State Lawmakers Advance Bills on College Savings, Bank Loans to Farmers

by Associated Press  on Tuesday, Mar. 13, 2018 11:49 am   2 min read

LITTLE ROCK — A panel of the Arkansas House has approved a bill imposing limits on how and when people can raise challenges to farms that hold special permits to discharge liquid animal waste.

Rep. Jeff Wardlaw said the bill was needed to protect bankers who lend money to farmers. The Republican lawmaker from Hermitage told the House Public Health Committee on Tuesday that allowing a series of lawsuits over issues raised in public comment periods put the farmers' investments at risk.

Environmentalists said they fear lawmakers want to disrupt their fight against a hog farm located near the Buffalo National River in northern Arkansas. They said they would give the benefit of the doubt, for now, to lawmakers but promised a challenge later if the hog farm tried to use the proposed law to ward off challenges.

Also Tuesday, the House Education Committee panel advanced a proposal to allow what are known as 529 college savings funds to be withdrawn for K-12 education expenses, including at private and religious schools.

The proposal is aimed at mirroring a change in federal law that was included in the tax overhaul. Supporters say the change is needed to ensure Arkansans don't face state tax penalties if they withdraw the funds for those purposes.

Opponents have raised concerns about the impact the move will have on the state's finances, citing an estimate that it could cost Arkansas as much as $5.2 million a year.

A dispute over the change had temporarily stalled the state treasurer's budget during the fiscal session last week.

The proposal now heads to the full House.

The House and Senate convened Tuesday for a special session, the day after the Legislature formally adjourned this year's fiscal session.

The top item on the agenda is a proposal to regulate pharmacy benefit managers. Lawmakers are also considering changes to the state's open container law that officials say is needed to protect highway funding.

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