Bill to give districts more time to fix fiscal woes pass House


LITTLE ROCK — The House advanced bills Thursday that would give fiscally distressed school districts more time to get their financial houses in order and created a new state panel to decide the fate of charter schools.

The House voted 89-1 to pass House Bill 1770 by Rep. Mark Perry, D-Jacksonville. The bill would change the maximum amount of time that a school or school district can be in fiscal distress, academic distress or facilities distress from two years to five years.

A school or district that does not get out of distress within five years would be consolidated, annexed or reconstituted.

The bill has the support of state Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell, who told a House committee this week that two years is not enough time for some districts to reverse their financial problems. Extending the deadline could help school districts avoid being dissolved, he said.

The House voted 87-0 to pass HB 1528 by Rep. Biviano, R-Searcy. The bill would create a panel within the state Department of Education to review and decide on charter school applications and renewals. A decision by the panel could be appealed to the state Board of Education, which now approves or disapproves charter school applications.

The Education Department supports the bill that passed the House on Thursday. Education officials opposed an earlier bill that Biviano scrapped that would have created an independent commission to approve and regulate charter schools.

HB 1770 and HB 1528 now go to the Senate.

The Senate on Thursday:

— Rejected 13-12, HB 1355 by Rep. Butch Wilkins, D-Bono, which would align the state’s penalties related to violations of lead-based paint rules with those required by federal law.

The vote occurred after Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, told Sen. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, who presented the bill on the Senate floor, that he had the legislation would cause costs for house builders and others to rise.

— Passed SB 778 by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, which would allow someone to be charged with a Class D felony if they are arrested for delivery of a controlled substance if they already have four or more prior convictions for delivery of a controlled substance. Currently, they can only be charged with a Class A misdemeanor.

The bill passed 35-0 and goes to the House.

— Passed SB 781 by Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, 35-0, which deals with who can inherit property if one spouse murders the other and there is no will. Under the bill, the children of a person convicted of murdering their spouse would be prohibited from inheriting anything from the deceased. The bill now goes to the House.

— Passed HB 1250 by Rep. David Whitaker, D-Fayetteville, 35-0, which would expand the definition of battery in the second degree to include recklessly causing physical injury to another person while driving while intoxicated. The bill goes to the governor.