB472, the Governor’s prison reform package. Although the majority of the $64 million dollar plan goes to new prison beds, it also makes some initial investments to improve our state’s parole system, and establish better reentry programs. The bill creates a 'Specialty Court Program Fund' that will support 'drug and mental health crisis intervention centers’ among other things.  We are also talking with lawmakers about other needed legislation to improve our parole system and re-entry systems for prisoners to reduce recidivism, improve safety and reduce costs -- but SB472 is a step in the right direction.
  • We oppose HB1240, the so called ‘Stand Your Ground’ bill that has proven to increase violent crime and racially biased violence in other states where it's been enacted. Arkansas law is already strong enough to protect citizens who need to defend themselves from violent criminals.
  • We oppose HB1228, the so called religious freedom bill, which would once again legalize overt discrimination against people based on their perceived race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. The bill FAILED to pass a Senate Committee thanks to your calls and emails to legislators. Rev. Britt Skarda wrote a nice op-ed about why people of faith should oppose this legislation.
  • We support HB1119 by Rep. Love to separate Robert E. Lee day from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. A similar bill failed to pass committee twice as defenders of the Confederacy have objected loudly.  Ask your members of the House State Agencies Committee to support a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day worthy of the man. 

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND JUSTICE:

  • Two bills should come up this week to protect workers from having their wages stolen by their employers.  HB1276 is the Right to Know Your Pay Act. It guarantees an employer will provide a pay stub showing the wages a worker earned and withholdings kept upon request.  HB1277 ensures that workers will be paid within 14 days when their employment ends. Both common sense bills by Rep. Leding will be in the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor committee.
  • Budget and tax priorities are about to take center stage again.  March brings a new revenue forecast and there is a wave of tax cuts being proposed, benefiting either the very wealthy or very narrow special interests, to spend the surplus.  We oppose all of these cuts as they are simply the wrong priorities for Arkansas at this time.  Revenue should be spent on the many budget priorities left unfunded in the Governor’s original budget. Proven successes like pre-K and the reforms the Department of Corrections says it needs to keep our communities safe should be our priorities now, not more tax cuts for the wealthiest Arkansans.  See the release our members made of Budget Priorities to put Arkansas Families First.
  • One tax cut that would actually make our tax system more fair is HB1344 by Rep. Warick Sabin - the earned income tax cut. A state Earned Income Tax Credit would offer real relief to Arkansas' working poor and boost the economy for all Arkansans. EITCs are credits that reduce the amount of taxes that low-income families owe. The idea is to encourage work until, eventually, you earn enough that you don’t qualify for the credits.  Arkansas actually taxes our poorest families at more than twice the overall tax rate we tax our wealthiest, which we think is immoral and ineffective.  A family earning $17,000 a year pays more than 13% of their income on sales, income, property and other taxes combined while Arkansas’ wealthiest families with incomes over $250,000 pay just 6%.  The Governor’s recent $102 million tax package focused on the middle class, but offered the average Arkansan less than $40 in savings.  Nearly every time the legislature meets they make this system less fair by lowering taxes on the wealthy and raising them on middle and low income families.  
  • HB1275 would provide a tax credit for employers who offer their workers paid family or medical leave.
  • HB1489 would reduce the number of weeks a worker can draw unemployment benefits from 25 to 20, and would reduce total benefits to unemployed workers by $50 million per year even though there is plenty of money in the unemployment trust fund. This bill is bad for Arkansas’ families, and the economy.

EDUCATION:

Arkansas has been a leader over the last couple of decades in  improving public education. Unfortunately a number of bills have been filed this session which we believe could erode our educational progress. Please ask your lawmakers to STOP the roll back of education standards and quality.

  • We oppose HB1377 that waives many standards that help ensure student achievement.  This bill is moving quickly and could be heard as early as TODAY (3/5) at 1:30pm on the House floor. Contact House members and tell them to vote no on rolling back standards for public education in Arkansas.
  • We oppose: HB1552 and HB1593 that establish private school voucher programs that will hurt public education funding; HB1241 retreats from our commitment to a high quality curriculum; HB1525, SB325, SB366 and SB744 reduces standards that schools and teachers must meet while increasing class sizes; HB1526 weakens School Improvement Plans that help the public hold schools accountable; HB1527 reduces requirements for art, music and physical education; SB5 makes college for low income students less attainable by cutting lottery scholarships in half and making them harder to get. Contact us for more information on any of these bills.
  • We support HB1567 establishing a pilot afterschool and Summer program proven to boost student learning.  It is a $5,000,000 appropriation to the Department of Education for grants to the Positive Youth Development Program.
  • We support HB1485 creating a task force focused on improving Arkansas' special education system that is not performing up to our students and families' needs. We can do better!
  • We support HB1515 that will improve parental and community involvement in schools, one of the most effective ways to boost a school's performance. Rep. Leding ran the bill today, and it's heading to the house floor after the committee recommended the bill with no discussion and no opposition.  

ELECTION AND GOVERNMENT REFORM:

  • We expect legislation to be filed soon that will increase the training requirements for poll workers, require background checks for candidates and allow same day voter registration at Arkansas polls.  
  • We oppose SB349, which shortens early voting, making it more difficult for Arkansans to participate in elections.  We should make voting easier for working Arkansans -- not cut off the door to democracy.
  • We are strongly opposed to SJR7 and HJR1007 that seek to amend the Arkansas constitution to require voters to show a photo ID to participate in elections.  This legislation will disenfranchise tens of thousands of elderly, disabled, and young voters who don't have photo IDs for various valid reasons.  Voter impersonation fraud is not a common problem in our elections and any perception of it could be addressed in far less draconian ways.  In 2014 the Arkansas Supreme Court found an Arkansas voter ID requirement unconstitutional and these amendments seek to bypass that court decision.  

The Legislature can refer 3 constitutional amendments to voters each session -- please contact members of the House and Senate State Agencies Committees and ask them to oppose Voter ID legislation. 

ENVIRONMENT:

  • We are working with lawmakers to develop legislation that will improve Arkansas' green energy portfolio by expanding the use of renewable energy.  Stay tuned.  We also expect legislation to be filed soon that will strengthen the rights of Arkansas landowners who do not think out of state private companies should have the right to eminent domain over their property.
  • We are opposed to SB183 that seeks to derail the developing Arkansas carbon emission reduction plan before it is created.  The EPA, with a US Supreme Court decision supporting them, is requiring states to make plans to reduce carbon emissions.  Arkansas should make our own plan that fits our needs, and if we do not the Federal Government will impose a plan upon us. The bill has been amended numerous times. In its current form it places an unfunded mandate on state agencies to study many of the potential costs of reducing our carbon emissions without studying any of the potential savings, benefits or development potential of reducing our dependence on dirty forms of energy. Any analysis the state does should be fair and look at benefits, as well of costs, of the various options for moving forward. We believe a fair analysis of our energy future will show that we should reduce carbon pollution and focus on energy efficiency and strengthening our green energy economy.   
  • We are monitoring HB1067 that seeks to create a nutrient pollution trading system in Arkansas.  The concept has been used successfully in some places though we have a few concerns about the specifics of this bill at this time.  We are working with lawmakers to see if we can add some additional protections for water quality in the bill.  
  • SB333 and SB757 puts business property rights above yours. The bills would require taxpayers to PAY developers and corporations to simply follow our health, environmental and quality of life protections. Both SB333 and SB757 would essentially ban rules that protect your family and property from landfills, liquor stores, incinerators and other things that might not be right for your community.

PUBLIC HEALTH:

  • We oppose SB725, which changes the calculation of the tax on soft drinks from $2 per gallon of soft drink syrup to $0.21 per gallon of soft drink that may be produced from each package of syrup. If passed, it would result in a reduction of $4 million per year in state funds to the Medicaid Trust Fund. A reduction of $4 million in state spending for Medicaid would result in a loss of federal matching funds, which are paid at a 70:30 match.
  • Please THANK the Governor for supporting the Private Option extension.  The Private Option ensures access to high quality healthcare to more than 200,000 low-income Arkansans, and was renewed through 2016. It saves lives, creates a healthier Arkansas, creates jobs, saves the state money and keeps many rural and public health care facilities in Arkansas open.
  • A task force will now consider changes to the Private Option ahead of the 2017 legislative session and we will be monitoring that process closely. It’s important for your legislator to know that you support the Private Option.