Mar 21, 2011

Legislative Update From Mary "Prissy" Hickerson


(Note: Mary Hickerson's report is provided from Little Rock, Arkansas to the Texarkana GOP and our readers.  Thank you Prissy for this update!)
Highway funding, transparency and tax reform were the issues during week nine of the 88th General Assembly. With less than one month until adjournment, House members kicked it up a notch, moving much more quickly and covering twice as many pieces of legislation. 
Meeting the deadline to file bills this session, lawmakers in the Arkansas House stirred over 300 new bills into the pot by Monday afternoon.  Since the legislative session commenced in January, 2,235 bills, resolutions and appropriations have been filed in the House and Senate.  Out of those, 1,231 were filed by House members.
Streamlining state government begins with increasing transparency, which is why on Tuesday the full House voted 87 to 6 in favor of Senate Bill 221, the Arkansas Financial Transparency Act.  When signed into law, the bill will establish an online database to track state spending. You deserve to know how your tax dollars are being spent and I am proud to have voted in favor of giving you access to the state checkbook.
“Lignite” is the new buzzword this session, as lawmakers and elected officials discuss avenues to spur job creation in the state. Midweek, we passed a House resolution to support a study of lignite mining and the funding of lignite research. Lignite is a type of brown coal that is abundant in South Arkansas.  By responsibly exploring this industry, we have the potential to create much-needed jobs and grow our state economy.  I voted for this resolution because I feel it is so important to Arkansas.
The full House passed a bill Wednesday to require any suspect arrested for rape to submit a DNA sample. The measure amends “Juli’s Law” which already requires DNA samples for other violent crime offenders. We also passed a bill to create an investment tax credit for rehabilitation and development projects in business-improvement districts. Both measures are headed to the Senate for consideration. 
Unfortunately for the Arkansas House, on Wednesday, Democrat members on the Senate Public Health Committee blocked Senate Bill 709, the Healthcare Reform Accountability Act, from reaching the Senate floor and House chamber. The measure would require state agencies to report the financial impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to the Legislature upon implementation. I believe this bill would have protected the integrity of our General Assembly and citizens who deserve to know how the federal healthcare law will be implemented in our state. 
Legislators in the House approved a measure that would ask voters if they want to raise the tax on diesel to increase funding for our state’s road system. House Bill 1902 proposes a 5-cent diesel tax increase to finance improvements on interstate highways. This proposal is part of a larger plan that includes a bill to also ask voters if they want to approve a half-cent sales tax increase for the funding of four-lane highways. I voted for this bill because, even though it increases taxes on diesel fuel, it will be at the will of the voters.  And the Arkansas Trucking Association, whose members will bear the cost of the tax, are fully in support of the issue.  They recognize that the interstates are getting in bad shape again and this causes problems for their trucks. The diesel tax increase will now move forward to the Senate for consideration.
Speaking of tax increases, a potential increase in the severance tax on natural gas is fueling debate among lawmakers and industry executives. From a potential citizen-led initiative to increase the severance tax on natural gas to a flat 7 percent to various pieces of tax and regulatory legislation affecting the industry, officials are growing concerned that such proposals may negatively impact the economic benefits of the natural gas industry.  As a result, on Thursday House and Senate members announced the formation of the Fayetteville Shale Play Caucus, which aims to protect natural gas exploration in the state.
 On a side issue, I had a Texarkana resident ask me why I voted against HB1873.  This bill would mandate that employers allow their employees to keep their licensed weapons in their vehicles while the vehicles are parked at the work site parking lot.  While I am a strong proponent of the right to keep and bear arms, it should not trample on the rights of others.  I agree that a vehicle is personal property and you should be able to keep a gun in your vehicle, but I believe that employers also have the right to make policy for their workplace and their property.  A bill is floating around with this same language for churches.  If it comes before the House, I will vote no because I do not believe the state has any right to impose such a law on churches.  Those decisions rightfully belong with the church congregations. Let me know how you feel on this issue or any other issue that is pending.
As your Representative, I am honored to serve you in the Arkansas House of Representatives. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns you may have. My email is phickerson@valornet.com.
I also encourage you to visit www.arkansashouse.org where you can live stream committee meetings and proceedings happening on the House floor from anywhere in the state.