Saturday, October 22, 2016

This Week in the House: Representative Jeff Wardlaw

More than 50,000 Arkansans registered to vote in the last 3 months.  This brings the total amount of registered voters in our state to 1,754,243, a historic number for our state’s history.  This is an increase of more than 140,000 registered voters in our state since the presidential election in 2012.

But the number of registered voters does not necessarily reflect how many Arkansans will go to the polls.  In the 2012, voter turnout was 67%.  The highest turnout in recent history was in 1980 when nearly 78% of Arkansans voted.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Dr. John Davis Named To Delta Regional Authority Leadership Academy

           MONTICELLO, AR — Dr. John Davis, director of governmental relations and assistant professor of political science at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, is one of eight Arkansans named to the Delta Regional Authority’s Delta Leadership Institute Executive Academy, according to Chris Masingill, DRA co-chairman.
            The DRA receives about $31 million annually from the federal government to invest in projects to help spur economic development in an area that covers eight states along the Mississippi River from Louisiana to Illinois. Roughly half of Arkansas is located in the DRA coverage area.
            “This is a wonderful honor for Dr. Davis,” said UAM Chancellor Karla Hughes. “John is a dynamic leader who is held in high regard by his colleagues in academia and who is building a reputation as an invaluable asset to the state and region.”
            As a member of the Leadership Academy, Davis will spend the next year learning about the Delta region from an economic standpoint and will also learn what resources are available to the region. He and other members of the Academy will travel to Washington, D.C., and other locations across the DRA coverage area to attend classes in economic development, leadership, workforce training, education and entrepreneurship.
            A native of Hot Springs and a graduate of Lakeside High School, Davis joined the UAM faculty in 2015. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville and a Ph.D., from the University of Missouri.
            In addition to teaching classes, Davis works with the Arkansas General Assembly and local and county officials as an advocate on behalf of UAM, tracking legislation as it’s being formed to explore its impact on higher education.
            For more information, contact Jim Brewer, director of media services, at (870) 460-1274.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

State Capitol Week in Review From Senator Eddie Cheatham

October 14, 2016
LITTLE ROCK – A legislative task force on criminal justice has recommended changes in sentencing laws with the goal of controlling overcrowding of jails and prisons.
The legislature will consider the recommendations during the 2017 regular session, which begins in January. Some proposals would require additional state funding, so the preliminary work on prison reform will necessarily take place during legislative budget hearings that are going on now.
The Legislative Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force is composed of legislators, prosecutors and officials in charge of prisons and parole officers.
One proposal it endorsed would reduce the workloads of parole officers, which now averages 129 cases. Another goal is to concentrate supervision of parolees during the first year they are released. Research indicates that parolees are most likely to be arrested during their first year on the outside.
Offenders who are on parole or probation should get more intensive treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, according to the recommendations of the Council of State Governments Justice Center. It studied the Arkansas criminal justice system and presented its findings to the task force.
Arkansas prisons provide some substance abuse treatment, but it isn’t enough to meet the demands of the estimated 5,900 inmates in the state who have been diagnosed with substance abuse, according to the center’s findings.
One recommendation that may generate opposition would limit the time a parolee has to serve for violating the terms of his parole. For technical violations, such as failing to report, the limit would be 45 days back in prison.
For a new arrest on charges of non-violent and non-sexual misdemeanors, and for absconding, the limit would be 90 days. The definition for absconding is to avoid supervision by a parole officer for more than 180 days.
The study found that last year the average length of stay for technical violators was 10 months, and for probationers it was 12 months. Holding those technical violators in prison cost the state $18.5 million, according to the justice center. Limits on the time that technical violators stay behind bars would free prison space for dangerous and repeat offenders.
Current sentencing guidelines often do not provide actual guidance, the study found, because many guidelines simply allow every option available. One recommendation was that sentencing guidelines should be more specific so that certain offenders would be limited to alternative sentencing such as probation, community service or paying a fine. Judges would be allowed to deviate from the guidelines if there are aggravating factors.
The Arkansas prison population is expected to exceed 18,000 inmates next fiscal year. Current capacity in units of the state Correction Department is 15,672. County governments have a stake in the issue because county jails hold the overflow of state inmates. Last week more than 1,300 inmates were being held in county jails although they had been sentenced to a state prison.
Mental health facilities also have an interest in solutions to prison overcrowding because local law enforcement officers encounter and incarcerate so many people with mental illnesses. The Task Force recommended funding of specialized training of police officers and sheriff’s deputies, so that when they encounter a person going through a mental health crisis it does not result in violence. Also, the person may get medical help and avoid a jail term.

From State Representative Jeff Wardlaw

This week we began a series of hearings designed to guide a great deal of our decision making for the next legislative session.
Budget hearings allow members to hear the needs of every board and state agency funded with state tax dollars.  The General Assembly currently directs 87 cents of every general revenue dollar to education and health and human services.

Arkansas’s two largest sources of general revenue are collected from a portion of the 6.5% state sales/use tax and from the Arkansas individual income tax.

The latest general revenue report released shows our year to date net revenue totals $1.3 billion.  This is $4.3 million or .3% below levels this time last year, and $32 million or 2.3% below what had been forecasted.

We will take this report into consideration as we approach fall budget hearings.

The committee will review budgets for 220 state boards, commissions and agencies.  The first budgets looked at are for “cash fund agencies”  meaning they generate their own money through fees or fines.  An example would be a state board which regulates a specific industry.  Then the committee will review agency budgets that are funded mostly from general revenue.  That will include education, human services, and corrections.

The Governor then submits his proposed balanced budget on November 9.<x-apple-data-detectors://3>  That will include a forecast of what the state expects to see in the next year in terms of revenue.

All of this information will help in drafting appropriation bills before the Regular Session begins on January 9.<x-apple-data-detectors://4> It takes a 2/3 majority vote to extend a session beyond 60 days.  If we don’t begin drafting appropriation bills before the session begins, there would be little chance of us finishing our work on time.

The budget hearings will continue from now until November 21.<x-apple-data-detectors://6>  All of the hearings will be held in the MAC building located behind the Capitol and are open to the public.

Arkansas is noted for its strong fiscal restraint.  The Arkansas state budget must be balanced as deficit spending is prohibited by law.

We will keep you updated on the process to balance next year’s budget.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

State Capitol Week in Review From Senator Eddie Cheatham

September 30, 2016
LITTLE ROCK – Tourism is one of the cornerstones of the Arkansas economy, and the state Department of Parks and Tourism consistently modernizes promotional campaigns to make sure that travelers continue visiting the state.
Last year $7.2 billion was spent on travel and tourism in Arkansas, an 8.7 percent increase over the previous year.
Promoting Arkansas as a tourist destination is no longer simply a matter of buying television commercials in Dallas, Memphis, Shreveport and Springfield, although that is still an integral part of our marketing campaigns.
It’s no longer enough to create and maintain an eye-catching web site with interactive features and an array of links to tourist destinations.

This Week in the House: State Representative Jeff Wardlaw

This November, Arkansas voters will be asked to decide on seven ballot issues that could impact everything from election terms to the use of medical marijuana.
      This week we want to direct your attention to the first three issues you will see on the ballot.  These are the issues that the 90th General Assembly voted to have placed on the upcoming ballot.
       The first issue is titled “An amendment to the Arkansas Constitution concerning terms, election, and eligibility of elected officials”.
      First, this amendment addresses the issue of unopposed candidates.  It would allow the General Assembly to pass additional legislation that would declare a candidate elected for a particular office if that candidate was the only candidate for a position after all the deadlines had passed.  If no other offices or issue is on the same election ballot, then an election would not be held.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

State Capitol Week in Review From Senator Eddie Cheatham

September 23, 2016

LITTLE ROCK –From 500 to 900 people with developmental disabilities would move off the current waiting list and receive home-based or community-based services under a plan announced by the governor.
He proposed allocating about $8.5 million from the state’s tobacco settlement revenue to provide the services and shorten the waiting list, which now has about 3,000 people on it.
Under the formula for this method of Medicaid spending, the federal government would provide an additional $20.5 million, so the total amount of new spending on services for people with developmental disabilities would be about $29 million a year.
The state Department of Human Services said that currently about 4,200 people with disabilities receive home or community services. A common alternative to community and home-based services is to place the person with disabilities in an institution, such as a Human Development Center (HDC).
The department operates HDCs in Arkadelphia, Booneville, Conway, Jonesboro and Warren.
Arkansas policy makers, like those in many other states, are in a debate about how best to provide care for people with developmental disabilities. Some families prefer that their loved ones remain at home and that the state provide support services. Other families are satisfied with the care that is provided in HDCs.