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Sunday, February 4, 2007

2007 L.E.A.D. Package

Arkansas House Democrats continued the successful L.E.A.D. Arkansas theme for the 86th General Assembly. L.E.A.D. is an acronym for legislative issues that most concern our constituents: Lower taxes, Excellence in Education, Alternative Fuels, and Decreasing Crime. Along with positioning ourselves to be removed from the Lake View mandate this session, we enacted the largest tax cut in Arkansas history this session.

Arkansas House Democrats took our show on the road for a statewide tour to let the people of Arkansas know what we were doing for them. You can see pictures from each of the stops here:

L.E.A.D. Arkansas Tour:

NE Ark.      NW Ark.      SW Ark.      SE Ark.

Here's the advertisement that ran in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
(.pdf document)

Here is a rundown of the L.E.A.D. Arkansas theme and the individual bills that were pursued for this project:

L -- Lower Taxes:

Tax Relief: We knew coming into this session that tax relief was among our top tasks, along our constitutional obligation to "fund education first." We were able to shepherd through a comprehensive tax relief package, which included not only a repeal of half of the sales tax on groceries, but also targeted tax relief to those living below the federal poverty line and relief to existing and prospective manufacturers by providing tax relief on energy consumption for purposes of economic development.

E -- Excellence in Public Education:

It appears as though the funding legislation this session will finally put an end to the long running Lake View case, in which the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that legislative funding of public schools was inadequate and unconstitutional. The legislature made a commitment this session not only to provide an adequate education but to excel with the obligation. HB1633 provides for "enhanced educational funding" to go above and beyond the benchmark of adequacy. In turn, we know that the state is continuing to improve its stature among our regional competitors in important educational rankings.

We also look forward this session to taking on the task of tackling the facilities issue. We know that it will be a costly task, but House leaders addressed the issue in an agressive yet fiscally responsible manner.

A -- Alternative Fuels:

HB1379 by Speaker Benny Petrus creates the Arkansas Alternative Fuels Development Program. Arkansas, specifically south and east Arkansas, is sitting on a gold mine as far as utilizing its natural resources to becoming a leader in this industry. Not only can alternative fuels help to reduce our dependency on non-renewable resources and thus being good steward of the land, this industry can create jobs and reduce pollution.

D -- Decreasing Crime and Recividism Rates:

HB1309 (now Act 85) by Red. Dawn Creekmore to enhance the penalty for financial identity fraud under certain circumstances. This was brought to Rep. Creekmore by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, a former member of the House Democratic Caucus.

Rep. Creekmore has also filed an array of other bills targeting criminals that have already been signed into law, including Act 38, which increases the penalty for the offenses of indecent exposure and internet stalking and similare legislation (Acts 56 and 147). The caucus has members with experience prosecuting criminal cases in the state, and we will continually seek ways to decrease crime and repeat offenders in Arkansas.

There have also been other bills outside of the L.E.A.D. package that have been embraced by House Democrats, including comprehensive ethics reform and a measure to close the loophole on payday lenders in the state (HB1038 by Rep. David Johnson, D-Little Rock). We are a very large and diverse caucus, and individual members have their own personal legislative agendas that bring great ideas to state government. In addition to all of these issues, we are proud to support efforts for economic development and to improve higher education.

It's a great time to be an Arkansas Democrat, and we're glad that we can do our part to cut taxes and deliver critical services to the people of Arkansas.