The Senate gave final approval to a broad income tax reduction proposed by the governor, which will save middle class wage earners about $102 million a year when it takes full effect.
Considering it will benefit an estimated 600,000 people, it is likely to be the signature accomplishment of the 2015 legislative session.
Besides reducing income tax rates for people who earn between $21,000 and $75,000 a year, it also exempts 40 percent of capital gains from the state income tax. People who earn more than $75,000 a year will pay less in income tax on the amount that exceeds $35,100; the rate will go down from 7 percent to 6.9 percent.
People earning between $21,000 and $35,099 will pay 5 percent instead of 6 percent in state income taxes. People earning between $35,100 and $75,000 a year will pay 6 percent instead of 7 percent.
The lower rates take effect in 2016. For income earned during the remainder of 2015, the current rates will remain in effect.
In another important development, the House of Representatives gave final approval to a bill that creates a 16-member legislative task force to recommend changes to the state’s Medicaid program.
At the end of 2016, Medicaid participants who enrolled as a result of the 2013 expansion known as the private option will lose their eligibility, unless the legislature takes action to restore their eligibility between now and then.
The Senate approved legislation that streamlines the process under which terminally ill patients can gain access to experimental new drugs.
It is Senate Bill 4. If the physician certifies that the patient has a terminal illness, the patient could buy experimental drugs that have not yet been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. The pharmaceutical manufacturer would not be liable if the drugs were ineffective and the patient’s condition continued to get worse. SB 4 was sent to the House.
The Senate passed SB 180, which gives school superintendents more flexibility in designating snow days and closing school for inclement weather. It allows for delaying the opening of schools until 10 a.m. without the district having to make up for losing an entire day.
If students are already in school when bad weather hits, and schools are shut down after 1 p.m., the district would not have to make up the day. Schools will be able to do this no more than five times a year. SB 180 was sent to the House.
The House has passed HB 1012, which allows family members of murder victims to witness the execution of the killer. It received a do-pass recommendation from the Senate Judiciary Committee and was placed on the calendar of the entire Senate.
Previous law allowed five family members to witness an execution via closed circuit television. HB 1012 allows up to six relatives to be in a viewing room adjacent to the death chamber, and up to 18 family members to witness via closed circuit TV.
Video or audio recordings of the execution shall not be made. There are 31 men on death row in Arkansas. The most recent executions in Arkansas were in 2005, 2004, 2003 and 2001. In each year a man was put to death. In 2000 there were two executions, of a man and a woman. In 1999 four men were executed in Arkansas.
If you have any questions or comments about legislative issues, contact me at Terry.Rice@senate.ar.gov or call me at (479) 650-9712.