Apr 1, 2011

Arkansas House Commentary: Representative Prissy Hickerson

(provided by Representative Mary "Prissy" Hickerson)
Entering the fourth quarter of the session meant two-a-days for lawmakers, with the House convening twice a day and legislative committees holding multiple daily meetings. Cruising full speed ahead, members passed a bill Monday to decrease voter fraud and ensure fair elections. The measure requires Arkansans to present a voter ID card when casting a ballot at the polls, and would allow county clerks to issue identification cards to individuals without driver’s licenses. House Bill 1797 is currently en route to the Senate for consideration.
Arkansas owes $330 million in unemployment benefits to the federal government. In order to responsibly address this debt, we passed a bill to place a cap on unemployment benefits and cut the benefit period by a week. The measure could potentially save our state $50 to $75 million annually, thus shoring up money to begin balancing our unemployment trust fund.
Around four hundred Arkansans gathered this week to protest several bills threatening the livelihood of our state’s natural gas industry.  The five measures would have imposed burdensome regulations on an industry that provides jobs for Arkansans and revenue for our state. After mounting opposition from conservative lawmakers and hundreds of citizens, one bill failed to pass the House Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development Committee, while the remaining four were successfully removed from consideration and sent to interim study.
A proposed congressional redistricting map made its way through the House State Agencies Committee this week. Dubbed the “Pig Trail Gerrymander” or the “Fayetteville Finger” for its suspicious meandering, creative carvings and raw partisanship, the redistricting proposal ruffled plenty of feathers during week eleven of the 88th General Assembly.  If you have not seen this map, please take a look at it.  You will be amazed and puzzled.      
Conservative legislators believe the proposed map ignores the traditional communities of interest in Arkansas and only exists for raw partisan purposes.  Most notably it puts the northwest city of Fayetteville into the fourth congressional district, which currently encompasses the southern region of our state.  Arkansas has four defined regions, the Ozarks, Northeast Delta, Central Arkansas and Southern Timberlands. The full House is expected to vote on the “Pig Trail Gerrymander” early next week, and I will be voting against this proposal. You can view the map at www.arkansasgop.org.
HB1902 is now on its way to the Governor for signing.  This bill will refer to voters a 5 cent diesel tax proposal which would be used to enhance existing bonds.  Also the House passed a resolution this week that would refer to Arkansas voters a constitutional amendment creating a half-cent temporary sales tax increase to fund construction of a four-lane highway system. This proposal is one of several constitutional amendments being considered by the Legislature. The General Assembly has the authority to refer up to three measures to the people in the 2012 general election. I supported both of these measures because they allow the voters to decide whether they want these tax increases.
Also passing the House this week was HB1958 which removes a ban on carrying concealed guns into churches, allowing churches to make their own policy on this issue.  I voted yes to this bill.
A bill to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in Arkansas failed in the House Insurance and Commerce Committee Friday, falling short of eleven votes needed to pass.  House Bill 2138 would have established insurance exchanges necessary to the implementation of the healthcare law. More than half the states, 28 and counting, are challenging the law in court on the grounds it violates the constitutional rights of their citizens. The argument is that until we know how the Supreme Court will rule on the federal healthcare law, we do not need to spend more money implementing the law in Arkansas.
House members also approved a bill that would allow public schools to adopt curriculum standards to teach the Bible for academic significance. The measure, which passed our chamber with a vote of 71-16, now goes to the Senate for consideration. I missed this vote because I stepped out of the chamber to talk to someone about a pending bill.  I assumed the debate inside would go on longer than it did.  My vote would have been yes. Now I know never to assume! For this freshman legislator, lesson learned.
Finally, the House and Senate gave final approval to tax cut measures.  SB276 shaves another half cent off the grocery tax, SB275 reduces the tax that manufacturers pay on utilities, HB1369 creates a back to school sales tax holiday during the first weekend in August and SB274 exempts from sales tax cars costing up to $4,000.  These measures have all been sent to the Governor’s office for signing into law.
What to watch for:
Two pro-life Senate bills are headed to the Arkansas House for consideration. As a pro-life conservative, I intend to support these bills.
The congressional redistricting debate is sure to be contentious. Stay tuned for the final results. 
The final significant piece of legislation lawmakers will approve before the session’s end is the budget bill, also known as the Revenue Stabilization Act. Because we held the line on spending to reduce taxes for Arkansans, the final balanced budget will be much smaller than originally proposed.
Since January 10, House members have tackled hundreds of critical pieces of legislation, and with just days to go until our scheduled April 1 recess, I will work to protect your values and move our state forward.
As your Representative, I am honored to serve you in the Arkansas House of Representatives. Please 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.