Joint Budget Committee
October 12, 2022
Actions Taken (click each to jump to that discussion)
- Game and Fish approved as recommended
- Election Commission approved as recommended
- Claims Commission approved as recommended
- Ethics Commission approved as recommended
- Judicial Discipline approved as recommended
- Public Service Commission approved as recommended
- Public Employee Retirement approved with amendments
- Teacher Retirement approved as recommended
- Disability Determination approved as recommended
- Public Defender Commission approved with amendments
Game and Fish
Rice: 00:03:08.040 Okay. Members, I call the Arkansas Legislative Council Joint Budget Committee budget hearings in order. First step this morning, we have the Game and Fish. And first agenda we have is audit findings. If Audit will come to the table. If you will recognize yourself and present. The findings, members, are on the next to the last page on your printed sheets, black and white copy. Tell us who you are and who you’re with.
Shaw: 00:04:00.673 Thank you, Mr. Chair. My name is Tammy Shaw. I’m with Legislative Audit. The agency self-reported the following thefts of state property, which were included in our report for the year ended June 30, 2020. A 20 horsepower Yamaha outboard motor with the cost of $3,200 was stolen from an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission trout boat while located at a repair shop in Baxter County. Various items valued at approximately $5,000 were stolen from a storage unit in DeWitt. Mr. Chair, this concludes my presentations of the findings for the agency.
Rice: 00:04:41.340 Thank you. Members, do you have any questions on audit findings? Representative Springer, you’re recognized.
Springer: 00:04:50.203 Good morning Thank you, Mr. Chair. I would just like to know the schedule as to how you all report the findings, given that I read at the head of your report that it is for the period ending June 30, 2020. However, you have a finding here dated January the 11th, 2021. So could you explain to me the process as to when and how you all do your reporting of audit findings?
Shaw: 00:05:18.792 Yes. The agency will notify DFA and Legislative Audit of any thefts. And if we have that notification while we’re on site doing an audit, we include that in our report.
Springer: 00:05:34.434 Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Rice: 00:05:38.162 And members, after the audit findings, we will be in the colored Game and Fish budget manual and not your big book, if anybody’s confused on that. Senator Chesterfield, you’re recognized.
Chesterfield: 00:05:50.233 Yes, Mr. Chair. And forgive me if this has been asked. Are any repeat findings here or are these initial findings?
Shaw: 00:05:58.243 The thefts of property are always initial findings.
Chesterfield: 00:06:01.958 So there’s nothing else that is a repeat finding?
Shaw: 00:06:05.167 That’s correct.
Chesterfield: 00:06:05.550 All right. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Rice: 00:06:09.670 Okay. Seeing no more questions, thank you for your audit report and you’re excused. Again, members, the Game and Fish binder we commented on in Special Language yesterday with the pretty picture on the front with the young man and the fish that he’s proud of. First, we’re going to have staff come, and that will be Hannah Knight. And if our Game and Fish presenters would like to come on up, you can sit at this time. That will speed things up a little bit. When y’all get seated, if you will, just go ahead and recognize yourself for the record and as we get started.
Knight: 00:07:03.680 Hannah Knight, Bureau of Legislative Research.
Booth: 00:07:10.602 Good morning I’m Austin Booth, the director of the Arkansas Game Fish Commission.
Shumate: 00:07:16.212 Good morning, Emily Shumate, CFO.
Rice: 00:07:18.912 And if you need to, pull that mic a little bit closer to you where you’ll be able to be heard. And Miss Knight, you’re recognized to present.
Knight: 00:07:28.452 Thank you, Mr. Chair. The Game and Fish Commission’s budget request can be found in the lovely manual. Because the commission is a constitutional agency, they have their own separate budget manual and will not have an executive recommendation. Their budget requests can be found on page 2. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is responsible for the control, management, restoration, conservation, and regulation of bird, fish, game, and wildlife resources in the state. The department’s appropriation summary can be found on pages 7 and 8 in your manual. The Commission is requesting a comprehensive license restructuring in fiscal year ’25. According to the Commission, revenue increases from the license fee restructuring will have an estimated increase of revenue in the amount of $15 million annually. The department appropriation summary on page 7 includes this change, while the summary on page 8 reflects the Commission’s budget without the licensing fee change. The Commission’s budget, the line items, and the appropriation section remain unchanged with or without the licensing fee structures. So the appropriation section on pages 7 and 8 is exactly the same. The only difference is in the funding section. The use of special revenues is different. There are no change levels in appropriation due to this restructuring The Commission has a total of five appropriations. The agency request is about $173 million in fiscal year ’24 and 175 million in fiscal year ’25. Funding for the commission consists of existing fund balances, conservation tax, federal revenue, and special revenue. The first appropriation is the operations appropriation and can be found on pages 12 and 13. As previously discussed, the summary on page 12 reflects the Commission’s budget with the licensing fee restructure, and on page 13 is their budget without the change. Again, the appropriation levels remain the same. The only difference is the special revenue funding at the bottom of the page.
Knight: 00:10:01.273 The Commission is requesting around $148 million in appropriation for fiscal year ’24 and $150 [million] for fiscal year ’25. Salary and match adjustments made in the current biennium are requested to continue into the next biennium. All other increases in regular salary, extra help, and personnel services matching are due to the Commission’s personnel related request. On the operating expenses line item, the Commission is requesting around $10 million in fiscal year ’24 and around $11 million in fiscal year ’25 over the fiscal year ’23 authorized amount. This includes a $2 million reallocation from the professional fees line item for both years of the biennium. On the construction line item, the Commission is requesting a reallocation of $6 million to the newly requested marine fuel tax program appropriation that will be discussed later. On the grants and aid line item, the Commission is requesting $3.75 million in fiscal year ’24 and $4.75 million in fiscal year ’25 over fiscal year ’23 authorized in anticipation of Congress’ passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. Finally, on the capital outlay line item, the Commission is asking for additional appropriation around $7 million over fiscal year ’23 authorized each year of the biennium to provide for various equipment and land purchases and improvements. The second appropriation is the gas lease revenue appropriation, and can be found on page 15. From here on out, there will just be one appropriation. This appropriation is funded by gas lease revenues as well as fund balances and is used as needed for natural disaster response, gas lease grants, and other one-time needs of the Commission. The Commission is requesting $5 million each year of the biennium, which is $1 million over fiscal year 2023 authorized. According to the Commission, the $500,000 increase each year in operating expenses will be used to enhance habitat initiatives, species management, and enforcement activities. The $500,000 increase in capital outlay is for equipment and land purchases. The remaining line items have no change levels. Next appropriation is the Conservation Partners Program Grants appropriation and can be found on page 17. The Commission utilizes this appropriation to pass donation dollars collected on behalf of the Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry organization. The Commission is requesting $150,000 each year of the biennium, which is a continuation of the fiscal year ’23 authorized. Next appropriation is the Black River Settlement appropriation and can be found on page 19. This appropriation is funded by Black River judgment dollars and can be used exclusively to mitigate the hardwood timber destruction in the Black River Wildlife Management Area. The Commission is requesting $13.25 million, which is a continuation of the fiscal year 2023 authorized. The fifth and final appropriation is the Marine Fuel Tax appropriation and can be found on page 21. This is a new appropriation section; however, this is not a new program. The Marine Fuel Tax program was previously housed in the Commission’s Operations appropriation. And they’re requesting it be moved out from Operations to its own separate appropriation section. This program is funded by inner-agency transfer from the Arkansas Department of Transportation and is used to increase access to waterways across the state. The Commission is requesting a transfer of $6 million in appropriation from their Operations appropriation to this fund center. And that concludes my presentation, Mr. Chair.
Rice: 00:14:32.735 Thank you, Ms. Knight. Director Booth, is there anything you want to add before we go to questions?
Booth: 00:14:51.382 No, sir. Just that we’re grateful to be here today, proud of this budget, and we look forward to your questions.
Rice: 00:14:58.647 Thank you, sir. First, I have Representative Cavenaugh. You’re recognized.
Cavenaugh: 00:15:03.494 Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Over here to your right. I just have a real quick question on the Black River Settlement. If you could explain what that Black River Settlement is, how much it was, and what it’s actually to be used for.
Booth: 00:15:18.397 I can definitely give an explanation, ma’am. Whether that’s quick or not, I’ll do my best. So the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, we have several greentree reservoirs. These are wildlife management areas. We artificially hold water for two reasons. One, to provide a wintering waterfowl habitat, and two, to provide a public duck hunting opportunity. It was these wildlife management areas that really made Arkansas the national sensation of waterfowl duck hunting that it is. One of those greentree reservoirs is at Dave Donaldson Black River Wildlife Management Area in Northeast Arkansas. And all of our greentree reservoirs, especially that one, they’re really facing the same fundamental challenge, that the forest health there is in rapid decline and that that is attributable to the aging, obsolete infrastructure that we have there, but also just the completely different weather patterns that we had when that infrastructure was put in. So if you go back into the late 90s, early 2000s, we saw some rapid die-off in our red oaks at Dave Donaldson. We were able to correlate that with some irregular operations of Clearwater Lake and Dam in Missouri which is upstream of that wildlife management area. The Arkansas Game and Fish sued the Army Corp of Engineers for violating the water control plan, and in 2012 we received roughly a $13 million judgment after a unanimous decision by the United States Supreme Court. So we received that money in 2012.
Booth: 00:17:09.935 And if you’re looking at the fund balance saying, “Well, that fund balance is very similar to what you all received 10 years ago,” that’s 100% accurate. And the reason for that is, our ability to get work done at Dave Donaldson is directly connected to the weather and to the water levels. And even since 2012, we have not seen very large work windows where we’ve been able to actually get work done there. I brought some numbers on this question, ma’am. Since 2012 we’ve been able to spend $927,000 for mulching and for drainage restoration, over 850 for hydraulic and hydraulic data, $400,000 for topographic surveys. And then there were three fiscal years – that’s ’17, ’20, and ’21 – when we were unable to do any bit of work whatsoever because the water from the Black River and from Clearwater was so high. Now I will say that things are getting much better. In the fall, we had our first meeting with the Army Corps of Engineers we’ve had in four years on Black River. We’re very proud of that. And we’re working very, very hard with our congressional delegation right now to improve that relationship. And then we also are almost finished with the design and engineering phase to renovate that wildlife management area and we expect to begin work on the ground sometime in calendar year ’23. So in a year from now, we expect that Black River fund to be much smaller.
Cavenaugh: 00:18:48.358 Okay, thank you. And follow up, Mr. Chair? And with working with the Corps on Black River, you’re not just working on the wildlife management area, but you’re actually working on Black River itself? Because that is an issue up there in my world. It’s a big issue.
Booth: 00:19:07.938 Yes, ma’am. Yes. We’re working with them both on this project because the health of the wildlife management area is directly connected to Clearwater. But we’re also working with them on a much larger Black River project, trying to partner them in a long-term study to help understand the hydrology of Northeast Arkansas around the Black River and St. Francis.
Cavenaugh: 00:19:29.889 Okay. Thank you.
Rice: 00:19:31.954 Thank you. Senator Hill, you’re recognized. There you go.
Hill: 00:19:48.300 Thank you. Over here, Director Booth. I know we’ve discussed and I heard people talking about fee increases. What are you looking at as far as fee increases for in-state and out of state, both along with how much are you projecting the license fee increase to raise for your department?
Booth: 00:20:10.754 Yes, sir. Thank you for the question. We have identified a revenue target of roughly $15 million . We expect that breakdown to be $12 million on the resident side, $3 million on the non-resident side. But the exact license structure, we have not finalized that yet. We know what the revenue need is, but we’re still working through how that falls out amongst the current products that we have. We’re very deliberate. Our budget manuals do not call it just a license fee increase but a total restructure of the license that we have. The model that we’re considering that we’ll provide this body with as soon as it’s final will not only greatly simplify and consolidate things for the user but it will be a fee structure built around consumption and give the agency much better data to serve Arkansas.
Hill: 00:21:16.314 So is this money that you’re referring to, is it going to be used for capital improvements, or what are you looking at using that for?
Booth: 00:21:22.655 Sure. So in our budget manual, we get into this. But that 15 million is built around three things. The first, which I think is an important starting point but it’s not the most important point, is the loss of buying power we’ve had with revenue on the license fee side. If you look at our total revenue picture, it’s very much a three-legged stool. It’s a combination of conservation sales tax, federal aid in the form of Pittman-Robertson, and then license revenue. And if you look at the last time that we increased license fees on the fishing side, it was 1984. I was not alive. And on the hunting side, it was in the mid-90s. And that leg of that stool keeps getting shorter and shorter. And the conservation sales tax, we’re immensely grateful for that. But with fluctuations in the economy, that three-legged stool needs to be solid. And having three solid legs helps us make long-term decisions, not hoping to see what the economy does. The second thing that it’s built around is kind of like what you said, Senator, capital projects. We can look at our natural resources now and understand that they’re just wildly different from where we were in 1996. Our infrastructure needs are very well known. And you can look at even Lake Elmdale in Northwest Arkansas. I think that’s a really good example of some of the projects that more revenue stability would bring the Arkansas Game and Fish. The last time this agency was at this table, we spent a million dollars at Lake Elmdale to fix the lake there. And we knew we needed to spend 3 [million] and we spent 1 [million] because that’s what we felt like we could afford. And it lasted one major rain event this year and completely destroyed the dam again. So whether they’re greentree reservoirs, whether wildlife management areas, whether they’re fish hatcheries, whether they’re lakes, the infrastructure and the capital improvements that we have to undertake are very stronG And the third and last thing that this license fee increase is really built around, that I believe is the most important, is what Arkansans want from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. I’ve been in the shop for 15 months now, was very familiar with the Arkansas Game and Fish as a lifelong constituent, but the more and more Arkansans that we have the opportunity to talk to about fee increase and what they want from the Arkansas outdoors is more. They want more hunting opportunity. They want more access in underserved areas. They want more fishing opportunities. They want more recreational shooting for archery, for pistol, for rifle. And this $50 million target is designed to do those three things, to give us more stability to make long-term planning, even in addition to the conservation sales tax, the ability in the short-term to focus on capital projects, and in the longer-term, grow into what Arkansans want from the Arkansas outdoors.
Hill: 00:25:06.502 Follow up, Mr. Chair? As time goes on and things change, you see more and more people who are not involved in hunting and fishing using our facilities. How are we going to try to raise money from those people using your facilities than from just hunters and fishermen?
Booth: 00:25:25.695 Yeah. Well, you bring up an important point, that our hunting and fishing license products– if you go back before the pandemic, we’re about level with where we were before the pandemic. We did see an increase with the pandemic, which we’re very grateful for. But even just two years down the road, we’re already back to pre-pandemic levels. You take an even longer view of that, hunting license and fishing license sales are down about 15 to 20%.
Booth: 00:26:05.081 And that’s just by nature of the fact that fewer and fewer people are getting outside. And so we plan to address that one through the fact we have a wonderful education division that reaches about a million Arkansans or visitors every single year. But two, we’re trying to make our wildlife management areas more inclusive, more inviting to people other than just hunters or anglers. Think about gravel bike riders, think about paddlers, think about hikers and bird watchers. So as we try to make some of our infrastructure, and our footprint, and our wildlife management areas more accommodating and inviting and multi-use focus, we’re considering a product that would let people have access to those wildlife management areas and also help support conservation.
Rice: 00:27:03.736 Thank you. Representative Dotson, you’re recognized.
Dotson: 00:27:07.702 Thank you, Mr. Chair. You’re right. On page 12, I guess it is, your general operations budget here, just had a couple of questions on your regular salaries line item at the very top there. You spent 29 million last year but you’re asking for 39 million. It looks like you’re only looking to increase your headcount by 22 people. Do you anticipate spending an extra $10 million a year on that line item?
Shumate: 00:27:47.770 Yes. So we won’t be spending 10 million on the increase in the number of people. That number reflects the actual expenditures for 2022, or FY22. It is not just around a hundred– or 612 positions. That’s a snapshot of one moment in time. In actuality, our headcount last year was much lower than that. We suffered in recruitment and retention last year, as many agencies did as well. So that number, 29 million, is not a direct correlation to 612.
Dotson: 00:28:23.736 So you’re not planning on increasing the actual spending closer to 39 million?
Shumate: 00:28:30.035 Yes, sir. We do believe that the actual spend will be closer to the $39 million number.
Dotson: 00:28:34.476 For this upcoming year? And then, if you drop down to the operating expenses, that is also a pretty substantial increase, $10 million over the last year’s budget. And, of course, it’s 17 million or so over your spend. What’s the purpose for that?
Shumate: 00:29:02.807 Yeah. So, sir, our spend last year was stunted by the pandemic. Not all of our educational facilities were open. Our spend for FY22 and 21 was lower than the nearly 10 years prior on operations. So we do anticipate our spend now that we’re fully operational to go back to a historic level. On top of that, we have the request outline above, which include some unfunded appropriation in the event that [inaudible] is passed. And then there are requests that are not outlined or items that we did look internally first to make sure that we covered within our existing appropriation.
Shumate: 00:29:42.251 So in our budget manual, you’ve heard us mention the recreational shooting division. You don’t see an ‘O2 appropriation request for that in this budget manual. That’s because that’s one of the items that we’ve looked at absorbing internally. That’s $500 to $600, 000 each year that we’ve looked at. We have some additional infrastructure security needs that we have also absorbed within that existing appropriation.
Dotson: 00:30:05.957 And I may be able to guess the answer to this, but conference and travel expenses. You’re anticipating that to go up or triple this year based off of last year or slower?
Shumate: 00:30:19.536 Yes, sir. We had a lot of virtual conferences as a result of the pandemic.
Dotson: 00:30:23.495 And then on page 15, same question on operating expense line item, that top there. Spent 70,000 last year, but you’re asking for half a million dollar increase over what was more than enough appropriation, obviously last year. Your budget 350 going to 850,000.
Shumate: 00:30:51.117 Absolutely. In FY22, those expenditures reflect just the maintenance associated with those mineral rights. Going forward, we want to make sure that we regain a fund balance that’s appropriate for natural disaster response, which is our primary intention with this fund center, but also to utilize the increased revenue we have seen there as mineral rights have gone up to meet some of the demands we’ve seen around equipment needs and infrastructure projects. So it’s us looking, as part of our overall look, at how we’re utilizing our revenues to make sure that we are also utilizing the revenues we have available to us here.
Dotson: 00:31:33.311 So you do anticipate spending more than that 350 in the next year?
Shumate: 00:31:40.859 Yes, sir. We are going to attempt to.
Dotson: 00:31:44.588 Okay. And then finally on page 19, Black River Settlement, again, your actual spend last year was 268,000, but you’re asking for 13 million. Obviously, I guess, that’s a settlement that if you can spend more of that to fix the problem, that that would be probably good. But what do you anticipate your actual spending in the next year would be in that?
Booth: 00:32:14.435 So in total, that’s probably a $35 to $45 million project, and it’ll take a minimum four to five years to complete. And like I said in response to Representative Cavenaugh, we’ve been through the forest health assessment phase of that project. We’ve completed the hydrology phase of it. And we’re now in the design and engineering phase of it. And we intend to break ground on it in calendar year ’23. So if all of it’s not gone in a year from now, a lot of it will be.
Dotson: 00:32:54.899 Okay. Thank you.
Rice: 00:32:57.612 Thank you. Senator Elliott, you’re recognized.
Elliott: 00:33:03.288 Thank you, Mr. Chair. For the staff that you are looking at hiring or replacing or whatever, I guess, what kind of positions are those generally?
Booth: 00:33:17.354 We have a little bit everything, ma’am. We have 180 law enforcement officers. We have an education division with nature centers and educational outreach programs throughout the entire state. We have wonderful biologists, too, that are professional conservationists, normally the wildlife biologist or fisheries biologist. And then we also have, like any other agency, a lot of wonderful support and service-minded professionals.
Elliott: 00:33:54.422 Now to be clear, these are– I’m talking about the people you are asking to hire. You’re going to be looking at hiring somebody in all those areas? Or are there certain ones that you need to replace or hire more than others?
Booth: 00:34:09.337 Right. Yeah. With adding a recreational shooting division and adding a private lands division, you take those two divisions, put them together, also look at the amount of habitat projects that we intend to undertake in the next five years and also in this biennium. We badly need more biologists. When I began this job last year, we had 25 law enforcement vacancies. We were very proud to sit one of the largest classes we’ve ever had of 15 cadets this year, happy to see them graduate last week. So if you would have asked me a year ago, I would have told you law enforcement was the number one need that we have. But now looking forward towards the future, towards the habitat projects that we intend to undertake, in addition to the two new divisions, it is definitely scientists and biologists.
Elliott: 00:35:12.212 Thank you for that. How do we measure up with the private sector in attracting, for example, scientists, biologists, the folks in that kind of category? How do we compete?
Booth: 00:35:29.768 More often than not, people come to work for this agency because they love Arkansas and they love the state. That’s a wonderful thing I also don’t think it’s a very smart way to rely on filling some of your most important jobs inside the agency. So the shorter answer to your question is we don’t stack up very well.
Elliott: 00:35:54.667 Okay. All right. Well, okay, thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chair
Rice: 00:36:04.030 Representative Springer, you are recognized.
Springer: 00:36:07.182 Good morning Thank you, Mr. Chair. Senator Elliot asked the questions that I was going to ask. However, I would like to know where those positions are located across the state. You spoke of biologists and scientists, so could you elaborate on where would you fill those positions and where would they be located?
Booth: 00:36:31.279 Sure. We can provide you a list of the regions throughout the state that we intend to expand on. Just off the top of my head, the heaviest– I shouldn’t say heaviest– the largest increases will, right now, probably be in south Arkansas, southwest Arkansas, and east Arkansas. That’s not to say that other parts of the states don’t matter to us, but just looking on where the most challenged habitat is and where we feel like we’re falling short the most, it’s generally those parts of the state that we’re going to have to prioritize sooner rather than later.
Rice: 00:37:27.119 Senator Hammer, you’re recognized.
Hammer: 00:37:30.194 Thank you, Mr. Chair. Good morning Over here. A couple of quick questions, hopefully. On the land purchasing that you’re looking at doing, what data do you use to drive the decision as to whether or not you buy it or not, based on the comment you just made to Representative Springer?
Booth: 00:37:50.838 So there’s a few things that we consider, Senator. The first requirement is no additional ongoing infrastructure costs. That’s the first one. The second criteria that we use is, does it currently adjoin another wildlife management area or is it what we call an inholding An inholding on one of our wildlife management areas is if you’ve got a 10,000-acre wildlife management area that, in the middle, there’s a 300-acre piece of private land that’s not part of the wildlife management area. We would very much prioritize that inholding, that kind of donut hole, and try to really emphasize contiguous wildlife management areas. And then the third thing is, where from the natural resources side is it in the state. We have conservation opportunity areas throughout the state that help us make natural resources decision, where is the habitat most challenged, where will it be enjoyed the most by the public. So those three things put together is really how we arrive at land acquisition.
Hammer: 00:39:09.696 Do you feel that it would be or do you ever discuss possibly putting the hold button on purchasing land so that you could take care of your infrastructure needs, especially given the fact that, maybe or maybe not, your license fees won’t increase? And the money for the purchase for the land, is that coming out of federal revenues, or is that coming out of state revenues?
Booth: 00:39:30.770 Yeah. So I’ll answer the last question first. Our land acquisitions are always done with Pittman-Robertson dollars, so those are federal dollars but they require a 25% match. So it’s always a combination of a federal and state. And the way that we did two of our land acquisitions in the calendar year ’21 and ’22 were actually through partners. So it did come at a minimal cost to the taxpayer. To your first question about whether we need to put a hold on land acquisition until we get through some of our infrastructure challenges, we believe that from a resource perspective, the answer is yes, mostly. We’re not going out and purchasing $10, $15, $25 million wildlife management areas to create something totally new. We would love for there to be more public access in the state, and maybe pursue that kind of thing one day. But the demand for public access and for high-quality hunting and fishing opportunity off our state, we believe that that demand’s way too high for us to just turn it off completely. So if there’s ways that we can do it in a way that does not undercut what we’re trying to do on the infrastructure side, in a way that does not undercut the progress that we’re trying to make with capital projects, and in a way that doesn’t add to the ongoing infrastructure workload, we believe that’s the better way to do it.
Hammer: 00:41:16.423 All right. And then the last question will be on page 7 and 8 in the manual. As I look at the numbers, I see no movement in the numbers until you get over to ’24-’25. And the numbers that change when I compare, including license fees, and then without license fees, is going to be in special revenue, total funding, excess appropriation. But the bottom numbers all line up to be the same. Are you, through what you’re requesting, just simply wanting to rearrange your appropriation and rearrange the numbers so you can put them to different needs within your budget? Because at the end of the day, I see the numbers don’t move from without license fees to including license fees. And can you help me understand that, please?
Shumate: 00:42:11.669 Yes, sir. So we’re requesting that the appropriation be granted as excess or unfunded appropriation in the event that the license fee is not approved. So the number that you’ll see changing on page 8– you’re correct. The appropriation requests do not change on page 8, that excess funding or appropriation. So the difference would be in FY 25, the excess appropriation request goes up by $15 million to $66 million.
Hammer: 00:42:48.340 Okay. Thank you, Mr. Chair. I’ll come back.
Rice: 00:42:52.096 And is it seat 62? Is that Representative Fortner? You’re recognized.
Fortner: 00:42:59.770 Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’m sitting in Representative Meeks’ seat today. Thank you for coming Director, I have two questions– well, comment. One, thank you for wanting to simplify the licensing process. It does get complicated on the docks on a busy day. And the other question, could you give us an approximate dollar amount for the increase in the residents’ fishing and licensing fee? I know it’s a work in progress, but just an approximate fee increase, what it would be?
Booth: 00:43:37.848 Sir, I’m really not in a place where– I mean, it’s $10.50 right now. If we did nothing but adjust it for inflation going back to 1984, it would be triple that. I can tell you that we’re not going to do that. When I answered Senator Hill’s question, I said that the loss in buying power that we’ve had through our licenses is important but it’s not the most important thing What I should have said then but will say now is that I think we should be proud of the fact that we have cheap licenses. We should be proud that we provide an immense value to Arkansans to come to your neck of the woods and have world-class trout fishing That’s something that we should be proud of. But we have to manage that over time in a way that helps us maintain the kind of legacy that your part of Arkansas has. So I can tell you that we’re not going to triple it. We’re not going to look back tonight to 1984 and say this is– we’re just going to peg a CPI. So it will not be anything that extreme. A total revenue target for the nonresident and resident side of roughly $15 million, but we will provide the specific pricing information once we have it, sir.
Fortner: 00:45:11.828 Okay. And I appreciate what you’re trying to do. I truly do. But we’ll probably need that number before this body will–
Booth: 00:45:19.353 Yes, sir.
Fortner: 00:45:20.201 Yeah. Okay. Thank you.
Rice: 00:45:23.586 And Director, I’m just guessing I haven’t heard it in discussion the last session or today, is there a study for the surrounding states or maybe in the Southeast that you are looking at with that?
Booth: 00:45:42.211 Yes, sir. And it is similar. I mean, I was looking at it this morning, actually, thinking about this conversation. And I have really, really, really good relationships with the directors in Texas and Missouri and Alabama. We’ve been talking a lot about their budgets and their license fee structure, and we can certainly provide that comparison.
Rice: 00:46:06.967 Okay. Thank you. And next up – and if you haven’t caught on I’m alternating House and Senate – Senator Chesterfield, you are recognized.
Chesterfield: 00:46:17.094 Yes. Thank you, Mr. Chair. Mr. Booth, in your opening remarks you wanted us to know you were born before 1984. Could you tell me why you thought that was relevant? [laughter]
Booth: 00:46:34.612 I’m sorry if I offended anybody this morning No. I think it’s important that the Director of– it’s telling It’s not dispositive. And I want to reiterate that it’s telling, but not dispositive–
Chesterfield: 00:46:51.491 It is telling [laughter]
Booth: 00:46:53.476 –that the last time this agency increased fishing fees was before the Director of the agency was alive.
Chesterfield: 00:47:00.359 I see. Could you tell me the total number of– moving right along– could you please tell me the number of individuals who are employed by the agency?
Booth: 00:47:17.216 Number in our budget manual is 626.
Chesterfield: 00:47:24.532 Let me tell you why I ask, because whether you were born before 1984 or after, you still continue to have an abysmal record of hiring minorities. And I need to know what you anticipate doing to change that, because you’re at less than 7%. And I find it particularly troubling because there are a lot of folks who are women, who are ethnic minorities, who are disabled veterans who would benefit from being hired by you. And so I’m wondering what is your plan to help Increase those numbers.
Booth: 00:48:02.414 Yes, ma’am. In our new strategic plan called Natural State Tomorrow, doing better in this area is literally on the first page. It’s something that I am immensely aware of. And I think the reason that we are underrepresented in employee ranks is twofold. One, I do believe that there’s things that we can be doing better as an agency, but it’s also directly connected to minorities being underrepresented in the outdoors. And when I talk about making wildlife management areas more welcoming and inviting and reaching out to larger constituencies, not detracting from hunters or anglers, but reaching out to larger constituencies, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. We have nature centers everywhere from Pine Bluff to Rogers. We have nature centers in southwest Arkansas and in northeast Arkansas. And a lot of those nature centers are built around taking an education and appreciation for the outdoors to people that don’t naturally have it. And that’s the ethos that really drives people to come work for the Arkansas Game Fish Commission.
Chesterfield: 00:49:30.345 I come from a family of hunters and people who are wildlife enthusiasts. I’ve never been one myself, perhaps because I was born before 1984, but– [laughter]
Booth: 00:49:43.515 I’m not getting out of that.
Chesterfield: 00:49:44.870 You’re never going to live it down. So get over. [laughter] But it is concerning, especially when you have the aquaculture program at UAPB
Booth: 00:49:54.791 Yep.
Chesterfield: 00:49:55.199 It would seem to me that we can be a little bit more– not just a little, substantially more involved in this process. And it’s good to hear you say that you will do that.
Booth: 00:50:04.398 Yep.
Chesterfield: 00:50:04.698 Thank you, Mr. Booth, and thank you, Mr. Chair.
Rice: 00:50:08.178 Well, I’m glad I wasn’t the only one to notice that 1984. To some of us it doesn’t seem that long ago, but I do agree it is past time to adjust your income and allow people to invest on that. So thank you for that. Going to Representative Wooten. You’re recognized.
Wooten: 00:50:28.371 Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Director, thank you for being here. Thank you for your report and your budget. I have some questions involving the personnel area. First of all, I have information that I, as chair of the personnel committee or co-chair of the personnel committee, asked the staff to put together. And it shows that you have 60 vacant positions and also that 9 of the 60 are over two years old. What is the exact age of those positions that are vacant?
Booth: 00:51:05.904 We have an age breakdown that we can provide to you. I don’t have that, I believe, at the table this morning What I will tell you is that we intend to reclassify many of those positions on the personnel side.
Wooten: 00:51:27.613 Well, does reclassifying mean you’re going to use them? Or how old– what would you say the average age of your two-year-old positions– over two years, that have been vacant? What would be the, not the person’s age, but the average? Are they two years, three years, four years? Is the average five years that you’ve had those nine positions that they have not been filled?
Booth: 00:51:55.981 It would be hard for me to generalize because these positions– the vacancy in our IT positions, just for example, would be much longer than, say, the vacancies in a support role in fiscal or HR. And the reason for that is our compensation normally on the IT and on the science side is exponentially lower than peer states and private sector. So it’d be hard for me to generalize across divisions, but we could definitely get you that breakdown as soon as possible.
Wooten: 00:52:37.683 That would be interesting The other question is in your budget presentation you saw, and I have 634 employees. You have 636. You’re asking for two additional positions when you have 60 vacant positions. I don’t understand why we’re increasing– why you’re asking for two more when you have 60 vacant positions.
Booth: 00:53:06.171 Yes, sir. So those two positions the personnel committee approved last month. And so we just wanted to be transparent that the positions that personnel just approved we were then going to add to the bi-annual budget. But those two positions specifically were not positions that we could have filled utilizing any of the 60 vacant ones.
Wooten: 00:53:36.328 Another question, when was the last time you did a work time study for every one of your employees?
Booth: 00:53:44.819 A what study, sir?
Wooten: 00:53:46.676 A time work study, as to how much time they used on each project and how much of the 8-hour or 10-hour or 12-hour day were they actually performing tasks?
Shumate: 00:54:03.195 I’m not sure the last time we did a study. But we actually require a time sheet from every single one of our employees. And we tie their activities directly to the grants and the programs that they’re working on. So we have a high level of visibility on the activities of all of our employees.
Wooten: 00:54:17.037 Okay. One more question, Mr. Chairman. Did you take into consideration the current inflationary spiral and what did you come up with from the standpoint of making your budget relative to the current economic condition, and for how long did you look at that as being out there? Did you look at– when you went from 94 million actual to 148, that’s a pretty good jump. But is any of that as a result of inflationary cost?
Booth: 00:55:02.649 Absolutely, sir. Just to bring up the buying power argument, if you adjust our license revenue back to 2000, not even going back to 1984, if you just go back to 2000, we’ve lost well over $250 million in buying power just in 20 years. And that’s only in 2000 to 2020. That does not include the inflation that we’ve seen from the pandemic. So whether it’s fish food for our hatcheries, whether it’s fertilizer for our wildlife management areas, for food plots, for more soil units, whether it’s wage inflation, whether it’s fuel, we think about inflation every single day. And it, again, is not the most important, but certainly a very large role in our request for fee increase.
Wooten: 00:56:09.953 Okay. One more question, Mr. Chairman.
Rice: 00:56:11.712 If you will. You told me that. [laughter]. Go ahead.
Wooten: 00:56:17.139 On your fund balance, I noticed that in 2024-25, you don’t have a fund balance. Have you used all that money? Has that been used because of the inflation spiral?
Booth: 00:56:31.977 Well, we do expect to have a fund balance in ’24 and ’25. It’ll be much smaller than what it is right now. What’s directly contributing to that is what our CFO here, Emily, said, that even though we’re through the pandemic, we are still seeing procurement challenges around fleet and capital needs. So as we’ve fallen short in FY ’21 and ’22 we continue to roll those into ’23, ’24, and ’25.
Wooten: 00:57:06.661 Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Mr. Director.
Rice: 00:57:08.215 Thank you. Members I’m going to recognize, my co-chair, Representative Wardlaw. And then I’ve got Representative– or, excuse me, Senator Flowers, Representative Vaught and two more. We’re on an hour. Let’s be succinct in what we’re asking Thank you.
Wardlaw: 00:57:26.494 Thank you, Mr. Chair. Director Booth, if you would, on page 18 it goes through the Black River Settlement Fund, and it looks like the actual spend in ’21-’22 was less than $300,000. And you’re asking for basically $13.25 million for that budget. Can you talk to us about what the plans are and what would be spent over the next year? And a little bit about how that fund became available and what it’s meant to do, please?
Booth: 00:58:01.483 I received a question from this on Representative Cavanagh and from Representative Dotson and probably took more time than I should have in answering it. But we are–
Wardlaw: 00:58:16.156 I can watch the video.
Booth: 00:58:16.982 All right. Thank you, sir.
Rice: 00:58:19.588 That’s one thing nice about the video. You can go back and watch it. Thank you. I appreciate my co-chair. Senator Flowers, you’re recognized.
Flowers: 00:58:31.497 Thank you, Mr. Chair. Director Booth, I don’t know if you’ve had this question posed to you already concerning private land and the creation of that division. And in here it says — I thought I saw where you say with 90% of Arkansas in private ownership. Are you talking about related to fishing, hunting, 90%?
Booth: 00:59:00.133 No, ma’am. If you just looked at every single piece of property in Arkansas, if you were to put a private citizen, a private business, private corporation in one column and in the other column any kind of public entity: city, county, local, state it would fall out about 90% on the private ownership side. So that’s not just recreational property. That’s the entire state.
Flowers: 00:59:28.919 All right. So you’re just talking about real estate in general?
Booth: 00:59:32.882 Yes, sir– or, yes, ma’am.
Flowers: 00:59:35.381 Well, my question is this, you’ve created this division. I don’t know how long it’s been in existence. But over the years, more recently, I’ve had calls from individuals who, growing up in southeast Arkansas, they’ve always been able to fish in certain areas, bodies of water. And now private land owners, are seemingly cutting off access to the places where they fish or hunt. And as far as I know, it’s not privately owned, at least, the water body. And I want to know, I mean, who is the agency helping in terms of delivering this $486,000 proposed each year for private land division? What is the benefit to the state? And are these corporations? Are these individuals that own this property that you want to give technical support and that kind of thing? I don’t understand what is the benefit of the state.
Booth: 00:00:52.338 Yes, ma’am. We’re thrilled about this going forward. We had private lands biologists since 1996. And right now private lands biologist, we have 9 of them. And they work within our wildlife management division. And our intention going forward is to elevate them in the agency where they can have more of an impact than they’re having right now. They’re doing great. They did over 600 site visits last year. There’s 9 of them. They’re responsible for 75 counties. They contracted 75,000 acres. They’re doing a great joB There’s only 9 of them. Missouri has 60.
Flowers: 00:01:38.537 What is the purpose though?
Booth: 00:01:40.418 The purpose is to assist landowners with their conservation goals. Do they want to better manage their food plots for their deer? Do they want to make improvements to the pond or the lake on their property to have better fish? Do they want to fix some of the rivers or the streams that may go through their property to help prevent bank erosion? Do they want help doing controlled burns to make sure that a forest fire doesn’t start on their property? The sole point of this division will be to help the natural state have better habitat and undertake on a much broader scale better conservation practices.
Flowers: 00:02:25.889 Well, how does that help the general public? I mean, if it’s private land, and they restrict access, how is that benefiting the people who pay the taxes in general?
Booth: 00:02:39.595 Sure. Well, I’ll just start with one of the last examples that I used. The single thing that will prevent a large-scale wildfire in Arkansas is if we had more landowners helping do control burns.
Flowers: 00:02:56.670 Aren’t they obligated to do it anyway when you have burn bans? Aren’t they obligated to try to prevent fires through orders of burn bans?
Booth: 00:03:14.171 Yes, ma’am. Reducing the fuel load on the landscape through prescribed fire is a much better and proactive approach than burn bans. Say, another benefit to the state, we hear from people all the time. One of the biggest concerns they had is water quality. We go to Northeast Arkansas, and we see the Black River silting in, see large-scale erosions, rivers getting shallower, rivers getting wider, and that comes down to private landowners taking care of their banks to minimize erosion to help improve water quality. Those are two tremendous benefits to the entire state right there. If we want to talk about sportsmen. I don’t own any hunting land. I don’t own any fishing land. I rely on public access, and the number one thing that I want next to the wildlife management area that I’m going to try to hunt at is healthy private lands around it. We’ve said for a long time that the best thing for healthy public lands is healthy private lands because wildlife don’t know the difference between a public land or a private land. So relevant to the sportsman, public land sportsmen should be thrilled that we’re trying to emphasize habitat and healthier wildlife throughout the entire state, even if it is on the public and the private side.
Flowers: 00:04:48.562 But doesn’t the University of Arkansas have a division that deals with all that erosion and stuff and helps landowners prevent erosion? I think I remember they had a big emphasis on that, and I’m just concerned about the dollars and the restrictions that private landowners have in terms of the general public being able to access these properties that the state is helping to support. That’s my concern.
Booth: 00:05:26.667 I understand.
Flowers: 00:05:27.533 I think we need to be concerned with that. If people are being blocked from going fishing in fishing holes that they’ve grown up fishing in just because a private landowner has put a gate up, blocking a road that was normally used to access, I think there’s a problem with that. And I would have a problem with taxpayer dollars going towards helping them. I don’t know if these are corporations that could do their own. Maybe we need to think about some legislation that would require them not to engage in things that would contribute to erosion. I wish you would consider that.
Booth: 00:06:13.199 Yes, ma’am.
Rice: 00:06:13.993 Thank you, Representative Vaught, you’re recognized.
Vaught: 00:06:22.703 Thank you. Thank you for being here. Thank you for answering all my questions the other day around all of this. I still want to make sure that I reiterate if we’re going to raise our license fees, I think it needs to be much greater on out-of-state people than what it is on in-state people because I think there’s already a disparity in rural folks being able to maybe afford to go hunting versus those who come into our state. They can obviously afford to come here. And I would like to see them be able to harvest a doe before they harvest a buck and not as many– just like it would be in other states versus how we do it in our state. But I do appreciate everything that you’re trying to do.
Booth: 00:07:13.557 Yes, ma’am, thank you. I enjoyed the conversation and we have those items for consideration.
Vaught: 00:07:21.724 Thank you.
Rice: 00:07:23.845 Representative Beatty, I believe, in Representative Fortner’s chair, you’re recognized.
Beatty: 00:07:29.181 Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Director Booth, first, I want to say I enjoyed attending the graduation on October 5th and the fact that four of those officers are going to be in South Arkansas is a great addition to the southern part of the state. And most of those guys are from that area and grew up in South Arkansas are coming back to protect the resources that we hold dear there. One thing, I want to follow back up on the question that I think Senator Hill posed related back to the low utilization that you mentioned– not utilization, maybe involvement, that we have from hunters, and that we’re not seeing an increase in folks that are taking advantage of our outdoors. First of all, I’d say, I understand the position you walked into and respect the job that you’ve done so far. But I would like you to spend a little time explaining to the committee how an increase in fees will directly lead to an increase in utilization and more folks coming on to partake of the outdoors and the activities we have in Arkansas. I understand how it will lead to increased money for acquisition of additional resources that you stated you had high demand for those resources from hunters. So, again, I’d like you to speak directly on how an increased fee will lead to more involvement in activity.
Booth: 00:09:17.878 I think it’s important to look at the fee increase not in terms of paying more for a product so you can get the same product you’ve always had. When I kind of went through the list of three considerations that the fee increase was built around, the third and the most important is the desires of Arkansans. And so it would be a mistake to say, “Well, just charging people more money is not going to get people outside reinvigorated, refocused.” I would totally agree with that. What will is improvements to our black bass program that we really want to do, right? For us to do that, we know that we have to renovate some of the hatcheries. What that’s going to lead itself towards is more lake renovations, outstanding habitat, better trophy bass stocking Those efforts, those additive efforts to improve what Arkansans know and enjoy now, that will get more people involved. Better long-term wintering habitat for waterfowl where there’s less peaks and valleys in our waterfowl seasons, that’ll keep people involved. More recreational shooting access, that’ll definitely get people out. So it’s not just a fee increase that’s going to bring people out. It’s how we want to use that money to take care of what we need to now but also grow to meet the desires of Arkansans in the future.
Beatty: 00:11:09.308 Follow up.
Rice: 00:11:10.813 If you will, quickly.
Beatty: 00:11:11.689 I’ll be very quick. A lot of folks aren’t blessed with the parents that I believe we had. The outdoors was not so much an option and hunting was not an option. It was something that you grew up knowing that that’s what you’re going to participate in and take action in. And what I would like to hear is how you’re going to educate and outreach to younger Arkansans and show them the importance in the value of hunting and the great natural resources that we have in the state. And again, I applaud the job you’re doing It’s going to be a difficult task. And I know that you’re up to the joB But I think that’s going to be– I think that’s going to be key and essential to the average Arkansan on the hunting and fishing is to stress to them what you’re going to do to bring that younger generation in, and I wish you good luck.
Booth: 00:12:10.323 Well, thank you. Education has been a huge part of this agency since 1996 and it will continue to be so. I believe what this looks like in a more effective and focused way is, yes, maintaining the outreach efforts that we have that are really based out of our nature centers and in the classrooms. But outdoor education starts around the dinner table. And we don’t want to just try to teach someone how to hunt in a 3- to 8-hour class and walk away and think that we’re going to call it good. We don’t want to just do a fishing derby where we throw a rod in somebody’s hand and teach them how to reel efficient and assume that we’ve created an angler. But we want to provide parents and families and communities, and Howard Beatty’s all throughout the state. We want to provide them with the resources and the tools, not just to learn how to do it, but if they want to be advocates in a community that they know and love more and better than we do, then how do we resource other people that can do it in a much broader, more effective way than we can.
Rice: 00:13:38.509 Thank you. Senator Hill, well, I’ve got one more after you that’s lit up. Members, I’ve allowed broad latitude on some of the subjects because it still comes back to Game and Fish, the budget relating the legislature upcoming session and all. There’ll be some things I expect in our budget hearings that we’re going to call us back to the budget when we get a little more off. But I’ve tried to be open today. Senator Hill, you’re recognized.
Hill: 00:14:08.688 Thank you, Mr. Chair. Over here, Director Booth. I want to piggyback on what Senator Flowers was saying a while ago on the, I think it was $496,000 she was referring to on private landowners. Now, is a large part of that money not going to a partnership between Game and Fish and private landowners to make it where it’s open to the public to use their property?
Booth: 00:14:33.108 Yeah. So the short answer is the increased agency funding for private lands is only for the resources that belong to the agency, meaning we’re not giving land owners money to make improvements to their property value that then they’re going to turn around and somehow benefit from. And the more landowners that we work with, not only is there more of a desire to contribute to conservation habitat in a state that calls itself The Natural State, but there’s also a deep desire to bring people into that. Now maybe there’s people that aren’t as inviting around their own ponds, but we have what’s called the WRISE program. And in the WRISE program we were able to receive a federal grant where we lease over 4,000 acres from private landowners. We pay them for that money, and then we turned around and we lease that to the hunting public. So, yes, that’s the program that you’re talking about. The WRISE program will be part of the private land division. We’ve seen great success from it the past few years, and we only expect it to grow in the future.
Rice: 00:16:01.916 You through? Senator Flippo’s chair? Representative Rye, I don’t know if you remember an alternate, but if you will be quick, we’ll get you in here. Thank you.
Rye: 00:16:18.818 Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Sir, a couple of minutes ago, we were covering the part of private land. And it never did come out. But I just wonder, of all the things is going on, during those private lands, is there experimentation, sir, that’s being conducted for the extinction of certain wildlife, sir?
Booth: 00:16:46.564 I don’t think I understand what you mean by experimentation. We do have a list of what we call species of greatest conservation need, which are either plant or wildlife species that is an important but threatened part of our ecosystem in Arkansas. And we are always trying to prevent them from ever making it to the Endangered Species Act list. The majority of the private landowners that we get, they come to us with the attitude of, “Well, yeah, I’m a deer hunter,” or, “Yeah, I’m a quail hunter and I want to have more opportunity, but I also just want to make my habitat better for the state.” And as we continue to try to emphasize native ecosystems, prescribed fire, prairie grasses, the emphasis on native habitat through this division will only create better habitat for all species, whether they’re game species, non-game species or threatened or endangered species like your reference.
Rye: 00:18:02.624 Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, sir.
Game and Fish Budget approved as recommended
Rice: 00:18:04.879 Thank you. That’s all I have on the screen. Been some good discussion this morning Would welcome a agency rec motion at this time. I have a motion. I have second. All in favor of agency rec, say aye. Opposed? It passes. And director Booth staff and Miss Knight thank you for your presentations this morning and answering all our questions. You’re excused. Okay, members, up next is the Election Commissioners Board. Miss Knight will continue with that. And if the Election Commissioners Board representatives will come forward. If you’ll take a seat, turn your microphone on, and pull it up, we’ll let you recognize yourself.
Schultz: 00:19:14.194 Daniel Schultz. I’m the Executive Director for the state election commission.
Rice: 00:19:17.886 Okay, thank you. And Miss Knight, we’ll let you proceed.
Knight: 00:19:22.230 Thank you, Mr. Chair. The Board of Election Commissioners’ budget requests can be found in your manual starting on page 22. And that’s manual 1. The Election Commissioners’ mission is to provide reimbursement to the counties for state-funded election expenses while assuring fair and orderly election procedures. The department appropriation summary can be found on page 24. The board has a total of three appropriations. The agency request and executive recommendation is about $9 million each year. Funding for the board consists of existing fund balances, general revenue, and judicial and prosecuting attorneys’ filing fees. The first appropriation is the nonpartisan general elections appropriation which can be found on page 26 in your manual. This appropriation is funded from judicial and prosecuting attorneys filing fees, as well as the Commission’s fund balance. The agency requests a continuation of fiscal year 2023 authorized appropriation level of $1.6 million each year of the biennium to cover expenses of the board and local county board of election commissioners to conduct state-supported elections. There are no change levels. The executive recommendation provides for the agency request.
Knight: 00:20:48.759 The second appropriation is their operations appropriation and can be found on page 28 in your manual. This appropriation is funded by general revenue through the miscellaneous agencies fund. The agency is requesting around $1 million each year. Salary and match adjustments made in the current biennium are requested to continue into the next biennium. The executive recommendation provides for the agency request. The third and final appropriation is the election expenses appropriation and can be found on page 30 in your manual. This appropriation is funded by general revenue through the miscellaneous agencies fund. The agency and executive recommendation is $6.34 million each year, which is a continuation of the fiscal year 2023 authorized. The executive provides for the agency requests. There are no change levels. And this concludes my presentation, Mr. Chair.
Rice: 00:21:45.122 Thank you. And Mr. Schultz, do you have any comments?
Schultz: 00:21:50.189 Not at this time. I’d be happy to answer questions.
Election Commission Budget approved as recommended
Rice: 00:21:51.920 All right. And members, do we have questions for Miss Knight or Mr. Schultz? Not seeing any, do I have a motion for exec rec? I have a motion. Do I have a second? All in favor, aye? Opposed? Passes. Was much quicker. Thank you for being here today.
Schultz: 00:22:16.417 Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you, committee.
Rice: 00:22:19.087 Continuing on, Miss Knight has Claims Commission. And if we will have director Irby come up. Please recognize yourself.
Irby: 00:22:44.872 Yes, sir. My name is Katherine Irby. I’m the director of the Claims Commission.
Rice: 00:22:48.167 And Miss Knight, you can proceed.
Knight: 00:22:50.436 Thank you, Mr. Chair. The Claims Commission’s budget requests can be found in your manual starting on page 7. The Claims Commission is a body established to hear claims against the state of Arkansas and its agencies, boards, commissions, and institutions unless otherwise exempt by statute. The department appropriation summary can be found on page 8. The commission has a total of three appropriations. The agency requests and executive recommendation is about $2.9 million each year of the biennium. Funding for the commission consists of state central services and miscellaneous revolving funds. The first appropriation can be found on page 10. This is the operations appropriation which is funded by State Central Services. The agency requests an executive recommendation is around $730,000 each year. Salary and match adjustments requested in the current biennium are requested to continue into the next biennium. In addition to this continuation, there’s also a slight increase in salary and match due to the agency’s request for the reclassification of three positions.
Knight: 00:24:03.621 Lastly, the agency is requesting the reallocation of $3,000 from the conference and travel line item to the operating expenses line item due to increasing technology cost. The executive recommendation provides for the agency request with the exception of the reclassifications. The second appropriation can be found on page 12. This is the various claims appropriation, which provides for the payment of small controversial claims, noncontroversial claims, and death benefit awards. Payment of these claims come from the miscellaneous revolving fund. The agency is requesting a continuation of the fiscal year 23 authorized for both years in the amount of $2.25 million. There are no change levels and the executive provides for the agency request.
Knight: 00:24:53.531 The third and final appropriation can be found on page 14. This is the firefighter benefit review panel appropriation. The firefighter benefit review panel makes recommendations to the Arkansas Claims Commission on death benefit awards. The death benefit awards are paid out of various claims appropriation which was previously discussed on page 12. This appropriation provides for the expense reimbursements for the review panel and is funded by State Central Services. The commission is requesting a continuation of the fiscal year 2023 authorized for both years in the amount of $8,000 and the executive provides for the agency request. This concludes my presentation, Mr. Chair.
Rice: 00:25:38.677 Thank you, Miss Knight. Miss Irby, do you have a comment?
Irby: 00:25:41.126 No, sir. But I’m happy to take any questions.
Claims Commission Budget approved as recommended
Rice: 00:25:42.429 Thank you. Okay. Members, any questions? None on the board. If not, I’d take an exec rec motion. I have a motion. Do I have a second? Second. All in favor, aye. Opposed? Exec rec passes. Thank you for being here today. Miss Knight’s going to stay with us. Mr. Sloan, you’ve been patiently waiting I’ll have the Ethics Commission come up. Welcome. If you will turn your mics on and recognize yourself, please.
Sloan: 00:26:30.277 Graham Sloan, Director of the Arkansas Ethics Commission.
Jones: 00:26:33.535 Cindy Jones, Business Operations for the Arkansas Ethics Commission.
Rice: 00:26:37.282 Thank you all for being here today. Miss Knight, you are recognized to present.
Knight: 00:26:41.031 Thank you, Mr. Chair. The Ethics Commission budget requests can be found in your manuals starting on page 32. The Ethics Commission enforces Arkansas’s standard of conduct and disclosure laws concerning candidates. The Commission has one appropriation which can be found on page 34 in your manual. This is their operations appropriation which is funded by general revenue through the miscellaneous agencies fund. The agency requests and executive recommendation is around $1 million each year. Salary and match adjustments made in the current biennium are requested to continue into the next biennium. The executive recommendation provides for the agency request. This concludes my presentation, Mr. Chair.
Rice: 00:27:25.458 Thank you. Mr. Sloan, either one of you all have a statement?
Sloan: 00:27:29.823 No, sir, be happy to answer any questions.
Ethics Commission Budget approved as recommended
Rice: 00:27:31.766 Thank you, sir. Any questions for staff or the Ethics Commission? Not seeing any, I take exec recommendation? I have that. And a second? Second. All in favor, aye. Opposed. Exec rec passes. Thank you for being here today and being patient.
Sloan: 00:27:49.657 Thank you.
Judicial Discipline and Disability
Rice: 00:27:51.784 Next up, we have Judicial Discipline. If Mr. Sachar would come up. I hope this is a help to everybody to have people in the room and it moves it alonG We don’t have to go out and get them like we did sometimes in the past. If you’ll recognize yourself, sir.
Sachar: 00:28:15.452 Thank you. I’m David J. Sachar. I’m the director of Judicial Discipline and Disability. It’s always a pleasure to be here. Thank you.
Rice: 00:28:21.228 Thank you for being here today. Miss Knight, you’re recognized.
Knight: 00:28:23.820 Thank you, Mr. Chair. The Judicial Discipline and Disabilities Commission’s budget request can be found in your manual starting on page 173. The Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission receives and investigates information and complaints about the possible ethical misconduct or disability of Arkansas judges. The Commission has one appropriation that can be found on page 175 in your manual. This is their operations appropriation, which is funded by general revenue through the Miscellaneous Agencies Fund. The agency request and executive recommendation is around $770,000 each year of the biennium. Salary and match adjustments made in the current biennium are requested to continue into the next biennium. The executive recommendation provides for the agency request. And that concludes my presentation, Mr. Chair.
Rice: 00:29:17.523 Any statement from you, Mr. Sachar?
Sachar: 00:29:20.831 None. Thank you very much.
Judicial Discipline Budget approved as recommended
Rice: 00:29:21.718 Okay. Any questions from members? If not, I’ll take a motion for executive rec. I have a motion. Do I have a second? Second. All in favor, aye. Opposed? Exec rec passes. Thank you, Mr. Sachar, for being here.
Sachar: 00:29:38.210 Thank you. I was born in 1969, just for the record. [laughter]
Public Service Commission
Rice: 00:29:42.340 I remember it well. Thank you, sir. And Public Service Commission. If Director Gray would come up. Welcome to both of you. If you will, hit your button there and tell us who you are and who are you’re with.
Gray: 00:30:22.869 Good morning I’m Donna Gray. I’m the director of the Public Service Commission. And I have with me our director of the Tax Division.
Cavenar: 00:30:32.844 I’m Matt Cavenar, Tax Division Director of Arkansas Public Service Commission. It’s a pleasure to be here today.
Rice: 00:30:38.271 Thank you. And Miss Knight, you’re recognized to proceed.
Knight: 00:30:41.808 Thank you, Mr. Chair. The Public Service Commission’s budget request can be found in your manual starting on page 315. The Public Service Commission has general regulatory authority over public utilities. The department appropriation summary can be found on page 316. The Commission has a total of four appropriations. The agency request is around $16.5 million each year. Funding for the Commission consists of existing fund balances and special revenues and some federal revenues and ad valorem tax receipts. The first appropriation is the Utilities Division Appropriation and can be found– the Utilities Division Operation Appropriation, excuse me, and that can be found on page 319 in your manual. This appropriation is funded by existing fund balances and special revenues. The Agency request is about $12 million each year. In addition, the– sorry. Salary match adjustments made in the current biennium are requested to continue into the next biennium. In addition to this continuation, the Agency is requesting various personnel-related changes, bringing their regular salaries appropriation, around $1 million over fiscal year 2023 authorized, as well as around $500,000 over fiscal year 2023 authorized and personnel services matching for both years of the biennium.
Knight: 00:32:16.501 On the conference and travel line item, the agency is requesting $10,000 over fiscal year 2023 authorized for staff development and training in both years. On the capital outlay line item, the agency is requesting $34,000 over fiscal year 2023 authorized for the replacement of a vehicle in each year. Lastly, on the data processing services line item, the agency is requesting around $260,000 over fiscal year 2023 authorized for the replacement of agency servers in fiscal year 2024 only. The executive recommendation provides for this request with the exception of personnel-related changes.
Knight: 00:33:02.243 The second appropriation is the Pipeline Safety Program and can be found on page 321 in your manual. This program is charged with enforcing pipeline safety rules and is funded by special revenue from inspection fees as well as some federal reimbursement. The Agency request is about $1.3 million each year of the biennium. Salary and match adjustments made in the current biennium are requested to continue into the next biennium. In addition to this continuation, the agency is requesting multiple additions, restoration, transfers, reclassification, and upgrades of various positions, bringing their– sorry, I lost my voice again–bringing their regular salaries appropriation around $150,000 over fiscal year 2023 authorized, as well as $80,000 over fiscal year 2023 authorized, and personnel services matching for both years. The agency is also asking for $8,500 over fiscal year 2023 authorized in capital outlay for the replacement of a vehicle in both years. The executive recommendation provides for the agency request with the exception of the personnel-related changes.
Knight: 00:34:26.754 The third appropriation is the Tax Division Appropriation– Operations Appropriation and can be found on page 323 in your manual. This appropriation provides for all functions and duties regarding the assessment and equalization of properties of public utilities and carriers. This appropriations funding includes special revenues from the Public Service Commission Fund, ad valorem taxes, and general revenues if needed. The agency request is about $1.8 million each year. Match adjustments made in the current biennium are requested to continue into the next biennium with the exception of personal services matching There are no change levels. The executive provides for the agency request.
Knight: 00:35:12.857 The fourth and final appropriation is the agency’s contingency appropriation, which can be found on page 325 in your manual. This appropriation provides additional spending authority that may be transferred to the division’s operating line items in emergency situations that would require additional resources. Funding for this appropriation comes from special revenue balances held in the public service commission fund to support any transfers that may be made. The agency request is $1 million each year of the biennium and the executive recommendation provides for the agency request. That concludes my presentation, Mr. Chair.
Rice: 00:35:54.589 Thank you, Miss Knight. Miss Gray, do either one of you all have a statement?
Gray: 00:36:01.384 No, sir, just to say that we’re happy to be here and to present our needs and answer any questions you have about our proposal.
Rice: 00:36:07.563 Okay. We do have a few requests, a few questions. Representative Cavenaugh, you’re recognized.
Cavenaugh: 00:36:16.275 Thank you, Mr. Chair. I’m over here to your right. Thank you. My question is going to be for the tax division. Can you explain to me what you do?
Cavenar: 00:36:30.980 Yes, mam. Thanks for the question. So we appraise utility and carrier companies, so any utilities, oil and gas pipelines, telecommunications as well, airlines, barge lines. Most of that money gets transferred back to the counties, which funds school district funding, and then city and county funding, but it’s an ad valorem assessment based on their property.
Cavenaugh: 00:36:58.986 So you’re actually like a county assessor, but you do it for the public.
Cavenar: 00:37:05.114 Yes, ma’am. Yes, ma’am In a way. The assessment practices are somewhat different. It’s based on what we call a unit assessment, but in many ways it’s similar. Yes, ma’am.
Cavenaugh: 00:37:16.692 Okay. And how much of the tax do you get?
Cavenar: 00:37:19.982 We receive 5% of what we call the ad valorem tax fund. That’s from the assessments on airlines, barge lines, and what we call our motor carriers, which are 18-wheelers and bus lines. In statute 19-5-506, I believe, we get 5% of that fund each year.
Cavenaugh: 00:37:39.534 Okay.
Cavenar: 00:37:39.678 80% of that goes to Legislative Audit. And then 15% funds the assessment department, which is the state arm of the county assessors.
Rice: 00:37:57.218 Is that all you had? Senator Stubblefield, you’re recognized.
Stubblefield: 00:38:05.684 Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’m way over here on your left. Can you go over, I mean, real briefly, just in detail the addition of these tentative positions?
Gray: 00:38:19.515 Yes, sir. The commissions organize as the commissions–
Rice: 00:38:25.263 If you will, pull your mic up because you’re turned away from it.
Gray: 00:38:30.370 The commission is organized as the commission itself and its advisory staff and the investigatory staff of which I’m a part. We make recommendations to the commission, and there’s been a significant increase in the nature of utility and jurisdictional company requests, and so what we haven’t done in many, many years, 20 years to be exact, is had an increase in the number of positions. But what we’ve seen is a significant number of filings, 900 more than the prior year last year and 1,100 before that. So it’s just imperative that we have additional staff to review utility requests, rate case increases, and other types of utility needs that are presented to the commission as well as for the commission staff to be able to evaluate those, make advisory positions for the commissioners for them to render their decisions.
Gray: 00:39:42.783 So the change in positions is fairly balanced between the advisory staff for the commission and the investigatory staff. The commissioner’s staff are requesting the addition of a general– a chief of staff for managerial responsibility over their resources. That chief of staff position will handle media inquiry, legislative inquiry, as well as supervise the common functions in the agency like IT, the secretary’s office, and the physical division. So that position would assume some of the responsibility that are being performed by others currently. The commission would also identified two important areas of regulation with regional transmission organizations. The commission’s responsibilities and contributions in this area have grown over the years, and they’re looking for two additional specialists, RTO, Regional Transmission Organization. You may heard of MISO and SPP that they participate in, two dedicated resources for that–
Stubblefield: 00:41:08.309 So this has been occurring over a number of years? These major filings didn’t just take place in the last two years, correct?
Gray: 00:41:17.145 It has been taking place over– I would say 2015 to the present is the most marked increase in what the needs were. And we’re addressing those now. We have worked with OPM since I became the agency’s director a little over four years ago. We did a complete assessment of the workflow and what our needs were. And we’ve worked with OPM and through personnel committee to make some organizational refinements to make sure that we were doing everything we could to use the current resources. But over the last two years, it has just really overwhelmed us, and we stand in really dire need of additional resources on both the commission side as well as the investigatory staff side.
Stubblefield: 00:42:10.365 So this past two years we’ve been through COVID. Do you know what precipitated these large jump in filings in the last 24 months?
Gray: 00:42:21.124 And it’s not just the last two. As you pointed out, it’s over time since probably 2015. But a couple of legislative changes have prompted the need. One is the formula rate plan legislation that was passed, where annual adjustments are allowed to utility rates that are authorized that recovery. So what we have is rate cases, is there’s on now before the commission, one next year, an anticipated two over the next three years that utilities file rate cases that require review and a determination by the commission of what’s a just and reasonable rate. But also, annual filings in between rate cases now after 2015 legislation on formula rate plans. So that requires resources. There’s statutory deadlines that have to be met. They’re very prescriptive in terms of timelines. Almost everything the commission does has a statutory foundation in terms of the time in which it must enter orders. That’s what really drives. We don’t get behind because we have to meet statutory deadlines, we just work people harder. And that’s where we’re at the point where we need additional resources to assist in that effort to ensure that we can fulfill the responsibility to ensure safe, reliable, just and reasonable rates. But also that we can relieve some of the burden that we have on current staff because of the excess hours that are being required.
Stubblefield: 00:44:08.160 All right. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Rice: 00:44:11.127 Thank you. Representative Springer, you’re recognized.
Springer: 00:44:15.492 Good morning Thank you, Mr. Chair. My questions relate to the– on page 352 regarding the contingency amount of $1 million dollars. Can you give an example of what that possibly could be used for?
Gray: 00:44:31.789 Yes. That contingency was last used in the utilities division in like 2008. But when an unforeseen circumstance presents itself because of the legal requirements on the commission to issue orders in statutorily prescribed timeframes and the fact that orders can be appealed, there may be things that are not routinely foreseen that require additional expenditure. We had a special commissioner that we had to pay for in 2008, and there have been other times when there were excessive numbers or a number of hearing days in excess of norm. So it’s really things that the commission must statutorily stand ready to produce, but at the same time, maybe unique circumstances that would interfere with that. If that contingency is not spent, then it’s not charged in our special revenues. It would have showed up in our fund balance. And so we’d reduce the amount we bill for our budget for the upcoming year because we bill annually through– everything that the commission does is funded through special revenue. So it would serve to reduce that billing as an offset.
Springer: 00:46:09.297 One last question, Mr. Chair. Thank you. On page 319, I see the increase in staff and the increase in the conference in travel expenses. Is there a correlation between the two of those?
Gray: 00:46:26.915 They are related. We took into consideration that this is another area of our budget that has not been adjusted in 20 years. As you have heard from Game and Fish and probably will hear from other state agencies, recruitment and retention has been a challenge for us. We want to ensure in this complex area of utility regulation that requires accounting expertise, finance, engineering, economic, all of those areas require significant training And so that is the only purpose for that increase, and I think it’s a minor increase in relation to the number of new people we are hoping to attract and the fact that the training opportunities will be heavy in the early years for attracting new folks.
Springer: 00:47:25.768 Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Rice: 00:47:27.706 Thank you. Senator Sample, you’re recognized.
Sample: 00:47:30.676 Thank you, Mr. Chair. Right here. And I was hoping you were going to give this answer to Senator Stubblefield. Is part of the reason that you’re needing more people is that we’re having more homeowners take and put solar panels in and there’s always problems with them? I get calls all the time about net metering Is that part of your problem that you’re having to add more staff?
Gray: 00:48:01.653 It is a factor. That legislation that expanded the use of net metering in the state led us to create a focused group that is getting up to speed on that expertise and addressing those areas. We have had a lot of complaints in that regard. And so we do have more dedicated staff now based on that legislation. I should have mentioned that earlier as well. In addition to the 2015 formula rate plan legislation, the 2019 Solar Act also is a factor in that.
Sample: 00:48:44.173 That’s what I was thinking that you were going to answer that with that because I know that I’ve sent a good many people to you because of their problems putting up solar panels and having them activated. And so thank you for your answer. Appreciate that.
Gray: 00:49:03.947 Thank you. Sorry I failed to mention that earlier. It certainly is a consideration.
Rice: 00:49:09.962 Thank you. Representative Wooten, you’re the last one I have on the board.
Wooten: 00:49:15.336 Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you all for being here today. I want to ask you some questions about your personnel. You’re asking for 10 additional employees, and you have the 26 that are vacant right now. How many of those do the same thing that these 10 new ones will do?
Gray: 00:49:36.734 Probably a third of those will do something similar to five of the positions we’re asking for. The others are different positions. The chief of staff for the commission itself, the RTO analyst, regional transmission organization analyst, would be a new job description there. And there are three positions I’d like to talk about that are really devoted to public safety. They’re in our pipeline appropriation. Our pipeline up evaluates on-site in the field all of the natural gas facilities in the state. One of the things that has become an issue over the last year and a half is the damage prevention results in Arkansas have declined. Our performance has declined. You will have legislation before you, probably very soon, where we have worked with the natural gas operators and 811 Call Before You Dig to try to improve that legislation. And we’re anticipating, at least, three of these positions that would be in our pipeline safety effort, damage prevention specific, to ensure the safety of the public and the workers that are actually digging new utility line. And those are damage prevention analysts, which are not positions we currently have. And an additional attorney to help lead that effort.
Wooten: 00:51:27.781 So–
Gray: 00:51:27.984 And most of that– I’m sorry. Most of that will be funded or should be funded by the US Department of Transportation. Not wholly, but our program operates under the jurisdiction of the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration Arm of the US Department of Transportation. We’re eligible to be reimbursed for a large part of our operations. Depending on federal funding and the performance of our operations, we can get as much as 80%. Historically, those positions have been funded at the 60 to 65 percent level. So for those positions, we anticipate that Arkansas Pipeline Safety acting in the stead of the federal agency doing so should be funded largely with federal funding
Wooten: 00:52:31.237 Okay. So you’re saying that 3 or 4 of the 26 positions are equivalent to what you want to add?
Gray: 00:52:41.110 Similar, yes.
Wooten: 00:52:41.716 That are vacant. They’re similar.
Gray: 00:52:42.025 Similar to five of the ones–
Wooten: 00:52:43.768 So why ask for 10 when you got 4 similar positions you can’t fill now?
Gray: 00:52:50.407 Well, several of those, we’re in the process of filling It has taken us longer. And we have been more diligent in our efforts. One of the things that we’ve done is– in the last legislative session, an act was passed that allowed an agency to request up to $5,000 to be transferred, on the approval of DFA, to be used for promotional items. And we have done that in an effort to attend career fairs. And so we–
Wooten: 00:53:25.698 I don’t want to interrupt you, but I guess I will. You spent $5,000 and you still have the vacant positions.
Gray: 00:53:34.907 Well, it’s an investment that we’re making for the short run and, hopefully, the short run, medium, and the long term. We attended a career fair at University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff last month. We’re scheduled to go to UCA next month. So we are actively attempting to attract people to those positions.
Wooten: 00:53:57.893 As a result of those meetings, how many people and inquiries have you had about those positions?
Gray: 00:54:04.370 We have 11 resumes that are under consideration from-
Wooten: 00:54:07.096 Did you hire any of them?
Gray: 00:54:09.187 It’s not at the point where they have applied for that position. But we are extremely optimistic that that among other efforts will help us in being able to attract. It’s not that we don’t need them, it’s that we’re having– it’s taking longer to get the specific expertise that we have to– that we need. Almost everyone that works for me is a subject matter expert, testifying on issues of what cost or reasonable to be charged to the right payers of Arkansas. And so we want people that have the hard business degrees in accounting and finance, and–
Wooten: 00:54:49.539 So even if you hire the 4 additional that are similar responsibilities now, you still feel like you need the 10 additional?
Gray: 00:54:57.838 Yes, because all those 10 are not in that same area. I hope I’ve made clear that there’s some different positions that are being covered for both safety, managerial, and the regional transmission organizations for the commission staff. But yes, sir, I do believe we need all of those positions, given the workload that we’ve experienced. Since I’ve been back with the agency after 30 years before, back for the last four as the director, and seeing what is yet to come, I feel like these positions are essential to us to be able to ensure that we protect the public interest of Arkansas.
Wooten: 00:55:38.389 Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, ma’am.
Gray: 00:55:40.409 Yes.
Rice: 00:55:41.731 Thank you. Senator Flowers, you’re recognized.
Flowers: 00:55:46.052 Thank you, Mr. Chair. Can you tell me, Ms. Gray, how much do you all get in special revenue to support your agency from the utilities? Is it a percentage or what?
Gray: 00:56:09.162 So for the utilities division, which is not necessarily pipeline or tax–
Flowers: 00:56:18.848 Like Liberty Utilities Water Company?
Gray: 00:56:21.460 Yes, yes. Our budget is fully funded by all of the utilities that we regulate. We regulate, in total, 422 entities.
Flowers: 00:56:37.599 Do you get a percentage or what?
Gray: 00:56:39.511 And so what our budget less any fund balance is annually billed to the utilities and each shares in a portion of our budget based upon their revenues in relationship to the total revenues for those companies. So our budget is fully funded by the utilities that we regulate.
Flowers: 00:57:05.486 Okay, so whatever the legislature appropriates for your budget, you get that money from the utility companies.
Gray: 00:57:14.461 That’s correct.
Flowers: 00:57:15.447 Proportionately.
Gray: 00:57:16.555 Yes.
Flowers: 00:57:17.627 Okay. So when the utility companies ask for a rate increase, do you get any more or you just stick with that budget? That budget is the fixed number.
Gray: 00:57:30.995 We would not get any more because they wouldn’t be charged anymore. They would be allowed to seek recovery in general rates, every reasonable cost they incur, of which one would be funding our budget. So we would then evaluate their inclusion of that expense, that valid expense to do business in terms of whether it leads to appropriate recovery from ratepayers.
Flowers: 00:58:00.624 So, what are you saying? They would be allowed to get what they have to pay your agency back from the ratepayers and they figure that into their request for a rate increase?
Gray: 00:58:19.212 Yes. By law, every utility is authorized to recover expenses that are necessary to provide utility service and a reasonable return on their investment. And that’s case law that enables them to do that. That’s a well established foundational basis for utility regulation.
Flowers: 00:58:49.312 So when they’re presenting the request to your agency, they include maybe what the last proportionate share they had to pay?
Gray: 00:59:00.510 Yes? The last bill they would have gotten from our office for our budget, we would look at what that last billing over the last one, two, three years was to come up with a reasonable estimate of what should be in rates prospectively. But we don’t collect any additional amount as an agency at all other than what we’re by statute enabled to collect from the utilities. That’s a statutory provision.
Flowers: 00:59:33.502 Okay, one other question, Mr. Chair. So I think Liberty Utility and maybe Central Arkansas Water are the only two water companies that you all have.
Gray: 00:59:49.536 It’s just the Liberty Water–
Flowers: 00:59:51.256 Just the–
Gray: 00:59:51.838 Mm-hmm.
Flowers: 00:59:52.269 Okay. So they’re not mixed in with these other utilities that you all oversee?
Gray: 01:00:06.401 They are. And the way that that budget would be split proportionately would be based on revenues because their revenues would be significantly lower than the revenues for a major electric utility. Then they would only pay a percentage based upon their revenues is a percent of every utility’s revenues.
Flowers: 01:00:34.350 Well, what I’m concerned about is– because I know Liberty is about to ask, if they haven’t already submitted, a request for a rate increase.
Gray: 01:00:43.728 Yes, they have. September 30th, they filed for an increase.
Flowers: 01:00:45.829 Okay, and so now I heard you respond, I think, to Senator Stubblefield about the increase in requests for rate increases. And that’s going to necessarily affect your budget if you’re asking for additional employees to handle all of these requests and all the other things that might be associated with your office. So I’m just trying to understand how– the bill that we get as a consumer and their rate increase request, what does that look like in terms of what you’re asking us today? Even though I see that some of what you’ve asked for has been put off until the next governor comes into office, so we won’t know. But I’m just wondering what their request looks like. And how does that square with the increase that you’re asking for? That’s not an issue now because that’s not something they’ve already paid. Should I look at it like that, that they’re only going to be looking at their last billing from your office?
Gray: 01:02:22.060 Under state law, a utility is allowed to project, but part of the staff’s– the investigatory arm in the Commission of which I’m a part, we will be evaluating the utility request to make sure it’s reasonable, all aspects of that request, and then in turn filing expert testimony in a docket before the commission for them to decide. Part of our review will be whatever the utility requested, but certainly, we know what we bill them. We have that information, and we know what they paid. And so that should be the most known and measurable information about what that–
Flowers: 01:03:06.660 And last–
Gray: 01:03:06.860 –that would be.
Flowers: 01:03:08.077 Okay. Last, I’ll ask you, when do you expect the decision to be made on this request that’s been submitted to your office? And I would point out– I’m sure you know– but they have two communities that they serve. And as I understand it, they were just going to submit the request for rate increase for Pine Bluff. But White Hall is provided service by that company. So I don’t understand why they wouldn’t have put it together. I think the water resource is coming from the same place and I’m just not understanding that.
Gray: 01:03:56.509 Yes. So the application for the increase was for Pine Bluff water and the level of increase was quite significant. Even the company requested a three-year phase-in because of the order of magnitude. There will be a full investigation by our staff and potentially others that would intervene, including the attorney general. And so that will be scrutinized very closely as all rate cases are. And then, by law, the commission must enter an order within 10 months. And since that application was filed September 30th, then that would be July of 2023. July 30th.
Rice: 01:04:48.679 Thank you. Representative Lanny Fite, you’re recognized.
Fite: 01:04:52.972 Thank you, Mr. Chair. To your right over here. Ms. Gray, it’s my understanding that you do not regulate the solar industry in the state of Arkansas.
Gray: 01:05:11.152 There are net metering facilities that require, by statute, commission approval. And so we have multiple applications that are filed to be a net metering facility based on size under the current law and the commission’s rules. In terms of regulating the industry as a whole, that’s a market that we are not involved in, in that regard. But anything that under the statute and the commission’s rules that requires commission approval, then that’s the part where applications and review would happen at the commission.
Fite: 01:06:01.356 Okay. You receive no financial support from the solar industry for your operation?
Gray: 01:06:08.740 No.
Fite: 01:06:09.770 Okay. The one-for-one, you all have the ability to adjust that and also to limit the size of power plants that can be built across the state?
Gray: 01:06:23.822 Two different questions. So the commission, within the guides of the current statute and rules, has authority in that space that the legislature gave them for net metering And then in terms of power plants, if a utility, as many are now, in need of adding additional generation, there are statutes that require commission approval depending on the size. And that application would come before the commission. It’s usually utility-generated in terms of what they’ve identified they needed in conjunction with their integrated resource plan that they conduct every three years. They make that request before the commission. There’s the statutory deadline on when that is addressed by the commission for approval based upon public interest and other statutory standards.
Fite: 01:07:32.131 One more question, please, Mr. Chair. Okay. The cost shift, do you all take that into consideration when you approve or disapprove power plants?
Gray: 01:07:49.010 When you refer to cost shift, I’m assuming you’re talking about the statutory framework and the rules of the commission regarding net metering?
Fite: 01:08:00.421 Correct.
Gray: 01:08:00.567 And so there has not been evidence presented and a commission order entered with regard to any particular cost shift for any particular utility. There is a docket that the commission started, opened, to investigate that. So I think it would be premature to say that that is a conclusive matter in that regard since it’s just beginning
Fite: 01:08:32.889 In other words, you don’t believe there’s a cost shift right now?
Gray: 01:08:40.232 I would say that– and as with everything in utility regulation, documentation is the basis upon which the evidence is presented. And so that’s the standard the commission has always used, evidence before it, in rendering its decisions. And I have no reason to think that they would change that.
Fite: 01:09:04.697 Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Rice: 01:09:08.453 Thank you. Senator Chesterfield, you’re recognized.
Chesterfield: 01:09:11.344 I move the exec rec.
Public Service Commission Budget approved as recommended
Rice: 01:09:14.508 Okay. Let me hold just one minute and I’ll take that. I had a question and Mr. Anderson clarified it for any members. It’s concern about the personnel issues on this. That will go to Personnel Subcommittee. So us adopting Senator Chesterfield’s motion for exec rec won’t affect that. So that can still be taken up in Personnel Subcommittee. So I have a motion. Do I have a second? I have a second. All in favor of exec rec, say aye. Opposed? Exec rec passes. Thank you all for being here today. And, Ms. Knight, thank you for your excellent joB
Gray: 01:09:59.068 Thank you very much, all, for your questions. Always happy to tell more about what we do. Thank you.
Rice: 01:10:03.893 Thank you.
Cavenar: 01:10:04.072 Thank you all for your time.
Rice: 01:10:05.108 Members, we will be recessing and be back at 1:30 today. Thank you.
Public Employee Retirement System
Rice: 00:01:43.516 Okay, members, welcome back. We’ll do the afternoon session in the ALCJBC budget hearings. And we have Public Employee Retirement. I believe Director Fecher will be coming up. Thought I saw her. There we go. Whoever you’re going to have up, come on up the table. And we’ll have Mr. Billy Parrish presenting here in a minute. If you all will sit down, light your mic up, and go ahead and recognize yourself, please.
Fecher: 00:02:21.297 Amy Fecher with APERS.
Willett: 00:02:24.893 Jason Willett, CFO at APERS.
Woods: 00:02:31.129 Alison Woods, deputy director of APERS.
Rice: 00:02:33.826 Thank you all for being here today. Mr. Parrish, we’ll let you go ahead and present. And you can start.
B Parrish: 00:02:42.131 Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chair. Billy Parrish, Bureau of Legislative Research. We’re on page 300 of Volume 1, manual one, page 300. This is the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System. This agency administers the state-wide public employer retirement program for certain state, country, municipal, and some school district employees. APERS also administers the state police retirement and judicial retirement systems. The director serves as social security administrator and is responsible for coverage-related issues for state and local government employees. On page 300 and 301, this shows state contracts awarded to minority-owned businesses, an employment summary, and publications. On page 302 is the department appropriation summary. The system has six appropriation requests. Two sections have a change level. One of those change levels is a reallocation. The system requests $1.059 billion for each year the biennium. But the executive recommendation is for less. This system is funded by investment income, employer contributions, and employee contributions. On the next page, 303, is our first request. It’s public employer time and operations. And this section provides for the administration of the system. It’s supported by the APERS trust fund.
B Parrish: 00:03:59.183 On page 304 is that appropriation summary. The total authorized for fiscal year 2023– this the third column at the bottom– is 141,756,000. The request for fiscal year 2024 is 142,314,000. That’s less than a 1% increase. The executive recommendation is for slightly less. It’s for 142,309,000, still less than 1% but it’s less than the agency request. And that carries over into fiscal year 2025. The request from the agency is 142,374,000 but the executive recommendation is for less, 142,368,00. Those change levels occur on the regular salaries and personal services match line items. The regular salaries line items is 9% more for each year of the biennium. The executive recommendation is for slightly less than that. Personal services matching is for 13% more for each year. The executive recommendation is a little less than that. A majority of the change levels are salary and match adjustments made in the current biennium. They are requests to continue into the next biennium.
B Parrish: 00:05:11.481 The agency is also requesting to discontinue six positions, restore four growthful positions or reclassify seven positions. The executive recommendation agrees to the discontinuing of six positions and restoring four growthful positions, but the executive recommendation does not provide for the reclassification of positions. And more discussion of positions in those movements will take place in the personnel subcommittee. There is one more line item with a change level. That’s conference and travel. What was authorized in 2023 was 42,500. In 2024 the request is for 67,500. That’s a 60% increase. The executive recommendation does provide for this request, and the reason is that there’s an increase in travel expenses due to inflation. If you look at the table at the bottom for funding sources, the retirement systems operate differently than traditional agencies. The system assets are put into investments to produce revenue for the system, and funds are drawn down as necessary to pay benefits, refunds, and system administrative expenses. The trust funds of the system act more as a paying account. So you’ll see a zero balance in funding matches the year’s actual expense.
B Parrish: 00:06:20.320 The next page, 305, is the next request. This is the state police retirement operation section. This provides for the administration of the state police retirement system and it’s supported by the state police retirement trust fund. On page 306 is their appropriation summary and there is no change level. 30,285,000 was requested, and that’s carried over through the biennium and the executive recommendation provides for this request. On page 307 is the judicial retirement operations section. This provides for the administration of that system. It’s supported by the judicial retirement trust fund, and on page 308 is their summary. The total authorized for 2023 is 8,652,000. There is no change levels for its total amounts, but there is in the line items. It’s a reallocation. In operating expenses, 30,000 was authorized. That decreases by 18,000 to 12,000. That’s a 60% decrease. But professional fees has an increase of 18,000, and that reallocation is due to increased cost and additional scope of work for invest and consulting in actuarial services, such as experience studies done every five years and analyzing the impact of potential legislation.
B Parrish: 00:07:36.215 On page 309 is the public employees retirement cash section. And this section provides the spending authority to make benefit and refund payments by direct deposit. It’s supported by a cash fund. On page 310 is their summary. There is no change level but the executive recommendation is for less. If you look at the benefits nonemployee line item, what’s authorized in 2023 is 775 million. The executive recommendation is the 675 million, so 100 million less, 13% decrease. I did speak with DFA, and the reason for that recommendation is they want to make it more aligned with the actual expenses for 21-22. You’ll see that first column, 572 million was the actual spend for that year. If you look on page 311 is the next request, the state police retirement. This appropriation section allows payments by direct deposit supported by a cash fund.
B Parrish: 00:08:30.314 On page 312 is their summary. There is no change level. 32,500,000 was authorized, and that’s being requested into the biennium. The executive recommendation provides for that request. On page 313 is the last section. This is judicial retirement cash. Again, this provides the spending authority to make benefit and refund payments by direct deposit. And on page 314 is their summary. There is no change level. 21 million was authorized, and that’s what’s requested for the biennium. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Rice: 00:09:01.491 Thank you, Mr. Parrish. Director Fecher, do you have any statement before we get started?
Fecher: 00:09:07.612 No, sir. I’m good.
Rice: 00:09:08.920 Okay. Thank you. We’ve got a question. Representative Cavenaugh, you’re recognized.
Cavenaugh: 00:09:13.375 Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’m over here to your right. Thank you for coming My question’s going to be dealing with page 304, which is going to be the ARPA funds on the retirement operations, and you have a request here in professional fees for $5 million. Your spend is only 600,000. Then if we go down and we look at data processing services, you have a request for $4 million. Your spend is only $2 million. And if you go back and look at your historical data, and I’m bringing these two out, is because your professional fees drops when you add in this new line item for data processing So my question is, I’m assuming your data processing was in part of your professional fees, and why do we need to increase– so you didn’t reduce your request when you took the data processing out of professional fees.
Willett: 00:10:31.362 Previously, those were included in one line item if you go back to like FY18 in previous, and then those were broken in two separate line items between professional fees and the data processing
Cavenaugh: 00:10:47.225 Yeah, I saw that, but you did not reduce your ask.
Willett: 00:10:52.146 Based upon the actual–
Cavenaugh: 00:10:53.964 Based upon– I mean, you asked for $5 million.
Willett: 00:10:58.377 That’s correct. We kept it the same level.
Cavenaugh: 00:11:01.771 Okay. You don’t need it– all you needed was $5 million for the both of them, but you’re asking for $9 million.
Willett: 00:11:08.087 Yes. And the reason why we typically kept that additional amount in there is due to anytime there’s legislative changes or anything, there could be a significant additional cost incurred to the system, so that’s why we maintained that extra appropriation there.
Cavenaugh: 00:11:27.378 Well, you’re asking for $4 million above what you had originally had for both of those items.
Willett: 00:11:36.304 Yes. I under–
Cavenaugh: 00:11:36.642 And your historic spend even when they were combined never matched the 5 million.
Willett: 00:11:42.385 You are correct. We have always maintained kind of an excess amount there. That is correct.
Cavenaugh: 00:11:47.838 Yeah. So on your professional fees, why could we not drop that to 2 million because you’re spending less than a million right now? And on your data processing, why could that not might be dropped to $3 million because you’re spending, right, at $2 million and you still have the $5 million that you originally were asking for? Could we do that?
Fecher: 00:12:12.869 Rep. Cavenaugh, we could if that’s the will of the body. I believe what the team has done in the past is just try to keep that level. So as we go through a session, a lot of times, there’s a question about how this will affect the plan so it makes our consulting fees go up. Also, if there’s any kind of new technology that we have to change, we bear this cost. But if it’s the will for it to be decreased, we certainly can.
Cavenaugh: 00:12:43.447 Okay, because you separated two line items, and you didn’t reduce what you asked for. You actually added $4 million on top of it. So chair, at the proper time, I’ll have a motion, please.
Rice: 00:12:59.998 Yeah. We’ll come back to you when we have some more questions. Rep. Wooten, you’re recognized.
Wooten: 00:13:09.750 Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’ve got a question about your 12 positions that have been vacant for over two years. Do you know the timespan on any of those? Have they been vacant for two years, three years, four years? Or how long have they been vacant?
Fecher: 00:13:25.585 I don’t have that information right now, but I know that we are surrendering 6 positions that have been on there over two years. The ones that have been longer than two years, we are surrendering
Wooten: 00:13:38.907 If I may, Mr. Chairman. Do you know the last time that y’all did a work-study over there on the amount of work that each employee is doing and if they’re all needed? Have you evaluated the position relative to the task that they’re performing? And does it deserve a full-time position?
Fecher: 00:14:05.925 I’ve been there for three months, so I’m going to let the deputy director speak to that. But I will say I’ve been evaluating it since I’ve been there. And I believe the staff that we have now are fully working There’s areas where we might– when the agency was established, there was no computer systems, and so some of our grading, I think, is a little bit off. That could be adjusted. But as far as for the people that are there, I think they’re working a full day’s work.
Woods: 00:14:40.195 Okay. So Alison Woods, deputy director. And I’ll add to that and say that in 2017, we implemented a new pension administration system. And starting maybe two or three years before that, as some of the lower-graded positions became vacant, we did not fill them, which is how we ended up with some of these empty positions because that system was going to drastically change the way we work. And we weren’t going to need the lower-graded positions. We were going to need more management positions to help us do some more business process improvement, business re-engineering And so we have, let’s say, well, for the last two years, we’ve had a pretty stable new system, and so we’re better able to see some of our staffing needs, which is why we added those 4 GS-11 management positions, I think last– no, that was this year. So we started to do some of that now, but our focus, mainly, is on getting management positions in there to support the kind of medium-graded staff.
Wooten: 00:15:48.118 Well, I don’t want to– I don’t want to see any agency be penalized, but I want to be sure that every agency is going back and looking at each position, time study, to be sure exactly what is needed for a support staff standpoint. Are you saying that 2017 was the last time that y’all took a look?
Woods: 00:16:11.729 Well, that’s when we implemented our new pension administration system which was going to drastically–
Wooten: 00:16:15.525 Yeah. Have you evaluated that system since then?
Woods: 00:16:19.045 We started doing that about two years ago. And one of the things that some of the management will do in this new system, we have a better ability to monitor the workflow. So we can see what’s coming in every day, we can see how much they’re doing every day. So we’re able to see the productivity. And we started to see over the last two or three years that management is what we’re needing
Wooten: 00:16:43.524 One more question, Mr. Chairman. Of the 12 positions, how many of those are budgeted?
Woods: 00:16:53.245 They’re all still budgeted.
Wooten: 00:16:55.188 Okay. Are all 24 budgeted?
Woods: 00:16:59.453 24. We have eighty–
Wooten: 00:17:01.345 Vacant. That’s included in the 12. You showed in the report that I’ve got here that there’s 24 vacant positions, which includes the 12 that are over two years. So are all those funded? I mean, are all those budgeted?
Woods: 00:17:19.153 All those are in the budget.
Wooten: 00:17:20.213 All of them are budgeted? All right. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.
Rice: 00:17:24.975 Okay, I’m not seeing any more questions. Representative Cavenaugh, if you’ll hit your button now, I’ll light you up if you have a motion.
Cavenaugh: 00:17:34.669 Yes. Thank you, Mr. Chair. I’d like to make the motion to accept the executive recommendation with the following changes: on professional fees, take that to $2 million, and on data processing, take that to $3 million.
Rice: 00:17:55.628 Okay. Does everybody understand? I have a motion to change the line item professional fees to 2 million and the data processing services to 3 million. That is correct?
Cavenaugh: 00:18:07.933 Yes, sir.
Public Employee Retirement System Budget approved with amendments
Rice: 00:18:08.437 Is there any discussion on the motion? Not seeing anything, I have a motion. I have a second. A second. All in favor, aye. Opposed? Amended motion passes– amended exec rec passes. Thank you all for being here today. Mr. Parrish, I believe we have Audit coming up for teacher retirement. Director Rhoden, if you want to come on up to the table and be prepared. We’ll let Audit come give their report. Members, this is the last sheet on your black and white copies, just the stapled copies that you got if you want to follow along with that audit report. Please recognize yourself and go ahead and give your report.
Teacher Retirement System
Morgan: 00:19:09.492 Don Morgan, field audit supervisor for Legislative Audit. The Arkansas Teacher Retirement System audit for the year ending June 30, 2021, contain one finding The Arkansas Teacher Retirement System notified Arkansas Legislative Audit of an overpayment of member benefits. The death of a member that occurred in May of 2017 was not reported to the agency until October 2021, resulting in an overpayment of $51,523. Mr. Chair, that concludes the findings.
Rice: 00:19:46.500 Members, any questions for our audit staff? If not, thank you for your report.
Morgan: 00:19:53.239 Thank you.
Rice: 00:19:58.406 Director Rhoden, is there any statement that you’d like to give before we get started?
Rhoden: 00:20:04.085 No, sir. Not at this time. Thank you.
Rice: 00:20:05.204 Mr. Parrish, I’m going to let you give your report.
B Parrish: 00:20:08.386 Thank you, Mr. Chair. We’re on page 335. Page 335. This is the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System. This agency administers a pension fund that provides survivor, disability, and age and service benefits for public school teachers and other school district employees. On page 335, this shows the state contracts awarded to minority-owned businesses and employment summary and publications. The next page, 336, is the department appropriations summary. The system has two appropriation requests. Only one section has a change level. That’s their operation section. The total authorized budget in fiscal year 2023 is 1.95 billion. The system requests roughly the same amount for the next biennium. The change level’s less than 1% for each year of the biennium about 800,000. The system is funded by investment income, employer contributions, and employee contributions. On page 337 is the first request. This is teacher retirement operations and this section provides for the administration of the system. It’s supported by the teacher retirement trust fund.
B Parrish: 00:21:09.872 On page 338 is the appropriation summary. The total authorized for 2023 is 243,373,000. The request for 2024 is 244 million. That’s less than a 1% change. The executive recommendation is for a different amount. It’s for 243,994,000. And in fiscal year 2025, the request is for 244,176,000. And the executive recommendation is for slightly less, 244,061,000. Again, these are less than 1% changes. Those change levels begin with a regular salary line item. What was authorized in 2023 is 4.7 million. What’s being requested by the agency in 2024 is 5.2 million. That’s a 10% increase. And the executive recommendation is for slightly less, 5.1 million. That’s an 8% increase.
B Parrish: 00:22:02.204 In fiscal year 2025, the request is for 5.2 million. This is on regular salaries. That’s, again, a 10% increase. And the executive recommendation is for slightly less, 5.125. Personnel services matching, what was authorized in 2023 is 1.5 million. The request by the agency in 2024 is 1.827. That’s a 16% increase. In 2024, the executive recommendation is 1.801. It’s a 14% increase. So it’s a little bit less. In fiscal year 2025, the request by the agency is 1.887. And the executive recommendation is for 1.86. Majority of those change levels are salary match adjustments that were made in the current biennium to continue forward into the next biennium.
B Parrish: 00:22:47.508 However, the agency is also requesting an additional position with salary match. The executive recommendation does not provide for the additional position. More discussion on the position will take place in the personnel subcommittee. And similar to APERS, if you look at the table at the bottom, retirement systems operate differently than traditional agencies. This system’s assets are put into investments to produce revenue for the system, and funds are drawn down as needed to pay benefits, refunds, and system administrative expenses. So you can look at these more as paying accounts. So you’ll see a zero balance in the funding matches years expenses. In the next item, the last item is on page 339. This is the teacher’s retirement cash request, and this section allows payments by direct deposit. It’s supported by their cash fund. On page 340 is the appropriation summary and there is no change level. What was authorized in 2023 is 1.7 billion. That’s being requested forward in the new biennium and the executive recommendation provides for that request.
Rice: 00:23:51.565 Anything to add, Director Rhoden?
Rhoden: 00:23:55.407 I do not, thank you.
Teacher Retirement Budget approved as recommended
Rice: 00:23:56.528 Okay. Any questions for teacher retirement? Last call. If not I have exec rec for teacher retirement. And I have second? Second. All in favor, aye. Exec rec passes. Thank y’all for being here today. Thank you, Mr. Parrish. Next up we have disability determination. Mr. Arthur Boutiette, if you will come on up, whoever with you. And have Ms. Lilah Walls is going to give us the report. If you gentlemen will introduce yourself. Just hit it and hit it. Punch it again. When it’s red, it’s on. Just leave it on there. It’s ready to go.
Boutiette: 00:25:04.257 Arthur Boutiette, Director of Social Security Disability, and this is my finance director Jeff Stearns.
Rice: 00:25:11.792 Glad to have you gentlemen today. And Ms. Walls, if you’ll recognize yourself and we’re ready for your report.
Walls: 00:25:17.768 Thank you, Mr. Chair. My name’s Lilah Walls. I’m with the Bureau of Legislative Research.
Rice: 00:25:21.157 If you will, pull your mic up just a little bit closer.
Walls: 00:25:23.814 Yes, sir. Better?
Rice: 00:25:24.949 That’s good.
Walls: 00:25:25.296 All right. All right, well if you’ll turn with me to page 18, we’re going to talk about disability determination for Social Security administration. This agency’s responsible for determining the eligibility of Arkansans for disability and other payments in accordance with federal social security laws. They also investigate suspected cases of fraud or abuse. They have one appropriation of $71.8 million that is 100% federally funded and 591 authorized positions. If you will turn the page to pages 20 and 21, you’ll see their analysis of their request and appropriation summary, which is on page 21. They’re requesting an increase in their operations appropriation to $76.1 million in fiscal year 2024 and $76.5 million in fiscal year 2025. Those are increases of $4.5 million and $4.9 million, respectively. And these increases are for salary and matching adjustments made in the interim and for the continuation of four growth pool positions that were approved by legislative council. And the executive recommendation provides for the agency’s request. And that’s all.
Rice: 00:26:35.765 Thank you. Mr. Boutiette, do or your accomplice there have any statement?
Boutiette: 00:26:41.415 No statements.
Rice: 00:26:42.614 All right. Members– I do have a question for you, Mr. Boutiette. Representative Cavenaugh, you’re recognized.
Cavenaugh: 00:26:50.406 Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Here to your right. Thank you for coming My question is going to be dealing on page number 21 of our book, and it’s dealing with your operating expenses. You’re asking to keep it for $6.1 million, but your spend was only 3.2 and the most historic you had is right at $4 million. Why are we needing such a large amount over what our historic spend has been?
Boutiette: 00:27:17.650 Well, so the program is basically in crisis. As you know, we have to submit a federal budget, okay, which we’ve done and they’ve accepted it. Arkansas, as you know, helps other states. We currently help New Mexico, Louisiana, Oregon and Texas. So we have 10,000 cases in backloG That’s the first time since I’ve been there that that’s happened. We just can’t hire enough people. Since the Affordable Care Act, although it’s a wonderful thing for most Arkansas, it’s been a very difficult thing for people at our agency because the amount of evidence and the amount of work that they have to do is four and a half times greater than it was prior to the Affordable Care Act. So instead of having 200 pages of evidence, we now have three or four thousand pages of evidence when we are doing a claim. We can’t keep these adjudicators because the job has become too difficult. So we are hiring and hiring and hiring, but we’re not having a lot of luck hiring because the job is so stressful.
Boutiette: 00:28:30.868 Last year was the first time that we dropped a four year degree and we said, “Look, if we have people out there that don’t have a four-year degree, and they can pass the same entry exam as someone who does have a four-year degree, let’s hire them.” And we did. So we currently have a class of 55. We’re going to hire a 110 more next year. And we have money in there to expand our space at the commerce building And we have money for those salaries. So what I can tell you is, we’re going to be growing
Cavenaugh: 00:29:14.865 So the personnel expenses would be on the regular salaries and the match. I’m talking about the operating expenses. What’s going to be increasing in the operating expenses with these addition of the people?
Boutiette: 00:29:27.301 Well, building space for one, right. So that’s a big expense for us. The supplies that we supply for them. We have to buy cubicles. We have to buy chairs. We have to buy all kinds of things like that.
Cavenaugh: 00:29:45.809 Okay. Those will be capital outlay. But you’re talking about your rent is included in your operating expenses.
Boutiette: 00:29:52.277 Yeah, that’s correct. We just took on rent at the commerce building, then, yeah, I would say chairs. When you’re buying 500 chairs at a couple of hundred bucks, it does add up.
Cavenaugh: 00:30:05.775 Follow-up, Mr. Chair?
Rice: 00:30:07.678 Granted.
Cavenaugh: 00:30:08.088 So thank you for talking about the backlog in cases because from my constituents, that’s the most phone calls I get questions about is, “Can you help me with my disability?” Of the 10,000 that’s in backlog, how many of those are Arkansans that are in backlog?
Boutiette: 00:30:27.798 Probably half of them. So the backlog, it’s constituted by– adjudicator’s supposed to to do a 120 or a 130 cases. That’s how many they work at one time. They end up doing 400 or 500 each a year. But because the cases have gotten more and more complicated, their case loads are up to 170. And when they get that far ahead and that many, they become inefficient. Arkansas headed up a group in the nation, okay, of all the directors in the country to find out why is everybody leaving? We used to have a 6% attrition rate. Last year we had a 29% attrition rate. The nation had almost a 40% attrition rate because the federal government is not paying enough money to these people to do the work. And so it’s really not the money. We have adjudicators that are making $75,000. They only start at 40. But $75,000 is a lot of money to replace. They’re leaving because they’re so stressed. And so the biggest problem we have is that every time somebody leaves, those 189 cases that they have, they get dumped into the backloG And then somebody else has to take over that case.
Boutiette: 00:31:49.153 So we just don’t have enough people doing it. And so we’re telling feds this report pointed out to them that the program is in trouble, okay. And there’s a lot of things that– Arkansas has headed up this committee in the nation with the Social Security Commission and a bunch of other things. And we have formed a– they have formed a group called the recruitment and retention workgroup, and they’re starting to make some major changes. But I don’t think they’re going to make enough changes to make a difference for us to take the stress off of the people who’re doing this work, even the doctors. At one time, we had 30 doctors. We have 70 doctors. In the nation, there’re a half a million cases in backloG And there are 120,000 cases that are waiting just to be reviewed by a Social Security doctor. Arkansas is in better shape than almost any state, okay? We think we can work out of the– we think we can work out of this backlog in the next eight months. But it’s going to take more people, more space, more resources. And so that’s what we told the feds what they’re going to have to do. They agreed with it. They approved the budget. And so here we have. We’re going to have it approved, I hope, by you all.
Cavenaugh: 00:33:02.660 Okay. And so I make sure, it’s New Mexico, Louisiana, Oregon, and Texas that you’re also working claims on. Do they pay us for that?
Boutiette: 00:33:12.786 Absolutely. Everything is 100% funded, and it’s all in this. And the other thing is, the workforce that does those cases do not interfere with Arkansas cases. Those people are specifically hired to do work for other states. This body agreed to do that a number of years ago so that we could create decent jobs for Arkansans. It wasn’t to expand government. It was to create jobs. It was an economic development deal. And this body approved it. And it’s like 240 of our 560 people that work just doing that. But they’re all paying Arkansas taxes, and they’re all Arkansas citizens.
Cavenaugh: 00:33:50.564 Okay, thank you.
Rice: 00:33:53.864 And Mr. Boutiette, the federal government did that number of years ago because y’all were doing a good joB Is that correct?
Boutiette: 00:33:58.833 That’s right. We were number one in the nation.
Rice: 00:34:01.565 Thank you. Senator Hammer, you’re recognized.
Hammer: 00:34:04.909 Thank you, Mr. Chair. Just over here to the far right. Good afternoon. Just a quick question, not so much on the budget, but as much as what you do. Are you allowing employees to work from home, or are they all on-site employees?
Boutiette: 00:34:17.863 We have people working at home, but it’s on an incentive program. We are not letting people work from home unless they are the best in the categories that they work in. So if they produce at a 96 quality basis, above 96%, and if their caseload is 25% better than the average in the agency, they can work if– they can work from home, but their quality has to be exceptional. Because we found that when we had people working from home during COVID, we had a 20% reduction in production. So we made it an incentive program, and it seems to be working pretty well.
Hammer: 00:35:01.647 Very good. The number of cases coming through on disability claims, have you seen a trend that would show that COVID is having anything to do with the disability claims?
Boutiette: 00:35:14.773 No. Matter of fact, we’ve actually seen a reduction in claims over the last several years. But the amount of work it takes to do one claim is increased incredibly.
Hammer: 00:35:26.471 Okay. And tell me if this is true or not. I was told that until the feds assign– once it clears the federal level, and then it gets assigned down to Arkansas to a case manager, is that the way it works?
Boutiette: 00:35:41.094 Yes. An Arkansas citizen applies with the federal government. They determine whether the person is even eligible to apply, meaning have they paid into the system. If they haven’t paid into the system, then they’ll look and see, okay, if they are eligible under SSI. Under either one of those things, if they’re eligible, we get the case. Out of 100 cases that we get– everybody says we deny everybody– out of 100 cases that we get, we automatically allow 34 of them. That’s because they’re that sick. Then they can reapply. And then on the second bite, we probably screwed it up the first time or their condition got worse, so we allow another five or six on recon. So out of that original 100, there’s about 40 people or 39 people that actually get on, and then the rest of them appeal to a federal law judge.
Hammer: 00:36:32.721 But until they get a case manager assigned in Arkansas, it’s really out of your control because that’s at the federal level. So if we have an issue with somebody who maybe has filed and it hasn’t even been assigned a case manager in Arkansas, we need to be dealing with our federal delegation to see where that is. Is that accurate or not?
Boutiette: 00:36:50.016 That’s not accurate. So when somebody files, they’ll file– like if you’re from North Little Rock, you’ll file in Sherwood. They’ll determine if they’re eligible. If they are, they’ll package that thing, send it to us electronically, and it’s up to us to assign it. If we have a backlog like we have right now, it may take us two or three months to assign it instead of assigning it right away, but we get it almost instantly from them. If we’re helping another state like Oregon, they’re already half a year behind, so the time we get that case, it’s already half a year old. And then if we have to order an exam from a doctor in Oregon, it takes another three or four months, so that poor person is waiting almost a year to get a decision from us. But in Arkansas, it used to take us 105 days to do a case. It’s now taking us about 168 days to do a case, but it’s still less than the national average.
Hammer: 00:37:49.075 And then with what you’re asking for today, that’ll address all that or go toward it?
Boutiette: 00:37:53.520 We hope we’ll get people to accept the jobs.
Hammer: 00:37:56.007 Thank you.
Rice: 00:37:59.157 Representative Payton, you’re represented.
Payton: 00:38:00.829 Thank you, Mr. Chair. I’m over here to your left also. Number one, you just nearly answered my question there in that last answer. I really appreciate the fact that Arkansas is able to facilitate this for more than our share of the applicants, and obviously, that’s because somebody in Washington thought you were doing a great joB My concern is anytime you have a backlog and you have more to do than you can get done, you don’t want to have to redo anything So you were answering, it sounds like, about 35% of the applications get through the first time, and then another 5 or 6 percent get approved that should’ve been approved the first time but we found out we made a mistake or something Am I reading that last answer correctly?
Boutiette: 00:38:53.205 Yeah. So people have two bites at the apple. If they’re denied by us, they’re denied for a reason, okay? Because it’s very difficult to get on the program. If someone’s missing a leg, you think they’re disabled, but they’re not disabled under the law, not under social security law, so those people are denied. So when we deny somebody, they have 60 days to apply. Half of the ones that we denied go away. They don’t even reapply because they said, “Well, it’s probably worth a try.” And then the others do apply. Of those people, we allow 10 or 15 percent of them because by then, their case has even gotten worse, they have provided more evidence. And sometimes, we make a mistake, but it goes to a different adjudicator, and it goes to a different doctor the second time that it comes around. Once we deny it the second time, if we do, they can appeal to a federal law judge.
Payton: 00:39:46.001 Okay. I just want to make sure I have the percentages right. So 100 people apply, 50% get– or they get kicked out or denied, and they never come back. So of the other 50%, you’re saying about 40–
Boutiette: 00:40:01.365 Well, that’s not what I said. So this is not a statistic. I mean, it’s a statistic, but it’s not something that we’re expected to do. It’s just what it is. If 100 people apply right now, we’ve been allowing about 35 of those people.
Payton: 00:40:17.037 So that’d be 35%.
Boutiette: 00:40:18.089 So that means that 65 of them were denied. Of those 65 that are denied, half of them just go away. They don’t take advantage to reapply. So of the half – okay? – that reapply, which is another 32 or 33, we allow maybe 5 or 6 of them, 10 or 15 percent of them. So of the original 100, we’ve got about 41 of them on. And then, half of those go away, and that leaves 15. Of those 15, they’ll apply to a federal law judge, and he’ll put 50% of them on, so there’s another 7 that get on. So out of the original 100, you’re talking about 48 people that are going to get on the disability program.
Payton: 00:41:02.275 Okay, I think we got there. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Rice: 00:41:08.096 Thank you. Representative Wooten, you’re recognized.
Wooten: 00:41:10.983 Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have a question on the page 21. On the funding sources down there, it shows $76 million, and that’s federal revenue. Did we receive that total 76 million?
Boutiette: 00:41:32.370 We’ve draw it down as we need it.
Wooten: 00:41:34.722 Okay. Because my question was, there’s a $20 million difference between the drawdown and the amount. So we didn’t get that extra 20 million because it’s not showing up in your fund balance. Is that correct?
Boutiette: 00:41:50.404 Yeah. Every two weeks, they send money into the treasury. We draw it down from there. And then we ask for more money, and then we draw it down from there.
Wooten: 00:42:00.392 In all you use–
Boutiette: 00:42:00.865 We never have a deficit. It’s only twice, okay, has there been a situation where the government didn’t fund.
Wooten: 00:42:09.397 But you don’t get the total amount, the $76 million. You draw it down as you use it?
Boutiette: 00:42:13.608 That’s right.
Wooten: 00:42:14.535 Okay. Now, Mr. Chairman, my question on personnel. You’ve got 595 positions in your request, okay? You say you need many more. How many more people do you need to take care of that backlog? And will the 87 vacancies that you’ve got, if you could fill them, would that take care of your need to–
Boutiette: 00:42:38.196 It absolutely will.
Wooten: 00:42:39.764 So really and truly, the 595 number is–
Stearns: 00:42:51.316 Not all those positions are what– some things from OPM would have to happen because some of them would be adjudicator, some are doctors, some are clerical. So the main worker at our agency is an adjudicator, and we don’t have 80 positions of those available now. So we hire those in-
Wooten: 00:43:06.422 Okay. How many do you think that you need above the– if you’ve got 565 now and you’ve got 87 vacancies, how many more above the 87 do you think you need?
Stearns: 00:43:19.599 Based on the attrition he talked about, And in the last two years, we’ve hired– we hired 60 last year.
Wooten: 00:43:25.269 I realize your attrition and all that. I see two problems. One, you can’t get people, and two, you can’t pay enough. And, well, three, they’re stressed out. But how many do you need to try to do the job?
Boutiette: 00:43:37.650 I think the 87 will do the joB
Wooten: 00:43:40.829 Okay. So if you could fill those positions.
Boutiette: 00:43:43.086 If we could fill those positions. Every time we open it up– last time we opened it up, we usually have– in the old days, we had 400 people apply for the joB 400. Okay. And then this last time, we had like 60, and we were giving away 100 positions. So that was no good. And then we asked them to take a test, four-year college degree, take a test. 30% of them passed the test. So then we said, “Let’s open it up to everybody.” And then when we opened it up to everybody, 60% of the people passed the test, and many of those didn’t have college degrees. But then they have to go through this ridiculous background check with the federal government and then we lose– I mean, they check their bankruptcies, or they check their finances, they check college loans, they check everything It’s called HSPD-12. It’s a presidential directive. It takes 10 to 12 weeks for them to get back to us with the answer whether this person was cleared. And by then, they’ve already found another job and said goodbye to us. So there are definitely some problems that SSA has that we’re working–
Wooten: 00:44:56.689 It’s none of our making There are the Fed–
Boutiette: 00:45:00.069 The Feds. We’re working to solve these problems, and I think we’re making some headway.
Wooten: 00:45:04.271 One more question. Is the $76 million fund that you drawdown as you need it, is that adequate to take care of the backlog that you’re facing?
Boutiette: 00:45:13.887 Yes.
Wooten: 00:45:14.999 If they’re putting the burden on us, and if they think we’re that good, which that’s pleasing–
Boutiette: 00:45:20.258 They do. And I can tell you this, representative. In the years that I’ve been there, we have never been denied anything that we’ve asked of the federal government because I think, not me, but my people do an incredibly good joB
Wooten: 00:45:32.986 Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, sir.
Disability Determination Budget approved as recommended
Rice: 00:45:36.558 Thank you. Not seeing any more questions, I have a exec rec motion. Do I have a second? Second. All in favor, aye. Exec rec passes. What was your name once again?
Stearns: 00:45:49.512 Jeff Stearns.
Rice: 00:45:52.349 Jeff Stearns?
Stearns: 00:45:54.390 Yes, sir.
Rice: 00:45:55.136 Appreciate you being here today.
Stearns: 00:45:55.938 Thank you.
Rice: 00:45:56.511 If you can soak up some of that knowledge sitting next to you there, it’d be [crosstalk]. [laughter]
Boutiette: 00:45:59.310 Senator Rice, you wore me out today. I’m going to go take the rest of the day off.
Rice: 00:46:03.353 Hey, I didn’t find anything they stumped you on, Mr. Boutiette. Thank you, Ms. Walls, for your report. Have a good evening And we have one more. Going to give our analyst, Jennifer Rook, going to give the report. And Mr. Greg Parrish, if you’ll come on up, whoever’s with you. If you gentlemen will recognize yourself.
Public Defender Commission
Rook: 00:46:59.565 I’m Jennifer Rook. I’m with the Bureau of Legislative Research. This is the last presentation of the day, so we’ll try to make it as painless as possible.
G Parrish: 00:47:07.369 Greg Parrish, Executive Director, Arkansas Public Defender Commission.
Rainey: 00:47:13.806 Tracy Rainey, CFO.
Rice: 00:47:15.623 Thank you all for being here. Ms. Rook, you are recognized.
Rook: 00:47:18.220 Thank you, Mr. Chair. We’re going to start in manual one, and turn to page 287. This is the Department appropriation summary. The Public Defender commissions was created to address a variety of concerns relating to the representation of indigent criminal defendants in Arkansas. The agency has six appropriations. The agency request is about 47 million each year of the biennium, and the executive recommendation is about 46.5 million each year of the biennium. The executive recommendations provides for the agency request with the exception of various personnel changes. Okay. We’re going to turn to page 289. This is going to be our first appropriation is the Ombudsman Program. This is funded by transfer from DYS. This appropriation was created to ensure that children in DYS’s custody are receiving necessary services designed to keep them safe both mentally and physically. The agency and executive are recommending about 77,000 each year of the biennium matching as above the authorized for FY23, and this is due to adjustments made during the previous biennium that needs to continue.
Rook: 00:48:39.712 Okay. Second appropriation, that’s on page 291. This is the public defender’s operations. It’s funded from state central services fund. The agency is requesting about 3.6 million for each year of the biennium. The executive recommendation provides for this request with the exceptions that I mentioned before. You can see the change levels in regular salaries and matching This is due to the restoration of growth pool positions and adjustments made during the interim that the agency and executive are requesting continue. If you’ll turn to page 293, this is the public defender trial office appropriation. It is funded from state central services fund. It’s also state administration of justice fund, bail bond fees, and user attorney fees. The agency is requesting about 29 million each year of the biennium, and the executive recommendation provides for this request with the exceptions that I mentioned before. The change levels that you will see here in regular salaries and matching, and this is due to the restoration of a growth pool position and adjustments made during the previous biennium that does need to continue.
Rook: 00:49:59.280 Page 295. This is an appropriation that we set up last session. They received 1 million dollars from the restricted reserve fund in March 2022 Peer meeting This appropriation is for the 45 extra help positions. This is to help with the backlog of the cases they have right now due to Covid. The agency request is for 4.5 million and executive recommendation provides for this request. On 297, it’s our fifth appropriation. This is a federal ARP recommendation. This was added during the last session as well. You’ll see this also when we get to auditor. This agency request and executive recommendation of 4.5 million. It is unfunded. It’s for the 45 additional extra help positions and it’s for the backlog of cases. This has been set up through special language through DFA as to how to disperse these funds.
Rook: 00:51:14.663 Okay, and the final appropriation is on page 299. This is commission for parent counsel. It is funded from state central services. The agency is requesting about 4.7 million for each year of the biennium. The executive recommendation provides for this request. Salaries and matching are above the authorized for FI23 and this is due to adjustments made during the previous biennium that needs to continue. The agency is also requesting a reallocation of $30,000 from the extra help line to refunds and reimbursements for costs associated with contract reimbursement. And Mr. Chair, that concludes my presentation.
Rice: 00:52:01.735 Thank you, Miss Rook. Director Parrish, do you have a statement for that question?
G Parrish: 00:52:08.625 No thank you, senator.
Rice: 00:52:10.588 We’ll go to questions. Representative Cavenaugh, you are recognized.
Cavenaugh: 00:52:14.922 Thank you, Mr. Chair. I’m over here to the right. Mine’s going to be dealing with what we refer to as page 295, which is going to be the cash and treasury NEH. So this was a one time transfer funds from the restricted reserve funds for 1 million dollars, and you’re asking to keep the 4.5 million. Are you expecting to get that 4.5 million from restricted reserve?
G Parrish: 00:52:45.046 No, ma’am. What has happened is the 1 million came during the fiscal, and that money is– if it’s not expired within the next two weeks, it will be within the next four weeks. During that time period, when we were in the fiscal, Senator Tucker ran an appropriation bill and was unfunded. Since that time, we have applied and received, along with the prosecutors, ARPA funds for that 4.5 million. It’s my understanding in speaking with Miss Rook that part is basically going to go away, this appropriation, because this funding is coming from ARPA funds.
Cavenaugh: 00:53:27.840 Okay. Thank you for the explanation. Question for the staff. Kevin, I have a question. So on this 4.5, which was I guess from the restricted reserve funds, it’s showing currently that they have 700,000 approximately left in that money that came. But they’ve got the 4.5 that’s coming from ARPA. And he’s thinking this appropriation is going away. But this appropriation’s not going to go away unless we make it go away, correct?
Anderson: 00:54:02.115 Yeah, you’re absolutely correct.
Cavenaugh: 00:54:04.024 Okay, then so if I could make the motion to drop it to the million so that they can continue to spend this money down that you had– is that not correct? Because they need the appropriation to be able to spend what they still have in reserve.
Anderson: 00:54:19.163 My understanding is they’re going spend it the remainder of this year from his testimony just now, so they won’t need it at all.
Cavenaugh: 00:54:25.897 So we could just delete this one and they’d still have their 4.5?
Anderson: 00:54:30.104 I know we want to delete the next one behind it.
Rook: 00:54:32.621 It’s the next one. The next one is gonna be the ARPA. It’s on page, let’s see–
Cavenaugh: 00:54:38.227 It’s on 297.
Rook: 00:54:40.112 –297.
Cavenaugh: 00:54:40.857 That’s the one that they need for the ARPA funds, correct?
Rook: 00:54:44.093 Actually, they’re not going to need it because we already have special language set up through DFA and it’s not going to be needed. We already have a way to do it.
Cavenaugh: 00:54:55.020 So neither one of these– neither one of these are actually needed any longer. Okay, so I’ll have that motion at the proper time.
Rook: 00:55:04.975 Thank you.
Cavenaugh: 00:55:06.330 Thank you.
Rice: 00:55:10.436 Before we go to another question, is there anything on that you gentlemen need to address?
G Parrish: 00:55:21.273 Just for informational purposes, senator, I’ve been speaking with Bob McMann, who is the prosecutor coordinator. He and I have been working hand in hand on this. I think the prosecutors, as Jennifer said, audit will be over here on the same issue. The prosecutor’s money is kind of basically ours. Their money’s expiring as well, that $1 million appropriation. And so that’s just for informational purposes in case anybody has any future questions.
Rice: 00:55:50.560 Okay. Representative Hester, you’re recognized– excuse me, Senator Hester.
Hester: 00:55:58.565 Yes. All those extra positions trying to get caught up, how’s that going? Are we close to being caught up?
G Parrish: 00:56:09.483 We’ve had remarkable success with those positions. Are we going to get caught up? No, we’re not. And I’m just being honest with you. I think with, 35 years as an attorney, I don’t think we’ve come out of this for five to seven years because the crime rate. Just as an example, I reached out to AOC last week. We have already had more capital murder filings this year than we did all of last year. And we still got two and a half months to go. We’re so under water now and prosecutors too, is this going away anytime soon? It’s not. And that’s just being honest with you, in my opinion.
Hester: 00:56:56.058 To keep those extra positions?
G Parrish: That’s the 4.5 million that we received through ARP funds.
Hester: 00:57:05.105 Yeah. That funds for another year.
G Parrish: 00:57:07.035 And that will, basically, we think, prosecutors and myself, last for the next 12 months because that 1 million we received was basically for the last three months of the fiscal year.
Hester: 00:57:19.111 How many positions is that for you?
G Parrish: 00:57:21.899 Bob and I averaged it out to be roughly 40. The bill calls for 45. But we wanted to be careful not to run out. Right now we have 26 of those positions filled. We’ve constantly kept them advertised. I think the prosecutors have a similar number. We have lost eight that have left us. And we try to replace those. But currently, as of today, they tell me we have 26 of those positions filled statewide.
Hester: 00:57:54.721 Thank you.
Rice: 00:57:59.131 Representative Wooten, you’re recognized.
Wooten: 00:58:01.928 Yeah. I want to follow up on Senator Hester’s questions. Of the 45 that have been approved, you filled 40 of them. Is that what you’re saying, or 26?
G Parrish: 00:58:12.967 We filled 26. We’ve tried to fill 40.
Wooten: 00:58:17.346 Is that in addition to the 12 that are vacant that you’re showing on the report? The report I’ve got says you’ve got 12 vacancies. Is that–? Are the other 20 in addition to that?
G Parrish: 00:58:33.259 Yes, sir.
Wooten: 00:58:34.418 So it’s in that 4.5 million?
G Parrish: 00:58:36.031 Yes, sir. And the 12 that you are looking at, I presume– Representative Wooten, in the last two weeks, I’ve lost four to five attorneys alone. And it’s impossible to fill them right now. It’s-
Wooten: 00:58:57.412 What’s the caseload for those that you have now? How many cases are they carrying?
G Parrish: 00:59:03.193 Our full-time attorneys?
Wooten: 00:59:04.519 Yes.
G Parrish: 00:59:05.821 Anywhere, depending upon where you’re located at in the state, I would say a minimum 300. Some carry 455. And those are felonies. As I’ve said before, when you factor in– when you get outside of Little Rock, you have districts that are four, five, and six counties. And you’ve got to factor in the travel as well. But they’re still carrying three to four hundred active felony cases as well.
Wooten: 00:59:39.001 Yeah. One more follow-up. Of those three to– has a lot of this come about because of COVID and the dysfunctional court system because it couldn’t work, it didn’t work. Has that kind of created a backlog for y’all being able to adjudicate those cases?
G Parrish: 01:00:02.840 Yes, sir. But this problem existed before COVID.
Wooten: 01:00:07.894 Okay. Not–
G Parrish: 01:00:08.339 But not to this extent.
Wooten: 01:00:10.578 But we’re not only dealing with COVID, but we’re also dealing with the increased crime rate that’s completely, totally out of hand.
G Parrish: 01:00:18.883 That’s correct. And when you add COVID in– because right now is– the courts have really kicked up in the last six months.
Wooten: 01:00:28.201 Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, Mr. Parrish.
Rice: 01:00:32.158 Representative Cavenaugh, you are recognized.
Public Defender Commission Budget approved with amendment
Cavenaugh: 01:00:38.639 Thank you, Mr. Chair. I have a motion to accept executive rec with the exception to change the appropriation on page 295 to $1 million and to delete the appropriation on page 297.
Rice: 01:00:57.053 Okay. Is there any discussion on the motion? Does everybody understand the motion? Do I have a second? I have a second. All in favor, aye. Opposed? Exec rec as amended passes. Is that it? Okay. Members, that wraps up for today. We will be here at 9 o’clock in the morning, work through the morning list. And then we have Legislative Audit tomorrow afternoon. Thank you, members, for staying