State Capitol Week in Review – February 26, 2021

LITTLE ROCK – The legislature has approved a broad tax relief measure for businesses that were affected by the pandemic.


House Bill 1361 exempts income that people and businesses received through numerous disaster relief programs, such as the popular Paycheck Protection Program. More than 43,000 Arkansas businesses received more than $3.3 billion through PPP loans.


As of mid-January, about 19 percent of those loans have been forgiven.


The income exemption includes benefits from federal Small Business Administration loans and the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.


State revenue officials estimated that HB 1361 would save Arkansans $33 million in tax year 2021 and $179 million the following year.


Also, the tax relief in HB 1361 is retroactive to tax year 2019.


The legislature passed and sent to the governor HB 1112, which tightens procedures that voters must follow when they show their photo ID before they’re allowed to cast a ballot.


Current Arkansas law requires voters to present their photo ID in order to cast a ballot. If they don’t have one they can still cast a ballot after signing a sworn statement affirming they are registered to vote.


HB 1112 would repeal the provision.


Any voter who has no photo ID at the polling site may cast a provisional ballot, but in order for it to be counted they must present their ID to the county clerk’s office by noon on the Monday following the election.


Both chambers of the legislature have passed the “Stand Your Ground” bill.


It is Senate Bill 24, which removes a provision in current law that says people may not use deadly force if they are able to retreat safely. A similar bill was filed in the regular session of 2019, but was bottled up in committee after much heated debate.


The Senate has passed and sent to the House SB 170 to prohibit unlawful “doxxing” of a minor. “Doxxing” is a modern offense that means using electronic media to publish personal information about someone, or identifying information, for malicious purposes. Those purposes include intimidation, threatening, abuse or harassment.


An example is to publish a minor’s address on social media, while also urging everyone to go to the minor’s house and “get” them.


The Senate also approved SB 301, directing state agencies to return fines collected from businesses last year for failure to comply with directives issued during the public health emergency.


The bill’s supporters said that executive branch agencies did not gather input from legislators about the effect the health directives would have on businesses. Also, they maintain that fines were levied predominately against small businesses, and large franchises were given more leniency.


The Senate Education Committee advanced SB 107 to require high school students to complete a computer science course in order to graduate. It applies to students who begin ninth grade in 2022.

The bill also requires school districts to hire at least one teacher certified in computer science for each of their high schools, beginning in 2023-2024.