State Capitol Week in Review – March 6, 2022

LITTLE ROCK – Certified law enforcement officers will get a $5,000 salary stipend this year, thanks to a Senate bill approved by the Arkansas legislature.


To qualify for the stipend, officers must have completed a basic training program approved by the Arkansas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training. They must work at least 24 hours a week.


Under Senate Bill 103, the stipends will go to officers employed as of July 1. If they are hired after July 1 they can still qualify if they are hired before January 31, 2023.


State troopers will get a stipend of $2,000. In separate legislation they are due to get significant pay raises, from an average starting salary of about $42,000 to about $54,000.


Legislators budgeted $50 million to pay for the stipends, but don’t expect to spend all of that amount. Stipends to about 7,300 law enforcement officers and 542 State Police officers will cost about $40.6 million.


The House of Representatives added $75 million to the budget of the Correction Department for possible expansion of the North Central prison unit at Calico Rock, to add 498 beds to the 800-bed unit.


If the North Central Unit adds 498 beds, its costs for salaries and operations will increase by $13 million a year, according to a representative who spoke on the expansion.


The governor said the state could afford one-time expenditures such as the stipends, and the capital project, based on the favorable revenue report for January that indicates Arkansas is on track to end the fiscal year with a sizeable surplus.


The Joint Budget Committee recommended an increase in the fund for reimbursing county jails when they hold inmates who have been convicted but for whom there is no space in a state prison unit. The current rate is $32 per inmate per day and legislators are working to increase it to $40 a day.


Sheriffs have voiced concerns about the backlog of state inmates in county jails. First, they say that reimbursements of $32 a day are not enough to pay for the cost of housing an inmate.


Secondly, they are concerned that they are housing more serious offenders than in the past. This leads to more attacks on jail staff, they say. It also means they often must release minor offenders who committed misdemeanors, in order to make room for the dangerous offenders.


The Senate also approved SB 102, to create a new grant program for Pregnancy Resource Centers. The bill appropriates $1 million to the centers, where women with unintended pregnancies receive counseling about adoption and help in getting social services.


The Senate also approved SB 54, an appropriation for the Arkansas Medicaid program. It is in the Division of Medical Services within the Human Services Department.


SB 54 appropriates $9 billion for health care for about a million Arkansas residents who at some point during a typical year will be eligible for Medicaid. The services include prescription drugs, long-term care, doctor visits and hospital stays.


Legislators have been working for months to add about $37.6 million for home care and community services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Within a few years, the additional funding is expected to eliminate the waiting list for those services. About 3,200 people are on the list.