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Governor called legislature into special session

The Governor called the legislature into special session last Thursday. His call included six bills. Four were to address the rising health insurance costs of the school employees.The proposals would address both a short term and long term solution. The short term calls for using $43 million from the state surplus to avert a 50% rise in health insurance rates set to go into effect Jan. 1. SB4 would allow savings from general facilities funding and supplemental millage incentive funding to be used for the insurance plan in the future. It would shift about $16.3 million to the plan . SB5 would cut professional development funding for school districts from $54 per student to $32.40, which would save about $10 million to go to the fund in the future. The state Board is expected then to reduce the number of hours required for teacher professional development from 60 hours to 36 hours a year. To get approval of this it was agreed by SB6, that there would be a task force to study long term structural reforms of the program and it would be a proactive task force that would be looking for reforms and would report and make recommendations by June 2014. Legislators also approved measures to outs the seven members of the board that oversee the plans. The bills passed in the quick three day session. One bill would phase out the excess property tax revenue some school districts have kept and redirect those funds to the state. This bill did not make it out. The sixth bill, HB1002, would repeal act 954 of 2013 which eased regulatory requirements on municipalities and industries that discharge mineral into Arkansas waterways. This bill was added because the federal Environmental Protection Agency had complained and said it would begin reviewing all water permits. This bill was approved. To view information on the session, look at bills or search for an act, or see when committees meet, you can go to the legislative web site.www.arkleg.state.ar.us. This site gives you contact information on any of the legislators too.
The state Supreme Court overturned a ruling by a Pulaski County Judge that will allow a challenge of the state school funding formula, the suit was filed by a small and isolated school district in the Ozark Mountains. The Deer/Mount Judea School District filed a suit in 2010 contending that the state did not provide enough funding to adequately educate students in geographically isolated districts. The Pulaski County judge ruled that the issues of the case had already been litigated. But it was overturned by the Supreme Court saying it did present new issues. After years of litigation the state was released from the Lake View case, but only after raising taxes and allocating hundreds of millions of new revenue to the public schools. There is concern that this lawsuit could open this up again.
If you would like to contact me, please email me at bruce.holland@senatate.ar.gov or call my office at 650-1884 or write me at P.O. Box 2387 Greenwood AR> 72936. Have a good week.
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