Gov. Asa Hutchinson has issued his agenda for the special session and it includes some surprises a few seemingly technical, but some not — particularly a backdoor school voucher program and protection for a factory hog farm in the Buffalo River watershed.
Some special favors also are on tap for ATV drivers, school transfers
His call for the session, which begins at 9 a.m. and which he hopes can be concluded in three days, hog manure and all:
1. To provide for the payment of expenses and per diem of the House of Representatives and the Senate for this Extraordinary Session.
2. To make technical corrections to Ark. Code Ann. § 5-71-101 for the purpose of aligning state law with federal law to avoid federal highway penalties, by adding changes to the definitions of alcoholic beverages, motor vehicle, and open alcoholic beverage container, also by making changes to Ark. Code Ann. § 5-71-218 regarding areas within a motor vehicle where it is illegal for a person to possess an alcoholic beverage in an open beverage container. [This change to prohibit open alcohol containers in vehicles allows Arkansas to tap a category of federal highway money for general use.]
3. To make technical corrections to Ark. Code Ann. § 23-114-102 concerning the definition of equipment to be used by charitable organizations in licensed games under Ark. Code Ann. § 23-114-101, et seq., for visually impaired participants to include electronic devices used to mark a bingo face or an electronic facsimile of a paper bingo sheet, within certain limitations and conditions approved by the Director of the Department of Finance and Administration.
4. To alter Arkansas code title 16, Chapter 30, by adding a new section concerning a contractual waiver of the right to a jury trial pursuant to Article 2 § 7 of the Arkansas Constitution by creating an enforceable agreement whereby the parties agree to waive their respective rights to a jury trial before or after a lawsuit is filed. [Watch this one. Thisi was nominally introduced to correct a recent Supreme Court decision that opened all routine foreclosure cases to jury trials. But, as originally written, it allows a much broader use and a way to deprive harmed people of jury trials with unnoticed contract clauses. binding even before a dispute arises. If the bill isn’t fixed to restrict it to its nominal purpose, you can call it backdoor tort reform and a nuclear bomb drop on the venerable constituitional protection of a right to a jury trial.]
5. To alter Arkansas code concerning the licensure of pharmacy benefit managers providing services for health benefit plans under the Arkansas Insurance Department; amend applicable definitions; require a reasonably adequate and accessible pharmacy benefits manager network; regulate the conduct of pharmacy benefit managers; authorize the Arkansas Insurance Department to examine and audit pharmacy benefit manager records; establish reporting requirements for pharmacy benefits managers; prohibit deceptive and unconscionable trade practices pursuant to the Deceptive Trade Practices Act, Ark. Code Ann. § 4-88-101 et seq., the Arkansas Pharmacy Benefits Manager Licensure Act, Ark. Code Ann. § 23-92-501 et seq., and the Trade Practices Act, Ark. Code Ann. § 23-66-201 et seq.; and authorize the Arkansas Insurance Department to establish rules concerning the licensing, application fees, financial solvency requirements, network adequacy, prohibited practices, reporting requirements, compliance, enforcement requirements, rebates, compensation, and the listing of plans, by pharmacy benefits managers in the State of Arkansas. [This is the bill pushed by pharmacists to address their complaint that they were being forced to accept reimbursements below cost to serve Medicaid patients while pharmacies related to the CVS pharmacy benefits manager got higher payments.]
6. To amend Arkansas code to provide that only those permit conditions subject to the modification are open for review when an application for modification of an existing state permit for a liquid animal waste management system is filed with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and an existing state permit for a liquid animal waste management system that is in good standing is not subject to review or third-party appeal for siting or location issues that were not raised during the applicable review or appeal period at the time of the permit issuance.
[This is the legislation aimed at overturning a state Department of Environmental Quality decision against a new permit for the C and H Hog Farm, which discharges millions of gallons of hog waste in the Buffalo River watershed. It says the waste is contined; critics say it poses a threat to the scenic river.]
7. To amend Ark. Code Ann. § 27-21-109 in order to provide a defense to the prosecution of operation of an all-terrain vehicle on a public street or highway: if it is the most reasonable route from an off-road trail to another or to their private property, the operator’s purpose was to get from one off-road trail to another or to his or her own private property and removing the limitation of driving more than three miles on the public street or highway as well as removing the requirement of providing proof of their property interest. [By this description wouldn’t it mean that an ATV driver wanting to go from an ATV trail near Felsenthal to one near Bentonville could travel 300 miles on public highway to do it?]
8. To amend the Arkansas code concerning the design and construction of certain trail projects that are donated to and managed by the State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission rather than the Building Authority Division of the Department of Finance and Administration, these projects must still adhere to the minimum standards and criteria established by the Building Authority Division of the Department of Finance and Administration.
9. There is a need to amend the Arkansas code concerning tax deferred tuition savings programs established under 26 U.S.C. § 529 as it existed on January 1, 2018 that may be deducted from the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income for the purpose of calculating Arkansas income tax. The aforementioned deductible contributions cannot exceed $5,000 per taxpayer in any tax year, and if established by another state the deductible contribution cannot exceed $3,000 per taxpayer in any tax year. Further, the deductible contributions that are rolled over into a tuition savings account shall not exceed $7,500 per taxpayer in the tax year in which they were rolled over. The aforementioned deductions are to be made available to tuition being paid to both institutions of higher education as well as primary and secondary educational institutions.
[This is the backdoor school voucher bill, which failed three attempts at passage in the House, needing 75 votes. It will only need a majority now and has more than enough sponsors. It provides a tax deduction of $10,000 for a married couple, effectively a transfer of tax revenue to a private school, for money in a 529 savings plan. Previously, the tax deduction and tax-free earnings only could be used for college education. The federal law has expanded 529 plans to K-12 schools, but doesn’t give federal taxpayers a deduction. This amounts to a historic step to direct taxpayer support of private education. It is estimated to cost the state $5.2 million a year and mostly benefit rich people.}
10. There is a need to amend the Arkansas code concerning how siblings are to be treated in the counting of transfer students pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. § 6-18-1906(b)(1)(B) by allowing siblings to meet or exceed the 3% cap found in Ark. Code Ann. § 6-18-1906(b)(1)(A). [More encouragement for interdistrict school district transfers.]
11. To confirm gubernatorial appointees.