Panel recommends $10 million for improvements at human development centers


LITTLE ROCK — A legislative panel Thursday endorsed a proposal to use $10 million from the state’s unobligated general improvement fund to help pay for renovations at the state’s developmental centers.

Also, the special language committee expunged the vote on an amendment adopted Wednesday to reduce the budget of the vacant lieutenant governor’s office for the last six months of the year. Senate President Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux said after the meeting that he asked that the vote be expunged and that he does not expect the proposal will be reconsidered by the committee.

The $10 million in general improvement funds for the state’s developmental centers were endorsed in an amendment that was added to the state Developmental Disabilities Services budget, Senate Bill 112.

Rep. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, said each of the five centers need improvements and the division does not have the money. He said work at the center in Bonneville alone has been estimated at $6 million.

“This particular group around the state has not received extra funding over the past few years for any capital improvements, whatsoever,” Rapert said, adding he discussed the possible funding with Gov. Mike Beebe and “he had no problem with this proceeding.”

Rapert said the money could only be used for construction, improvements, equipment, renovation and maintenance expenses at the human development centers as a part of the state Department of Human Services budget. He said the money cannot be used for operating expenses at the facilities.

The amendment also stipulates that a report must be filed with Joint Budget Committee or Legislative Council when any of the $10 million is spent.

The amendment expunged from Wednesday added an amendment to the lieutenant governor’s budget that would have appropriated no more than $52,000 to the office from July 1 to Jan. 1, 2015.

Lamoureux said later he wants the office to continue at its current staffing of four employees for the rest of the year.

“I hope we just leave it like it is,” he said. “It’s not a great situation but I really think we should just leave it like it is.”

Also Thursday, the Senate approved, 35-0, SB 139 by Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, which would keep the office vacant until the November election.

Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Darr resigned Feb. 1 after being fined $11,000 by the state Ethics Commission for misuse of campaign funds and taxpayer money.

SB 139 says a special election would not be held to fill a vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office if the vacancy occurs within 10 months of a general election in which the office would be filled if the governor determines that holding a special election is impractical because of the timing of the vacancy.

The bill, which is supported by the governor, is expected to be considered by the House next week.