Joint Budget Special Language subcommittee

March 1, 2022

 

Hester The chair sees a quorum. I’ll call us into order. First, I’m going to recognize Senator Pitsch for an announcement. 

 

Pitsch Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Members of, I guess we’re in Joint Budget Special Language, I have a guest today, Claire Hollenbeck. Many of you might know her father is the county sheriff or was of Sebastian County. Jay Richardson and I would like to welcome her here. And the way they do things in the mentor program is they have an old mentor and a young mentor. Megan Nichols, who happens to be the president of the Regions Bank in our market, is the young mentor, obviously, and yours truly gets to be the old mentor. So thank you for recognizing them, Mr. Chairman. 

 

Hester Representative Wardlaw and Senator Rice, you’re recognized. 

 

Wardlaw Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I guess we probably should have done this this morning when we had more members present in the room. You guys know how important the bureau is to the members. I want to tell you how important Marty Garrity is to the bureau. Today is a special day because today in– has she done left the room– today is Mrs. Marty Garrity’s birthday. So I want to take this time to recognize her and make sure that everybody wishes her a very happy birthday. And my co-chairman has a few remarks as well. If we could find her in the room, that would be awesome. 

 

Jean She’s always working. Happy birthday, Marty Garrity. But let me say, as co-chair of Council, I’ve been around Marty because I’ve been on Council ever since 2009 when I came down here, but as chairman working closely with co-chair and Marty, you don’t realize how much she does, how much she keeps up with. And we just had a resolution in the Senate, and I’m guessing in the House, too, recognizing BLR’s 75th anniversary, and Marty was not there when it started– don’t even go there. It has, it has grown to something that is so needed. And she does such a good job. Marty, thank you and happy birthday. 

 

Hester Representative Wardlaw, do you mind to stay there? Or do you want to present from your seat? Members, this is going to be– I don’t know if we need to hand it out right now on House Bill 1034. We’re handing those out and when everybody gets a copy, we’re going to need to suspend the rules to hear this amendment to the Division of Corrections appropriation. 

 

Wardlaw I’ll make a motion, Mr. Chair, at the proper time. 

 

Hester Okay. I think every member has has a copy of this, and I have a motion for Senator Wardlaw to suspend the rules to hear this amendment. And a second. All those in favor say aye. Opposed say no. Motion carries. Rep. Wardlaw, you’re recognized to present the amendment to House Bill 1034. 

 

Wardlaw Thank you, Mr. Chair. A few– maybe an hour ago, it came to our attention that there needed to be a language change to make sure that we take care of our fallen AOC members while they’re on the line of duty. As you guys know, we had a very sad event yesterday. We had a dog sergeant that ran the search and– search team was shot and fatally injured yesterday. And so it brought to light that there needed to be some language change to make sure the director and the Board of Correction had some discretion on where they could apply the death benefit. With that, I’ve got the secretary here with me. He can answer any questions from the members. But I appreciate the suspension of the rules and I think this is very well needed. And I’m kind of glad we were in session so we can address this at this moment. 

 

Hester Seeing no, no questions from members, Solomon, do you have something you’d like to say? 

 

Graves I would just like to publicly thank Rep. Wardlaw and the leadership and the General Assembly as a whole for letting this Special Language change come up. When we realized there was a gap in the existing program that didn’t address non-certified officers, we wanted to make sure we had a mechanism in place to give all of our staff the respect and a formal thank you that they deserve. So personally, on behalf of me and my staff, I just want to thank each of you for considering this. 

 

Hester Thank you, Director Graves. Seeing no questions from members, do I have a motion do pass? A motion do pass and to second. All those in favor say aye. opposed. Say no motion carries. Thank you. All right, we’re going to, we’re going to start off with Item B1. And I believe there is a handout to come as soon as you– soon as you get the handout, then we will need to suspend the rules for it as well. 

 

Hamilton Members, this is an amendment to House Bill 1028 Department of Finance and Administration, the regulatory division. This is an amendment by Senator– I’m sorry, Senator Stubblefield. This is an amendment that adds new language concerning the assessment of vehicles and farm equipment and machinery. And the language is made effective upon passage and approval. 

 

Hester So, Senator Stubblefield, are you in the house? Is Senator Stubblefield here? Senator Rice, are you going to run this on behalf of Senator Stubblefield? 

 

Rice I had not planned on doing that. I just– Senator Stubblefield told me when we left the Senate that he was told this would not be today and go tomorrow. So that’s all. 

 

Hester Okay. I believe that we’re going to meet again tomorrow, so that’s what we will do. We will pass over B1 and make sure it’s on the agenda for tomorrow. Now we’re going to move on to B2. There is a hand out. We will need to suspend the rules. Mrs. Hamilton, you’re recognized. 

 

Hamilton Thank you, Mr. Chair. This is for House Bill 1056. This is DHS, the secretary’s office. This amendment adds new language requiring DHS to develop and implement a plan concerning employee engagement. This is an amendment by Senator Hammer. 

 

Hester Do members all have the language? Okay. We’ll wait for a second. Okayay, members, I need a motion to suspend the rules to hear this. I have a motion and a second. All those in favor say aye. Opposed say no. Motion carries. Senator Hammer, you are recognized. 

 

Hammer Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members of the committee. This is a amendment I worked with the department to get agreement upon from the original amendment that was filed. The intent of this amendment is to bring the agency to bring a report as far as what they will do to look at improving the ability for employees to be able to provide feedback into the agency. One of the things we all know that we have a problem with is department turnover within some of the agencies. This is modeled somewhat after a piece of legislation that was passed several years ago, but did not make it into law. And so what the agency and I have worked together to do is to develop a method where they would begin with the human development centers for the purpose of including employee input and develop a comprehensive report utilizing the opportunity for the employees to be able to give endpoint input. And they would bring back the plan December 1 of 2022 to the Legislative Council for us to review. And the intent would be that this could be a model that could be then implemented into other agencies starting with this as a starting point. As I mentioned, I worked with the agency. They are in agreement with it and they can come to the table if they would like or anybody would like to verify that. And I’ll be glad to answer any questions. 

 

Hester Represent Cavenaugh, you’re recognized. 

 

Cavenaugh Thank you, Mr. Chairman. My question, Senator Hammer, is, during all of this, reports they’re going to be given us, are they going to be able to report to us on the number of management people we have versus how many actual workers we have, seeing whether or not we’re top heavy on the management and fewer people out in the field working? 

 

Hammer I believe so. And once we went into dialog on this matter, the agency has actually established within the agency itself the beginning of this. What this does is just bring a higher level of accountability. And as you see in the comprehensive list of A through I, I believe that will be covered in that so that we can take a look at that as legislative branch and see, you know, where management is, is, as you said, top heavy. 

 

Cavenaugh Okay, thank you. 

 

Hammer Thank you. 

 

Hester Senator Hammer, is this a one time report or an annual report? 

 

Hammer Actually, it is designed– the intent would be that it would be an annual report. As you notice in the language, they can also secure outside assistance or consultants. This was actually modeled also after what the Department of Corrections, which is supposed to be on the agenda after a while, what they are doing, working with UALR. So this would create that avenue for them to be able to utilize. Of course, they’d have to come through Peer for, you know, financial approve and all that. But the intent would be we’ll get that report on December 1, 2022, which is just before the general session, so we can take that information, model legislation moving forward with that report. And if we do want to make an annual one, we can do it during the general session. 

 

Hester Thank you. Any other members with questions? All right. Senator Hickey, you’re recognized. 

 

Hickey Yes, Senator Hammer, on Page 1, says the department may contract with an outside entity to aid in this. This is all subject to our procurement laws, as far as– I’m getting a head nod at the back, so I’m just going to go that that’s–

 

Hammer Yeah. Yes, I worked with, I worked with Mark White. In fact, he helped draft this piece of legislation. So it would be– it would have to be in alignment with the procurement laws. 

 

Hickey Thank you, sir. 

 

Hammer Thank you. 

 

Hester Seeing no other questions, do I have a motion from the committee? I have a motion do pass. Do I have a second? I have a second? I have a second. All those in favor say aye. Opposed say no. Motion carries. 

 

Hammer Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members of the committee. 

 

Hester Thank you, Senator Hammer. Moving on to B3. Members, this is on Page 11 in your packet. B3. Mrs. Hamilton, you’re recognized. 

 

Hamilton Thank you, Mr. Chair. Senate Bill 54, DHS Division of Medical Services. This is an amendment by Senator Rice and Representative Jett. It adds new language concerning the assisted living facility reimbursement for the accounting of home and community based funds. 

 

Hester Representative Jett or Senator Rice, are one of you guys going to– Senator Rice, here he comes. Okay. Senator Rice, you’re recognized. 

 

Rice Thank you, Mr. Chair. Terry Rice, state senator. Members, for a number of months, a group has been working with DHS on finding information on what can be done. There have been approximately 10 assisted living centers close in Arkansas. There are some others that are in critical shape that has to do with the rates. And I’ll be glad to go into this and Rep. Jett can help, too, if need be. But beginning in 2019, DHS implemented a phase in of 16.3% rate cut in Living Choices assisted living waiver. Over the same period, the pressures of the market, demand on workforce, including a 29 percent minimum wage increase and inflation put the providers in a position to fail. And as I said, some did. It forced 407 Arkansans out of their homes. Today, 12 facilities with over 500 Arkansans will not survive without a sustainable Medicaid reimbursement rate. And this will force 334 people who are employed by these facilities out of a job. Back in November, as I said, our group urged DHS to work with providers on a solution. After months, they came back with a recommendation that was far less than sustainable. Parties arrived at an agreement using wage rates for the Arkansas Health Center in Saline county as a labor input. And this change alone would have arrived at a rate that would have been adequate. Now DHS, in the last meeting is– the rates just are not there. These costs that are mandated to have people in these homes include preparing meals, housekeeping and laundry and are required by the Living Choices Assisted Living waiver and rules of the program. And DHS says that room and board is excluded and providers agree. But what, what is meant by room and board? And the providers argue that room equals shelter, and board equals the cost of groceries. At least, that’s what SSI covers for a person who does not live in an assisted living center. Documentation from neighboring states support this claim. Their proposed rate has overhead costs for assistance for the facility declining $65,000 a year from the previous Milliman model after three years of inflation and 29 percent minimum wage increase. Today, I present to Special Language to be considered for the Division of Medical Services appropriation. The language simply requires DHS to make this rate study a priority and to report back to the General Assembly monthly on the progress that has been made until this matter has been resolved. And I would just say I appreciate working with DHS and all. We had a short meeting out in the lobby a while ago and they’ve got some ideas that they’ll be working on. But this will take time. So I would appreciate the adoption of this as we move forward. 

 

Hester Okay, I’m seeing no questions from members. Did the agency have anything, any input? Seeing none and no questions from members, do I have a motion? I have a motion do pass and a second. All those in favor say aye. Opposed, say no. Motion carries. 

 

Rice Thank you, Mr. Chair, and committee. 

 

Hester Members, I’m going to jump out of line just a little bit because a member has another commitment that I’m aware of. We’re going to jump to Item B7, and there will be a handout coming. I know I’ve jumped ahead. So there should be a handout coming for Item B7 on Administrative Office of the Courts. Caught you by surprise. Mrs. Hamilton, you’re recognized for B7.

 

Hamilton Members, this is on page 31 in your packet. This is Senate Bill 23 for Administrative Office of the Courts for their court personnel section. And the amendment that’s coming around by Senator Irvin is a code amendment concerning the salary of juvenile court probation officers. 

 

Hester Do all members have a handout? I’ve, I’ve got a motion– I need to suspend the rules. I’ve got a motion. Do I have a second? All those in favor say aye. Opposed say no. Motion carries. Senator Irvin, you’re recognized for Item B7. 

 

Irvin Thank you, Mr. Chair, members of the committee. Members, if you’ll recall, we passed sweeping juvenile justice reform policies, which requires a risk assessment for the juvenile offenders, as well as our families for our juvenile judges. Back in 1989, the state put in money to reimburse counties for their juvenile officers, probation officers. That was $15,000. And that was in 1989, and it has never been raised since. So we worked with everybody, including the governor’s office, to see if we could increase this because of dramatic turnover in juvenile probation officers, as well as they are really the ones that are on the front lines working with these troubled youth. And they are the intake officers working– law enforcement officers work alongside them, but they’re actually the ones that have to do the arrest and go into the homes and work with those juvenile offenders. They’re on the front lines trying to make a difference in these young people’s lives and trying to keep them out of, out of the system and out of prison. So they work through the– they work with– through the counties. They’re employees of the counties. So this will also help our counties and freeing up their abilities to retain these people who are trained and then to alleviate some of the stress that they’re seeing also in law enforcement. This is only a pass through money through the Administrative Office of the Courts, and it’s a reimbursement which is clearly audited and we’ve added language in there for reporting of that. Some of these employees do not receive county benefits, health benefits at all, and some are just making $13,000. And so it’s hard to retain and keep those juvenile probation officers. So this is why it is before you is to increase that $15,000 to $20,000. And again, none of the money is retained at administrative office of the courts. It all goes back to the counties, every– if they apply for those grants. And, and we have all of that data and information to be able to fulfill the the requirements of the reporting language that’s in this language as well. 

 

Hester Is there anyone here with the AOC or DFA that has anything they’d like to add to that? If not–

 

Irvin I worked with– just FYI, I did work with Justice Rhonda Wood. And she would have been here, but she is having a medical procedure right now. And she and I worked together on this and met with the executive branch as well as the Arkansas Association of Counties. And they’re here to be supportive as well. 

 

Hester Representative Love, you’re recognized for a question. 

 

Love Thank you, Mr. Chair. Senator Irvin. I was trying to read through this. And I applaud the increase to the $20,000. However, are we, are we ensuring that the counties– because here– I mean, in some language it says, you know, half of the salary, half of the intake officer’s average salary. So are we, are we actually providing half of the salary or could we–

 

Irvin It’s up to, up to half. Some, some counties aren’t even paying the full $15,000. 

 

Love Well, see, that’s– 

 

Irvin They’re not eligible then for the grant. 

 

Love Okayay. All right, so if they’re not paying, if they’re not paying, then they’re not eligible for the grant. Okayay. 

 

Irvin Right, right. 

 

Love Because I wanted to make sure that we weren’t, we weren’t going to raise the $5,000– raise it from 15 to 20, and then they, they all of the sudden say, well, I’m going to pay $5,000 less on our side. 

 

Irvin No, no. This is a– this is really to encourage, to encourage the counties to, to really increase the juvenile probation officers’ salary to retain them. Because again, they’re just extremely important to the juvenile justice policies and reforms that we’ve passed and executing those and implementing those and working with those juveniles and their families. So this is really going to help your counties, particularly, you know, in areas where we have a lot of juvenile offenders. And folks, I mean, it’s, you know, it is increasing. And unfortunately, we’re seeing so many more juveniles fall, you know, fall down a path that’s not the path that they need to go down. So these juvenile probation officers are really, really important to the courts and to those juvenile judges. And so this is, this is really a request on behalf of those juvenile judges and those counties. 

 

Love All right. Thank you. 

 

Irvin Yes, sir.

 

Love Thank you, Mr. Chair. 

 

Irvin Thank you for the question. 

 

Hester Representative Wardlaw, you’re recognized. 

 

Wardlaw Thank you, Mr. Chair. I’m, I’m– I think I’m Okay with all this. But how does this affect what we did yesterday where we moved the AOC court personnel to central services? Do we have anybody that can kind of explain that? And does this cause an increase there because we’re increasing some of these line items, and Senator Hickey, I think you were the sponsor of that yesterday. Can you speak to that? 

 

Hickey Well, this is totally separate from those. The bill that we, that we ran yesterday had no, no impact whatsoever on the revenue. The reason is, is that those funds that are being collected in the AOJ are coming through fines. There was a certain amount that was already allocated yearly. It was. It was a set amount. 

 

Wardlaw I understand that. 

 

Hickey We transferred that. 

 

Wardlaw But we transferred them to central services. So going forward, that money followed them, but they become paid off first. 

 

Hickey That’s correct. 

 

Wardlaw So this is raising certain court personnel. So that’s going to cause an increase out of central services now because they got moved. Is that not correct? 

 

Hickey Well, this is, this is totally different than yesterday. This is different. 

 

Wardlaw So these are different personnel? 

 

Hickey That is correct. They are totally separate. This has nothing to do with that– 

 

Wardlaw I’m slow, so every once in a while, I need a little–  

 

Hickey Yes, sir. But you are– if you, Mr. Chair, I think– but I believe you’re correct. There is, there is going to be– it appears like to me and I’m sitting over here trying to calculate it– there is going to be a fiscal impact– 

 

Irvin Yes. 

 

Hickey –out of, out of state central services with this. 

 

Wardlaw Mr. Chair, I got a follow up. 

 

Hester Yes, you’re recognized. 

 

Wardlaw Do we know what that impact is? 

 

Irvin Yes. It’s $1,100,000. 

 

Wardlaw And does this Special Language carry with it the funding for that, so we’re adding that into our budget now? 

 

Irvin It’s, it– I can let DFA respond to how this works because I had a lot of those similar questions. 

 

Hester Please state your name for the record and you’re recognized. 

 

Breck Robert Breck, DFA. This would be an impact on central services, but there– the balances in central services are more than enough to take care of this. We don’t think it will be a significant impact, but it will be an impact of 1.1 million. 

 

Wardlaw I think– thank you. I think that was the point I was making in the beginning. So thank you and thank you, Mr. Chair. 

 

Hester Okay. Seeing– Senator Hickey you’re recognized. 

 

Hickey Just, if you may– where did we get 1.1? I was sitting over here coming with 1,250,000. I know it’s not a lot of difference, but is it not 5,000 times the maximum number of 250? 

 

Irvin It’s right here on– at the very first. We have the impact stated right there at the very first. On the first page. 

 

Hickey Just looks like to me that we took it up $5,000. And then if you drop over to the second page about midway down for reimbursement on the requirements, they say do not exceed 250 positions. So do we not have 250 positions now? Is that what we’re saying?

 

Irvin Well, some, some of– that’s correct. Some of the, some of the positions don’t– they don’t pay even $15,000. So then they don’t receive that money. So it’s based on what’s currently the situation with– he can explain better 

 

Breck The way, the way I read the amendment, they could get up to $20,000, but it’s an ‘or.’ It’s $15,000 to $20,000 or one half of what their salary might be. So the impact may not even be as much as, as the 1.1 million. 

 

Hickey That makes sense. Thank you, sir. 

 

Hester Representative Tosh, you’re recognized.

 

Tosh Thank you, Mr. Chair. Make sure I understand. You said a while ago that these juvenile intake officers would work for the county, even though they are part of the Administrative Office of the Courts, is that– 

 

Irvin They are not a part of the Administrative Office of the Courts. They’re county employees, but the money passes through the Administrative Office of the Courts. And they’re the ones that have to do the reimbursement and match up to make sure that their salary is– meets the criteria of this language and that they get reimbursed for this money. So they’re really just kind of– but they don’t get a dime for– they don’t keep any of the money for themselves. It’s just a pass through that goes to the counties. 

 

Tosh So they, they would work for the sheriff’s office, is that correct? Are they certified police officers that are going to be assigned to the juvenile intake officers? 

 

Irvin They are– they’re certified juvenile probation officers that get their certification. And we have folks from the Association of Counties here that can answer a little bit more of those questions. But they work with our courts and our, and our counties, and they’re county employees. 

 

Tosh Okay, one more, one follow up, Mr. Chair. So if they’re county employees and they’re certified police officers, that falls under the definition– that falls under the definition of what we just agreed to for county and municipal employees. Is there going to be an overlap here with these officers being able to receive both? 

 

Irvin No, they’re not certified law enforcement officers. 

 

Tosh I misunderstood. I thought you said they were certified. 

 

Irvin They’re certified probation officers. 

 

Breck I think they’re specialists under that, under those definitions, not certified law enforcement officers. But they have a specialist certification, if I’m not mistaken. 

 

Tosh Okay. I understand. Thanks. 

 

Hester Okayay. Seeing no other questions from members, do I have a motion? I have a motion. Do I have a second. And a second. All those in favor say aye. Opposed say no. Motion carries. Congratulations, Senator Irvin. 

 

Irvin Thank you, members of the committee. 

 

Hester We’re going to get back on track now with Item B4. This is on page 17 and 18 of your packet. B4, 17 and 18. Mrs. Hamilton, you’re recognized. 

 

Hamilton Members, in your package you’ll see a letter from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Although there are positions and appropriation changes within the letter, we are just going to be discussing on Page 18 the Special Language that’s being requested to be added to their bill. This is new language concerning enforcement salaries. This language will allow the Arkansas State Game and Fish Commission to exceed the maximum annual salary of the positions listed here by no more than 20 percent. And this, according to the letter, is to keep enforcement officers’ compensation at a level to allow stable recruitment and to maximize their mission. 

 

Hester Okay, please, please state your name for the record, and you’re recognized. 

 

Booth Good morning, Mr. Chair, and to the committee. I’m Austin Booth. I’m the director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. I’m joined on my left by our CFO, Emily Shumate, and on my right by Colonel Brad Young, who leads our enforcement division. Before you all today is a very simple measure in our Special Language that would raise the caps of our enforcement division. What this would do is it would allow us to keep the pace with the Arkansas State Police as they implement their own increased pay plan. For us, this is not just about maintaining the strongest law enforcement partnership in the state between us and the state police, but we have 158 game wardens today. We need 180. And they face the exact same compensation, climate, morale and societal challenges that every single other law enforcement officer does. 

 

Hester Represent Wardlaw, you’re recognized. 

 

Wardlaw Motion at the proper time, Mr. Chairman. 

 

Hester Okay. Seeing no other questions from committee members, I have a motion. You’re recognized, Rep. Wardlaw. 

 

Wardlaw Motion do pass. 

 

Hester I have a motion do pass. Is there a second? There’s a second. All those in favor say aye. Opposed say no. Motion carries. Thank you guys for coming. 

 

Booth Thank you. 

 

Hester Item B5. Page 22. Senator Dismang. B5, Page 22. Mrs. Hamilton, you’re recognized. 

 

Hamilton Thank you, Mr. Chairman. This is an amendment to Senate Bill 45 for Department of Transformation and Shared Services. This is Special Language that amends the code regarding the implementation procedures for salary adjustments. As the chair indicated, this is an amendment by Senator Dismang. 

 

Hester Sen. Dismang, you’re recognized. 

 

Dismang So, thank you. Members, this strikes what I guess would be the remainder of the cola language that we have right now in code. If you all remember, there was an ability by the governor’s office to enact a 2 percent cola and then also bonuses for those that were at the top of their pay scale could then also be given. This just strikes that language. I would say that when we passed the merit based program here in the state, there was an understanding that we would do away with colas at that time. And I think this just reinforces what we thought to be the case when we did pass the merit pay. Happy to take any questions. 

 

Hester Are there any questions from members? Seeing none, I have a motion. Do I have a second? And a second. All those in favor say aye. Opposed say no. Motion carries. We are going to pass over B6 today. We’ve already heard B6, so we’re going to be on to B8. Senator Hammer. Hang on just– okay. Senator Hammer, you are recognized for Item B8. It’s on page 37, members. Page 37. You’re recognized, Senator Hammer.

 

Hammer Thank you, Mr. Chairman. A brief explanation. I met with Director Solomon– Secretary Solomon a while ago earlier and we have resolved without having to do legislation on this. I have his agreement because they’ve entered into a contract with UALR, as I mentioned a while ago. And they are actually doing or beginning to do what the bill or what the amendment would have requested. There are some things that are within the amendment that are not currently being looked at by UALR, but I have his commitment that they will incorporate that into it because they already have that underway with UALR. So with that, I’m going to request that this be pulled off the agenda. And I just have the director, Secretary Solomon’s, commitment that he will include those things in it. So I’m going to ask to pass over it, but I wanted to give that explanation publicly. 

 

Hester Great. Thank you so much, Senator Hammer. We’re going to pull down B8 for the day. 

 

Hammer Mr. Chairman. 

 

Hester Yes. 

 

Hammer Go ahead and tell Senator Dismang I’d like to pull my holds off of DHS budget and off of Department of Corrections. Please pull those holds off. Thank you. 

 

Hester Bless you. All right. So Item B9, we’re going to pass over for the day. It will be on tomorrow’s agenda. Item B10 is being pulled down. And so we’re going to go to our final agenda item, which is B11 on Page 49. Senator Ballinger Item B 11 on Page 49. Mrs. Hamilton, you’re recognized. 

 

Hamilton Thank you, Mr. Chair. This is an amendment that adds both an appropriation of $5.8 million for the Senior Citizen Relief Grant and some Special Language that accompanies the appropriation. 

 

Hester Senator Ballinger, you’re recognized. 

 

Ballinger Thank you, Mr. Chair. I mean, this is pretty straightforward. This is just a response to constituents. I had a– I had a– actually reached out by a couple of different constituents. They were– actually, both of them asked me to eliminate the food tax, the state food tax on groceries. And I, of course, explained to them that that’s basically, basically all but eliminated. The food tax that is, is on groceries now is pretty much local and it isn’t really– while there may be a mechanism to prohibit them from collecting taxes that, of course, it, it would be a real burden on local government. So what this is, this is an effort to provide temporary relief that only lasts for one year to, to our seniors who are on a fixed income who are suffering under hyperinflation. So we know that, that, you know, everybody is suffering under hyperinflation. But the folks who are, you know, seniors on a fixed income, they don’t have the same flexibility– not that we don’t have a lot of other people who are hurting as well, but the same flexibility to be able to work past it. So this just creates a mechanism funding for DFA to provide a grant that could provide the grants to eligible organizations. So this could be Area Agency on Aging, but it could also be a church that developed a program to do that to last one year, just provide some, some extra relief. I’m happy to answer any questions. 

 

Hester Thank you, Senator Ballinger. Representative Wardlaw, you’re recognized for a question. 

 

Wardlaw I’m still trying to gather all my thoughts, but where’s the $5.8 million coming from? 

 

Ballinger It would, it would come from general revenue. And I’ll tell you that the, the money we, we were having debate about funding of the, if public television and all that kind of stuff– and, and so this, this number, you know, if we do have any savings from public television, we could apply it to that or just take it out of general revenue. Either way, but from my standpoint, if– there’s definitely some things that we fund at state government that I think are probably less important than making sure that our grandmas have groceries and can pay their energy bill. 

 

Wardlaw Mr. Chair, may I have a little latitude? So, any time I propose any kind of cut, personally, I would come with actually where I’m going to gather the revenue from. So I would really like to hear before I’d be comfortable enough to see this move forward is exactly where we’re going to get $5,883,000 from. And are you going to take it from PBS? And we’re not passing PBS? Are we going to take it from somewhere else? We need a solution for the dollars. 

 

Ballinger So, so I’m cool– I’m game with that if that’s what we’re going to do. I’m also good with, with taking it out of the, the long term catastrophic reserve fund rather than putting more money into that, you know, fund our grandmas and grandpas. But, but really, honestly– 

 

Wardlaw Hold, hold on–

 

Ballinger –from my standpoint– 

 

Wardlaw –you’re not answering my question. I understand you’re cool with whatever. I need to know where you’re going to pull this dollar from. Are you going to pull it from PBS? Are you going to pull it from long term reserves? I mean, this is your amendment. It’s not, not my amendment. So where are we funding this amendment from? 

 

Ballinger So just like, just like any other amendment that has additional revenue, it’s, it’s a, it’s a matter that we’ll need to try to work through when we do the– when we do the, the, the final RSA. So from my standpoint, if, if we can pull it out of a portion of, of the PBS budget, I’m perfectly fine with that. If, if this is a one time thing– 

 

Wardlaw But this is the entire PBS budget amount. 

 

Ballinger Well, there’s actually– this is not the, the entire PBS budget. They have additional appropriation, but this is part of it for sure. Now, you know, if, if this committee has some interest in, in reducing this amount and providing something, something else, I just would like to see some mechanism that we could walk out of here and provide some relief to, to my constituents who are feeling pinched. And it’s hard for me to vote for things like the PBS appropriation, which while, you know, Big Bird is, is important, and I like the, the high school football games, there’s a lot of things out there like whether or not our elderly have food that I think is probably more important. 

 

Wardlaw So, Madam Chair, I think I got discussion at the time that there’s a motion. So if you don’t mind coming back to me at that point, please. 

 

Cavenaugh Yes, that’ll be fine. I have a question to 

 

Hester Rep. Cavenaugh, you’re recognized. 

 

Cavenaugh Okay. Senator Ballinger. My question is a lot of times when we have these third parties administer these programs– and I’m all for helping our elderly because those on limited income are the ones that get hurt the most, especially during this time of inflation. But a lot of times we find these organizations take big fees in for administrating this. Is there any mechanism that limits how much money these organizations, whatever they might be, limits how much they’re actually able to take away from what would actually go to the people that would benefit from this? 

 

Ballinger Yeah, we’d have to work with DFA to do that as part of the rulemaking. So within the rulemaking, they would either establish some, some percentage that they could get– take for administrative or, or maybe limit it completely. So the, the legislative process and approval of the rules would be how we’d have oversight in that process. But we’d need to sit down with DFA as they develop the, the rules for this grant. 

 

Cavenaugh And as this program might go on, is there going to be legislative oversight to where we’re continually able to look at it so that it doesn’t just become a program and then becomes an issue that we don’t ever see? 

 

Ballinger Well, the best oversight of this is it ends after a year. So, you know, if we’re going to, if we’re going to renew it, then we’ll have the opportunity to do that. But the rulemaking– any kind of changes would have to come before us. 

 

Cavenaugh Thank you. 

 

Hester Senator Dismang, you’re recognized. 

 

Dismang I’m just curious, how many folks in the state of Arkansas are above the age of 65? 

 

Ballinger That is a– I don’t know exactly that number, but my, my guess is that we’re probably talking, pushing around– maybe– it’d be over 500,000. 

 

Dismang I would think so, too. So then we’re talking about how much to administer this program to what sepend about $10 per?

 

Ballinger Almost 6 million. But yeah, that number obviously could change, but $6 million. 

 

Dismang So how much is that– what do you think on average each individual above the age of 65 is going to receive by your plan? 

 

Ballinger ]Well, so it’s not a direct distribution to, to every person over 65. So the funds would go to some organization that has set up a program to work with elderly, to provide them food, to buy them, you know–

 

Dismang Like Meals on Wheels and–

 

Ballinger Exactly. 

 

Dismang –which are grant programs we already have established in the state of Arkansas with appropriations that are not fully filled in the state of Arkansas. So there’s already this mechanism in place to do exactly what you’re talking about doing. 

 

Ballinger So Meals on Wheels is a specific program. What I’m talking about is like if a program has a– has a– has a system set up where people can come and say, Look, I’ve got– I got x amount of dollars and I can only pay so much. My energy bill is x plus y. And they can come in and provide a mechanism to provide for the y. If, if it is a matter of buying groceries, not Meals on Wheels, but buying groceries, it would be a mechanism to it. And these folks are ones who, their income is fixed, and you know, we– on some–

 

Dismang I’m reading what you’re saying. I mean, I’m reading your bill and I’m listening to what you’re saying. And I’m just going to tell you, so when I read the bill, I think the number one thing was getting this 5.8 million into the bill. And then, then after I look through it, it’s very clumsily put together so that if I’m just being honest, I don’t think you know how it’s going to work. And we keep saying we’re going to allow DFA to promulgate something, but we don’t know what that is. We don’t know what organizations it’s going to go to. It’s not perhaps going to go to the organizations that we’ve already established in the state of Arkansas and supported previously. And I mean, I mean– and we want it to end. I mean, we’re talking about, say there’s 500,000 and maybe $10 per person at most. I mean, and that’s after we pay– 

 

Ballinger Every single person– 

 

Dismang Are we going to allow these organizations to take a management fee for administrating the programs? I mean, what are, what are we– again, I mean, I think the whole goal is something– I don’t know what it is, but, exactly. And maybe you can kind of pass it along. But I don’t believe that it’s most likely the intent that’s written inside this particular piece of Special Language. With that, thank you. 

 

Hester Senator Ballinger, did you have anything else? 

 

Ballinger No, I just, you know– this is the thing is that this is a direct response to two constituents who have expressed a need, expressed the pain that they’re feeling, being pinched. And I do believe that state of Arkansas spends money on things that are less important than our seniors, and that’s what– I think this is, is a reasonable way to do it. We would lean on DFA to put the rules together like we discussed, and it’ll be real important that they’d be done appropriately. But I believe they can do it. 

 

Hester Thank you. And is DFA– do they have anything they want to add to this? No? All right. Senator Dismang, you’re recognized. 

 

Dismang I’d also like to ask why we’re passing over Item B9. I mean, we’re here. We’re working. It’s time we get our work done. We passed over it yesterday. We’re passing over it today. I’d like to get whatever this is, you know, behind us and go ahead and have that discussion. Is that something you’d be comfortable with? 

 

Ballinger So the answer to that is I’m happy to have the discussion. But the problem is that there was a little confusion this morning about how the language would, would interact with the governor’s letter. And so in order to do the amendment appropriately, we have to wait for the governor’s letter– language in the governor’s letter to get engrossed into the bill, which we can do that by tomorrow. So that’s, that’s why– I mean, I’m happy to have discussion about what we’re doing. But the language itself has to be consistent with what, what you all did through– 

 

Dismang Those that were here yesterday did when we were working yesterday in Special Language. 

 

Ballinger Sorry, I missed a plane or else I’d have been here. 

 

Dismang Thank you. 

 

Hester Okay. Seeing no other questions, do I have a motion from the committee? Do I have a motion from the committee? Seeing none, this amendment dies for lack of motion. And we’re going to go back to Item B 1 that was skipped over earlier. I think we’re going to recognize Representative Wardlaw to present this. It’s on page 1 of your handout. And so, are we handing something out right now? So once members all get a handout, just get a brief second to look at it. We’ll suspend the rules and proceed. All right, members, I think we all have a copy. I need a motion to suspend the rules. I’ve got a motion and a second. All those in favor say aye. Opposed say no. Motion carries. Representative Wardlaw, you’re recognized to present Item B1. Actually, hang on, Mrs. Hamilton, do you need to go first? Okay, Rep. Wardlaw. 

 

Wardlaw Thank you, Mr. Chair. You guys are all aware of the shortage in vehicles at the current moment, and it’s caused the used market to go skyrocketed. We’ve all been either a victim or a award-winner in that section. It come to the attention that personal property taxes were going to go up to reflect that increase in used car value. What this bill– or this language would do would freeze that to the 2020 assessment. And it is going to freeze it to– and if you guys follow me down to Section 22, it’s going to freeze it to, to December of 2023. So what that does, it gives us enough time for this chip shortage to work itself out. That way the vehicle value could come back down to a reasonable amount and therefore our constituents aren’t paying an inflated property tax value on those vehicles. With that, Mr. Chair, I’d be glad to take any questions. As you guys see, the amendment did change. We, we extracted all the farm equipment language out of there because there was not an increase there so that, that language was taken out. 

 

Hester Representative Jett, you’re recognized. 

 

Jett Thank you, Mr. Chair. At the proper time, I’d like to have the Association of Counties come down. Ask a couple of questions about this with them, please. 

 

Hester Could someone from the Association of Counties please come forward? Please state your name for the record and you are recognized. 

 

French Thank you, Mr. Chair. My name is Lindsey French with the Association of Arkansas Counties. 

 

Jett Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Probably nobody in this room has been lit up more about this than I have. But I’m curious about, do you have thoughts– is there any unattended consequences that you know of out there floating around that if we enact this– 

 

French I have not seen this draft that’s been, been passed out, so I’m not exactly sure what, what is on this final draft of the amendment. 

 

Jett Is it– can I speak– Mr. Chairman, can I ask the sponsor a question? Is this, this the same, pretty much the same draft or what was the difference on the draft? 

 

Wardlaw She just took a picture of this exact language. She’s seen this language. 

 

French I just want to make sure. 

 

Wardlaw I just want to be clear. She just took a photo of it. 

 

French I have, I have had discussions with Rep. Wardlaw, but I have not–

 

Wardlaw We want to make sure we’re talking apples and apples here. 

 

French –seen what was passed out. 

 

Wardlaw I was apprehensive about her photo taking abilities–

 

French He was. 

 

Wardlaw –but she did take a picture of it. 

 

Jett I mean, I’m all for what we’re doing here. I just want to make sure that we’re not doing something that’s going to come back and we have to come back and do something else down the road because of unintended consequences. 

 

French So seeing this new language, if a vehicle was assessed in, in 2020 and is assessed in calendar year 2022, the value in 2022 shall not be higher than its assessed value in 2020. One potential issue I see, and one that’s been brought up from assessors that I’ve spoken with is what if the vehicle is assessed by a different taxpayer. If one person owned it in 2020 and another person owns it in 2022, I don’t know that there’s a mechanism to tie the vehicle to its 2020 value. So maybe some language if it’s on the same taxpayer’s tax bill. The other unintended consequence I can see is when it does go back up to its fair market value after this Special Language expires, I think your taxpayers are going to see an extreme jump if the market doesn’t work itself out. And those are the concerns that I see and I’ve heard from our assessors. 

 

Jett Thank you. Mr. Chairman, can I ask DFA the same question? 

 

Hester Yes. Can someone from DFA come forward, please– unless, Senator Hickey, did you have a question for the Association of Counties? Senator Hickey, I’ll recognize you while DFa is coming forward. 

 

Hickey And again, I don’t know who my question is. It’s just more of a thought since we’re just looking at this. And when we’re saying that vehicle, if, if something is modified, renovated, or things to that nature, does that it include– are we going– does the assessment go up then or does it still stay at the old value? So I guess if there’s no change in it– you know, if somebody has a semi or something like that and totally goes through the thing, modifies it and does all of that and the assessment should go up, are we going to do it or are we just going to leave it there no matter what? So just something to consider. Again, I– currently, I don’t have any issues with it other than just, just sitting here trying to think through it on a minute’s notice. 

 

Hester Okay. Representative Jett, if you’ll hit your button again. 

 

Jett Thank you, Mr. Chairman. If you don’t care, the same question to you. Do you foresee any unintended consequences with us doing this? 

 

Rep. Jett, we’d have similar concerns about how the county would deal with the increased values going forward, going through a required mandatory reassessment process. Over time, the values are going to catch up. I mean, there, there is provisions within the county assessor that they can determine individual value or they can make adjustments in the county board of equalization can, can do that at the local level. We provide values based on a service of subscription that we acquire at the state level and we provide that to all the counties so there’s consistent values across the state. So at some point it has to– it’ll have to balance out. 

 

Jett Thank you, Mr. Chairman. 

 

Hester Rep. Cavenaugh, you’re recognized. 

 

Cavenaugh Thank you. This is really for the sponsor, but thank you. Representative Wardlaw, why did we not use 2021? Why did we use 2020 for the value to keep it at?  

 

Wardlaw That’s a good question. There were some meetings that went on with the Association of Counties that the sponsor, Senator Stubblefield, was privy to. And I think there were some agreements to that year. I was not privy to those conversations, so I cannot answer those questions. But I’ve been told that that’s where that year came from. 

 

Cavenaugh And follow up. So is it my understanding that the counties don’t have to raise if they don’t want to? Because each county is bound– they can assess it whatever they want to assess, and they don’t have to raise it up automatically by 20, 30 percent, whatever. Is that not correct? 

 

Wardlaw That is true. I went through this fight with chicken houses a few years ago, and we learned that the Assessment Coordination Board can actually go after the counties. So therefore, if they chose not to, they’d be liable for those audits, and that would not be good for your county. So we need this language to ensure that the Assessment Coordination Board cannot go after these counties for that. 

 

Cavenaugh Thank you. 

 

Hester Seeing no further questions from members–

 

Wardlaw I have a motion do pass. 

 

Hester I have a motion do pass. And a second. All those in favor say aye. Opposed say no. Motion carries. Okay, members, the amendments to the following bills are released from the Special Language subcommittee back to Joint Budget. HB 1028, HB 1056, SB 54, SB 12, SB 45, SB 23, HB 1034, SB 64 and HB 1070. And members, the current plan is for Special Language to meet tomorrow 30 minutes upon adjournment of Budget. So we’re not going into session till 2 o’clock in the afternoon, so 30 minutes upon the adjournment of Budget. So maybe we hang around in here. I don’t think Budget’s going to take long. We’ll have Special Language 30 minutes upon adjournment of Budget tomorrow. Thank you.