House, Senate OK budget bill

LITTLE ROCK — The House and Senate on Friday approved matching bills laying out a nearly $5.5 billion proposed budget for the coming fiscal year and setting spending priorities.

House Bill 1548 and Senate Bill 295, both by the Joint Budget Committee, passed in an 88-5 vote in the House and a 23-0 vote in the Senate, respectively.

The chambers are expected to approve each other’s bills and send them to the governor’s desk Monday in one of the final tasks of the session. They are expected to gavel out Monday and return for formal adjournment of the session no later than May 5.

The proposed budget mostly aligns with the budget plan Gov. Asa Hutchinson unveiled late last year. It would increase state spending by $163 million over the current fiscal year, with $113 million of that increase going to the Department of Human Services.

Other increases in the budget proposal include nearly $11 million for the Department of Correction, $9 million for the Department of Community Correction and $6 million for public schools.


Bill on naming of airports sent to governor

LITTLE ROCK — The House voted 53-22 Friday to approve a bill that would prohibit naming an airport that is paid for in whole or in part with public funds from being named after a living person who has served in an elected office.

Senate Bill 430 by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow, is not retroactive. As initially filed, the bill would have been retroactive, which would have required renaming the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, but Rapert amended the bill amid opposition from some, including Gov. Asa Hutchinson, to stripping the Clinton’s names from the airport.


Bill on leaving guns in cars sent to governor

LITTLE ROCK — The House voted 66-17 Friday to approve and send to the governor’s desk a bill to require employers to allow their employees who have concealed-carry permits to leave guns in their locked vehicles in the employers’ parking lots.

Senate Bill 37 by Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, previously passed in the Senate.


Bill to limit school fund balances sent to governor

LITTLE ROCK — The Senate voted 23-4 Friday to approve and send to the governor a bill to require a school district with large fund balance to reduce that balance.

House Bill 1575 by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, passed in the Senate a day after failing in that chamber in a 17-9 vote, falling one vote short of the 18 needed for passage. It passed previously in the House.

Under the bill, if a school district’s net fund balance at the end of a fiscal year is greater than 20 percent of its net revenues for that year, the district would be required to reduce its balance to no more than 20 percent of revenue within five years.

The district would be required to reduce the balance by 20 percent of the total required reduction each year. It could reduce the balance by transferring money to its building fund for future projects or by spending it.

The bill suggests districts spend the money on programs such as prekindergarten education, remediation or career and technical education.

A district could appeal to the state education commissioner if it believes it has a good reason not to spend or transfer the money.


Bill to ban ‘mass picketing’ sent to governor

LITTLE ROCK — The Senate voted 18-8 Friday to approve and send to the governor’s desk a bill to make “mass picketing” a misdemeanor offense.

Under Senate Bill 550 by Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, a person would be guilty of the offense if he or she engages in a a mass demonstration that hinders people from pursuing lawful work or employment; blocks roadways, railroads or airports; or blocks entrance to or egress from a place of employment or a private residence.

The bill also would create civil liability for people who commit the offense.

The measure passed previously in both chambers. The Senate on Friday concurred in a House amendment.


Bill to raise speeds limits sent to governor

LITTLE ROCK — The House voted 92-1 Friday to approve and send to the governor’s desk a bill to raise maximum speed limits on highways in the state.

House Bill 2057 by Rep. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio, would raise speed limits on controlled-access highways from 70 mph to 75 mph and on other highways from 60 mph to 65 mph. The maximum speed limit would remain 30 mph on highways in urban districts.

The House and Senate previously approved the bill. The House on Friday concurred in a Senate amendment.