We’ve entered our 10th week of the General Session and this week we will take two days off for Spring Break. The House voted several weeks ago to take off this Thursday and Friday so that members might be able to spend a few extra day with their families. Many members have school-age children. We are all looking forward to a few days back at home.

Last week Representative Don Glover and I shared three Pages from Hamburg School District. Thanks to HHS teacher Emily Wisener for arranging for the students to come and spend an extra day learning about our Capitol and the operations of the House of Representatives.

This week we will also honor the sacrifices of our families while we work in Little Rock during the session. My daughter Katelyn and her husband William look after things and make sure my dogs are spoiled and fed while I am gone. I also rely on my neighbor Sheere Scogin to help with my house and dogs. Thanks so much to each of you!

There were several bills that passed the House last week that will impact our communities. I heard from County Judges Jim Hudson and Robert Akin, about the importance of The Arkansas Public Safety Act (HB1564) to our counties. When it becomes law, this bill will transform our state’s 911 networks by shifting the current analog system to an Internet protocol-based network. Our counties have already been working on how this will be set up when it becomes operational. The system will use new technology that will allow callers to use wireless and IP-based devices to call 911 and transmit text, images, video and data.

To fund upgrades, the bill increases the public safety charges on cell phones from 65 cents/month to $1.30/month. It also removes the 65-cent charge per purchase on prepaid cellular plans and adds a 10 percent charge per purchase.

In 2016, counties and cities subsidized 911 by $25 million. The changes outlined in HB1564 are expected to reduce the burden on counties and cities by $16 million.

Last year, Arkansas became one of eleven states chosen to participate in the Occupational Licensing Policy Learning Consortium, an initiative funded by a grant from the United States Department of Labor and supported in partnership with the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments, and the National Governors Association. I was honored to be one of the 17 individuals that the Governor appointed to the Red Tape Reduction Working Group to review and address occupational licensing regulations that create unnecessary barriers to labor market entry.

HB1527 was the one of the recommendations from the working group. This bill requires that the occupational authorizations and the occupational entities be divided into 6 groups. The Legislative Council will review one group each year to ensure it is the least restrictive form of authorization while still protecting consumers.

One of Governor Hutchinson’s major pieces of legislation passed the House on Thursday. With a vote of 82-0 and 10 members voting present, the House passed the Transformation and Efficiencies Act of 2019, which reduces the number of cabinet-level agencies by nearly 65 percent, from 42 to 15. This bill was originally presented in the form of several smaller bills to allow us to read through them more easily, before they were pulled and consolidated into one large bill. A cabinet level secretary will serve as the executive head of each department.

Our educators have been carefully following HB1409, which requires elementary schools to provide at least 40 minutes of recess, and also determines that recess is instructional time. Several young students testified in the House Education committee about the need for this law. They told us they needed to have a better “brain break” and they were quite convincing and compelling.

Others have carefully followed HB1750, which requires the Department of Transportation to annually provide legislators with the location of the most congested and most dangerous routes in the state. It also requires the department to list expenditures on highways in each congressional district, providing greater accountability to Arkansans.

Some other bills of interest that passed the House last week included HB1631, which states the maximum speed limit for a vehicle on a controlled-access highway is 75 mph if the highway is located outside an urban area and has at least 4 lanes that are divided by a median strip. HB1625 makes the act of encouraging suicide a Class D felony, while HB1689 increases the penalties for passing an authorized vehicle stopped on a highway and increases the maximum fine from $500 to $1,000.

I serve on the House Education Committee and we passed out HB1647, which amends the eligibility requirements for the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship to include the applicant’s superscore on the ACT. That bill has now passed out of the House and has been sent to the Senate.

Many in Arkansas have closely watched HB1552. This bill allows for licensing of DACA recipients for nursing licenses. Another bill that may impact DACA and international college student also passed out of the House Education committee and will go to the full House floor this week. This will allow all international students, including DACA students that have gone to high school in Arkansas for more than 3 years to be eligible for in-state tuition at a state college or university.

I had the privilege of sponsoring SB407 in the House last week, which expands the study areas that qualify for an AR Future Grant/Scholarship, and will give higher education institutions more flexibility with the mentoring and work requirements of these scholarships.

It remains my great privilege to serve as District 9 Representative. I’ve heard from many of you regarding concerns about various pieces of legislation. Thank you. I’m always happy to try to answer your questions. The best way to reach me during the General Session is by email at leanne.burch@arkansashouse.org. You can also message me on Facebook or leave a phone message for any state representative, to be delivered, at (501) 682-6211. Finally, you can leave a message on my home phone at (870) 460-0773. I look forward to hearing from you.

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