by Mark Carter
Posted 3/11/2013 12:00 am
The state’s minimum wage will not increase, at least not this year, according to the 89th General Assembly.
The House Public Health Committee last week voted down a proposal by Rep. Butch Wilkins, D-Bono, that would’ve raised the state’s minimum hourly wage by $2 from $6.25 to $8.25. (The federal minimum is $7.25.)
The vote on the majority Democrat committee was 10-6 against. Organizations opposing the measure included the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Arkansas Hospitality Association.
Meanwhile, the Legislature is considering bills that would create energy improvement districts and fund asbestos grants.
Abortion and voter ID bills remained on the legislative front burner as well while lawmakers positioned themselves for the coming debate over Medicaid expansion.
Senate Bill 640, the Property Accessed Clean Energy Act (PACE Initiative), would authorize the establishment of energy improvement districts to fund loans for energy efficiency, renewable energy and water improvement projects.
The Arkansas Advanced Energy Association, advocating on behalf of the bill, says the measure will increase property values, reduce energy costs and create jobs.
Proponents believe the measure will serve as a voluntary financing option for energy improvements to existing commercial buildings, will create new jobs in the energy efficiency industry, and will allow property owners to reduce energy costs.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. David Johnson, D-Little Rock, has bipartisan support with Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, and Rep. Jonathan Barnett, R-Siloam Springs, among the 10 co-sponsors. It was scheduled to be heard on Friday in the Senate State Agencies & Governmental Affairs Committee.
Business leaders came out last week against Senate Bill 410 concerning asbestos abatement.
The bill, by Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, would create the Asbestos Abatement Grant Program, fund it from the state’s Asbestos Control Fund and allow the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to award grants with the money.
The proposal was scheduled to be heard on Friday in the Senate Public Health Committee. If passed, it would take $500,000 from the Asbestos Control Fund in year one and $150,000 per year thereafter to fund grants to cities with a population under 30,000 for asbestos cleanup.
The bill does not stipulate how the money would be replaced. Business leaders fear the bill would lead to increased fees from ADEQ.
Elsewhere at the Capital
• The Senate last week approved a 5-cent hike on the state's timberland tax, taking it from 15 to 20 cents per acre, with proceeds (estimated at $700,000 annually) benefiting the beleaguered Arkansas Forestry Commission. Senate Bill 5, by Rep. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs, now heads to the House.
• Bryan King's voter ID bill passed through committee on its way to the full House. The Green Forest Republican wants to require voters to show a photo ID in order to cast a ballot. The American Civil Liberties Union has promised to challenge the measure in court if passed, and that challenge is likely. The bill has passed the Senate and House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, expects it to be approved in the House.
• Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed another bill restricting abortions, and again his veto was overridden. The Senate by a 20-14 count overrode Beebe's veto of a bill from Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, that would restrict most abortions after 12 weeks. The measure awaits an expected House override. If sent through, it would become the nation's most restrictive abortion law.
• A bill by Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, to cap the growth of state government fell two votes shy of passing the full House. Opponents feared it would lead to cuts in key state services. Currently, the state government can spend as much as it receives per year. Westerman's bill would have limited annual growth to the five-year average of the state's personal disposable income.
• A Senate committee advanced a measure to exempt all active-duty military personnel from Arkansas state income tax. The move would affect about 6,300 Arkansans who now pay roughly $7 million annually in state taxes.