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Legislative Updates — September 13, 2019

LITTLE ROCK – In 2017 the legislature approved the creation of four crisis stabilization units (CSU), where police officers can bring people who are experiencing a severe mental health episode.

In the past, many people undergoing a mental health crisis were locked up in a local jail. Their condition often worsened, because they were not getting treatment and did not have access to medication. Jail staff were not trained to respond to their needs.

With the opening of the Craighead County CSU in northeast Arkansas, the four units authorized by Act 423 of 2017 are now open. The new units were part of the governor’s legislative agenda.

Law enforcement officers in 20 northeast Arkansas counties can bring people to the Craighead County unit, which has 16 beds.

The state’s other three crisis stabilization units are in Washington County, Sebastian County and Pulaski County.

An important provision in Act 423 expands training of police officers in how to distinguish mental health problems, and how to respond. More than 500 officers have gone through crisis intervention training.

This week the Arkansas Criminal Justice Institute is offering a nine-hour class to enhance officers’ understanding of Act 423. The institute keeps officer safety foremost when teaching policies and procedures. Completion of the class can be counted toward a degree.

Also, when new recruits are getting certified at the state’s Law Enforcement Training Academy, they take 16 hours of training in mental health crisis intervention.

The four CSU’s will alleviate some of the strain on the finances and staffing of county jails, city lockups and emergency rooms. Another goal is to decrease the number of repeat offenses among people with mental illnesses.

Teacher Retirement

The work of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Retirement and Social Security Systems is watched closely by thousands of Arkansas citizens. For example, the committee recently met in Hot Springs and about 300 people attended.

Teachers and public employees wanted to know about the financial health of their retirement systems, and whether there are any plans to change their benefits.

The director of the Teacher Retirement System, the state’s largest with $17 billion in assets, told the audience that the system’s board had no plans to reduce benefits. Its board would wait a few years to assess the impact of past actions that affected benefits.

Last year the Teacher Retirement System paid an average of $23,478 in benefits to 46,824 retirees.

The other major public retirement system is for people who work for the state. The Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System last year paid benefits of about $1,200 a month to 37,389 retirees.

State Revenue Report

In August state government collected $508 million in general revenue, which was $8.4 million more than budget officials had predicted.

The jump in revenue was attributed to higher than expected collections of sales taxes and individual income taxes. Tax rates have not changed, therefore the increase in collections indicates that more people are working and they are purchasing more.


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