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State Capitol in review - May 7, 2014

The Arkansas Supreme Court granted a temporary stay last week on a circuit judge’s ruling that the law requiring voters to show an ID for their ballots to count was unconstitutional. The stay allows the state to require the ID until the court makes a ruling.

Early voting began Monday with the primary being on May 20. IDs will be required.

The Board of Corrections last week reported that the Arkansas prison population exploded in 2013. There was an increase of 17.7 percent over 2012. The board said that is record-breaking and unsustainable. By the end of 2013 there was a population of 17,211. One thing that increased was those sent to prison for theft by receiving or theft of property nearly doubled.

The board said the courts currently are more inclined to send nonviolent offenders to prison instead of probation. The department is considering new approaches to help with the new admissions and parolees returning to prison on violations. For example, the department is attempting to overhaul facilities no longer in use, so they can house inmates. The board is looking for funding to do the updates and the department is working with Pine Bluff officials to create jobs for parolees that would benefit the city. The agency is studying the feasibility of creating a boot camp for parole violators who are not eligible for the Technical Violator Program. Such a boot camp would keep an estimated 400 parole violators out of prison if they complete the program.

A legislative task force is working on structural changes to the public school employees’ health insurance system, in an effort to keep it financially sound and to prevent dramatic increase in premiums for teachers and school staff. The changes under consideration include higher deductibles and increased employee contributions.

Removing part-time employees from the plan could save as much as $17.7 million. Legislators on the task force are acutely aware that pumping more state money into the health insurance system would mean that spending on other state services would have to be cut. One statistic was reported to the task force that needs to be addressed. It was reported that 24 percent of the state and public school employees did not have an annual physical with a licensed physician last year.

Among this group were more than 40,000 people with chronic medical conditions such as high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes whose clams cost $136 million. Many of those claims resulted from a trip to the emergency room. More members must take annual wellness exams, either because of enticements like discounts or to avoid financial penalties. In a special session last fall the General Assembly added $43 million to the public school health insurance system to avoid drastic rate increases. In 2005 the state added $35 million to the system.

If you would like to contact me, email me at bruceholland@senate.ar.gov or call my office at (479) 650-1884 or write me at P.O. Box 2387, Greenwood, AR 72936.

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