Appropriation bill, minus COLAs, clears House


LITTLE ROCK — The House on Tuesday approved an appropriation bill from which a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment for judges and prosecutors was previously removed.

The Senate approved a measure that would create a legislative task force to develop a plan for a new veterans home.

The Legislature returned to work Tuesday after a long weekend that included the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

In the House, an amended version of House Bill 1024 — the General Appropriation Bill that sets the funding level for constitutional officers, judges, prosecutors and legislators — passed in a 94-0 vote. The bill goes to the Senate for concurrence in the amendment.

The 2 percent COLA was stripped from the bill last week by the Joint Budget Committee. Talking to reporters Tuesday after the House adjourned, House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, said removal of the COLA was appropriate because lawmakers want to discuss COLAs later in the session.

“We don’t need to make that decision on that group of people and then somehow wait later and have an overall debate about COLAs for everybody else,” he said. “We don’t need to be cherry-picking who gets it and who doesn’t. I think we’ll have that debate all together.”

Rep. Jonathan Barnett, R-Siloam Springs, was present Tuesday in the House for the first time this session. Barnett was absent the first week of the session for health reasons.

Elsewhere Tuesday, the House Education Committee endorsed Senate Bill 4 by Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs. The bill would allow community colleges to call millage elections to raise money for the construction, operation and maintenance of buildings or to retire bonded indebtedness.

Interim state Department of Higher Education Director Shane Broadway, testifying for the bill, said current law allows community colleges to call millage elections to raise operating funds but does not specify that the schools can use millage revenue to pay off bonds.

The bill, which passed previously in the Senate, advances to the House.

The Senate Tuesday approved SB 3 by Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, which would create a 14-member task force to help find funding for a new veterans home, as well as find a location for the facility and help in its design.

The Little Rock Veterans Home was closed last year after it failed building and health code inspections, leaving just a nursing home for veterans in Northwest Arkansas.

English said the task force would begin meeting in May and be required to have a report to the Legislative Council by Nov. 1.

“There are over 250,000 veterans that are spread all over the state of Arkansas,” English said. “One of the things this bill would be looking at is whether there would be one facility or regional facilities on a smaller scale.”