Bill on school fund balances fails in Senate

LITTLE ROCK — The Senate on Thursday rejected a bill that would require public school districts with large fund balances to reduce those balances. 

House Bill 1575 by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, which passed previously in the House, failed in the Senate in a 17-9 vote, falling one vote short of the 18 needed for passage.

Under the bill, if a school district’s net fund balance at the end of a fiscal year is greater than 20 percent of its net revenues for that year, the district would be required to reduce its balance to no more than 20 percent of revenue within five years. 

The district would be required to reduce the balance by 20 percent of the total required reduction each year. It could reduce the balance by transferring money to its building fund for future projects or by spending it. 

The bill suggests district spend the money on programs such as prekindergarten education, remediation or career and technical education.

 A district could appeal to the state education commissioner if it believes it has a good reason not to spend or transfer the money.

————

Bill to move special election dates fails in House

 LITTLE ROCK — The House on Thursday rejected a bill to require a special local election, including a school millage election, to be held on the same day as a primary or general election or on one of the corresponding dates in a nonelection year.

Senate Bill 723 by Sen. David Wallace, R-Leachville, initially passed in a 52-35 vote, but a request was then made to sound the ballot, a procedure in which every member must be in his or her seat for the member’s vote to be counted. When the ballot was sounded, the bill failed in a 50-35 vote, falling one vote short of the 51 needed for passage. 

Supporters said the bill would increase participation in elections. Opponents said it would remove local control and could prevent local governments from acting quickly to secure economic-development projects.

On Wednesday, the Senate gave final legislative approval to a separate bill, HB 1621 by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, that would impose the same requirement on school board elections. By Thursday evening the governor had not signed it.

————

Senate votes to raise highway speed limits

 LITTLE ROCK — The Senate voted 34-0 Thursday to approve a bill to raise the maximum speed limits on Arkansas highways. 

House Bill 2057 by Rep. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio, would raise speed limits on controlled-access highways from 70 mph to 75 mph and on other highways from 60 mph to 65 mph. The maximum speed limit on a highway in an urban district would remain 30 mph.

 The bill passed previously in the House and now goes back to that chamber for concurrence in Senate amendments.

 ————

 Bill to repeal prevailing wage law sent to governor

 LITTLE ROCK — The House voted 70-25 Thursday to approve and send to the governor’s desk a bill to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law, which applies to state and local governments and state colleges and universities.

 Rep. Austin McCollum, R-Bentonville, who presented Senate Bill 601 by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, in the House, said the prevailing wage law sets wages at levels that are often higher than what the market will bear. House Minority Leader Michael John Gray, D-Augusta, said the bill would be bad for workers.

 The bill passed previously in the Senate.

———— 

Senate approves FOIA exemption for law officers

 LITTLE ROCK — The Senate voted 22-6 Thursday to approve a bill to allow a law enforcement officer’s personal contact information, property records and tax records to be exempt from the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act and omitted from county websites if the officer requests the exemption and omission.

 House Bill 1866 by Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Springdale, passed previously in the House and now goes back to that chamber for concurrence in a Senate amendment.

 ———— 

Bill on marijuana dispensaries sent to governor

 LITTLE ROCK — The Senate voted 34-0 Thursday to approve and send to the governor’s desk a bill to require a medical-marijuana dispensary to appoint a pharmacist consultant.

 House Bill 2190 by Rep. Clint Penzo, R-Springdale, also would require a dispensary to offer vaporizers for sale and prohibit it from selling paraphernalia used to smoke marijuana.

 The bill passed previously in the House.