Arkansas Business' 25 Legislative Actions (25th Anniversary)

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Mar. 23, 2009 12:00 am  

10. The Tucker Constitution (1995)
At a special election, voters rejected by a whopping 4 to 1 a wholesale revision of the Arkansas Constitution written by legislators and citizen delegates under the tight direction of Gov. Jim Guy Tucker. Confusion and anger over the process rather than opposition to the document accounted for the staggering defeat of the fourth effort in the century to rewrite the Constitution. The next year voters defeated Tucker's $3.5 billion highway bond issue by a similar margin.

11. ARKids First (1997)
Taking a cue from the liberal Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families, Gov. Mike Huckabee supported a major expansion of the Medicaid children's health program, making children in families earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty line eligible for coverage. He would count it his greatest achievement as governor. State Sen. Mike Beebe, D-Searcy, sponsored the legislation.

12. Streamlined Car Tags (1997)
Gov. Huckabee's most popular initiative was streamlining the renewal of vehicle registration. Vehicle safety inspections were dropped, and people could assess and renew their licenses easily online or by mail.

13. Check Cashers Act (1999)
The Arkansas Check Cashers Act gave the payday lending industry legal cover to operate in Arkansas, and they flourished for nearly 10 years despite the efforts of reformers like Hank Klein (above). In a series of decisions in 2008, the Arkansas Supreme Court invalidated the law, ruling that loans against future paychecks that accumulated interest of more than 300 percent were subject to the state's rigid usury law.

14. Highway Bonds (1999)
The Legislature and Gov. Huckabee raised motor fuel taxes 4 cents a gallon, and the voters at a special election approved a $575 million bond issue to rehabilitate the worst sections of the Interstate highway system. The program resurfaced about 350 miles of Interstate.

15. Tort Reform (2003)
The Civil Justice Reform Act reduced the prospects and size of personal injury and property damage claims in Arkansas courts. It tightened the standard of proof and limited awards for punitive damages, narrowed responsibility for injury and damages by eliminating the theory of joint and several liability and made it procedurally harder to file medical liability claims.

16. Wet Restaurants (2003)
Act 1813, introduced by Rep. Betty Pickett, D-Conway, was supposed to promote tourism and industry by making it possible for restaurants in dry counties to obtain private club permits and sell alcohol. The practice spread from Faulkner County to other cities in dry counties, including Jonesboro (above), Batesville and Benton.

17. Lakeview Reforms(2003-07)
The Arkansas Supreme Court in 2002 and in a supplemental order in 2004 ordered the state to comply with a constitutional requirement that every child be given a suitable and substantially equal educational opportunity. In a succession of sessions, the Legislature raised $350 million in new taxes, altered the formula for distributing state school aid, assigned schools first priority on future revenues, consolidated 57 districts with fewer than 350 students and set aside $455 million for school construction and repairs.

18. Bed Tax (2001)
Responding to complaints about the quality of care in nursing homes and the homes' grievance about low reimbursement rates for the care of patients dependent on Medicaid, Gov. Huckabee signed a tax of 6 percent of the gross receipts of nursing homes. The tax, which initially raised about $55 million a year, was ultimately paid by private-pay patients. The nursing homes, meanwhile, reaped the benefits of a 3-to-1 federal match of the tax receipts.

19. Super Projects (2004)
Amendment 82 to the state Constitution, ratified by the voters, authorized large bond issues to pay for capital improvements and other costs to entice a large industry to the state. A bond issue could total 5 percent of the state's general revenues, which currently would mean about $250 million. It has never been used, but a 2007 law that gave Gov. Beebe a discretionary $50 million "quick-action closing fund" for the same purpose has been successful.

20. Electronic Gambling (2005)
The Legislature passed legislation allowing thinly disguised casino gambling at the racetracks at Hot Springs and West Memphis, and Gov. Huckabee – who said he opposed gambling – let it become law without his signature. It legalized electronic games that the gambling industry describes as "games of skill." Voters in both cities ratified the expanded wagering, and both Oaklawn Park and Southland Greyhound Park are enjoying the new revenue streams.

21. Agriculture Department (2005)
Act 1978 created Arkansas' first Agriculture Department, which was supposed to make Arkansas farming and forestry competitive in world markets. It put the Forestry Commission, Livestock & Poultry Commission and the State Plant Board under the new umbrella agency.



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