It was a good week for...
BIG RIVER STEEL. The House overwhelmingly approved, 78-17, legislation to issue state bonds for the startup Big River Steel mill proposed for Mississippi County. The state is prepared to put $125 million in incentives into the project in the hopes of creating more than 500 jobs. A supermajority of the House still must approve a budget bill before the proposal is finalized. The legislation has been approved in the Senate previously.
THE FIRST OF MANY LAWSUITS. Two residents of the neighborhood affected by the ExxonMobil pipeline spill are named plaintiffs in a class-action suit targeting ExxonMobil. The suit argues that the pipeline carrying Canadian crude was in unsafe and defective condition and the break has diminished the value of property all along the pipeline.
EXPANSION. The Senate and a House committee advanced enabling legislation to expand Medicaid in Arkansans through the "private option," which would give low-income Arkansas access to private insurance paid for by government subsidies. The legislation is sure to clear the full House. Whether the architects of the plan, Senate Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux and House Speaker Davy Carter can muster enough votes to clear the three-fourths majority needed in both chambers to pass the required appropriation is the political question of the session.
It was a bad week for...
TAX JUSTICE. House Speaker Davy Carter's bill to cut capital gains originally included a 70 percent exemption on gains of $5 million or more. A tax break only for millionaires. Last week, he amended it to include a total exemption for capital gains in excess of $10 million. That's a gift worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to the very wealthiest in Arkansas. For those on the opposite end of the income spectrum, Carter's amendment also increased the standard deduction by $200 in 2015 and $200 more in 2016. A Democratic proposal has called for raising the standard deduction from where it currently stands — at $2,000 — to $5,000.
WORKERS BETWEEN JOBS. Without debate, the Senate passed legislation requiring random drug testing of people receiving unemployment benefits. No mention in the bill of drug testing all the unemployed members of the legislature periodically. But that was only salt in the wounds to the unemployed, who would see their unemployment benefits cut by $126 in another proposal that narrowly passed the Senate.