Legislative Roundup: Minimum Wage Bill Would Raise Hourly Rate by $2

Recent headlines notwithstanding, guns and abortion aren’t the only topics being debated at the 89th General Assembly.

This week, business owners will be watching a bill that would raise the state minimum wage from $6.25 an hour to $8.25.

If passed, House Bill 1402 by Rep. Butch Wilkins, D-Bono, would raise the minimum wage beginning Oct. 1 of this year. Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

Wilkins’ proposal also would effectively lower the hourly rate for student employees from $5.52 to $5.36.

The bill has been given special order status and is scheduled to be heard in the House Public Health, Welfare & Labor Committee on Tuesday morning.

No other legislators have signed on to co-sponsor, and not surprisingly, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce opposes the measure.

Tax Cuts for Manufacturers

Manufacturers likely will be rooting for House Bill 1218, which finally could see its way onto the House Revenue agenda this week after adding technical corrections and co-sponsors.

The bill — by Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs, and Rep. Lane Jean, R-Magnolia — would exempt manufacturers and “independent power producers” from sales tax in 2014 and reduce the sales tax paid on utilities by from 2.625 percent to 1 percent in 2013.

It also would continue a phased reduction of the excise tax paid on natural gas used in the production of electricity.

More Guns, Abortion

Of course, bills related to guns and abortion generated some action last week. Gov. Mike Beebe publicly criticized Lt. Gov. Mark Darr for signing a bill to make secret the names of those 130,000 or so Arkansans who have concealed carry permits.

Beebe had said he wouldn’t veto the measure, nor would he sign it. But on a day when he was out of town attending the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C., Darr went ahead and signed it.

The move was symbolic; the bill would’ve become law anyway. Darr’s signature made it law a couple of days sooner.

Meanwhile, a bill that would convert those concealed carry permits to open carry permits failed to advance out of House committee.

Its sponsor, Rep. Sue Scott, R-Rogers, will likely amend and run it again. The proposal failed on a 10-9 vote in the House Judiciary Committee (on which Democrats hold a 13-7 majority).

Beebe did veto the 20-week abortion ban bill last week only to have both chambers override it, and as of Friday was awaiting another abortion ban to reach his desk.

A bill outlawing most procedures after 12 weeks of pregnancy cleared its final hurdle in the Senate on Thursday. Beebe hadn’t said publicly whether he’d veto it as well, but he did say he believed the measure wouldn’t stand up in court.

On Thursday, the House Education Committee voted down a bill by Rep. Homer Lenderman, D-Brookland, which would have allowed Arkansas school districts to pay existing school employees extra money to undergo training and carry guns on school property as a security measure.

Net Operating Loss

A bipartisan measure to extend the period for which a net operating loss could be carried forward for calculating state income tax is ready to begin its legislative journey in the Senate Revenue Committee.

Senate Bill 108 by Sen. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, and sponsored in the House by Rep. Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, would extend the carry-forward period by 10 years or until the loss is exhausted or absorbed by the taxable income of a succeeding year, whichever comes first.

According to the Arkansas State Chamber, Arkansas is one of seven states that restricts the carry-forward period to five years only.

More than 40 states permit carry-forward periods of 10 to 20 years and 18 states allow both carry-forward and carry-back periods.

A revenue impact statement from the state’s Department of Finance & Administration estimates revenue loss of $13.6 million for fiscal year 2020, extending out to $63.4 million for FY2024 and beyond.