House OKs vets bill; superproject meetings next week


LITTLE ROCK —The House gave final legislative approval Friday to legislation to create a task force to seek funding for a new veterans home in Arkansas.

Senate Bill 3 by Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, passed 94-0 and goes to the governor for his signature.

Also, House Speaker Davy Carter announced lawmakers would hear greater detail from state officials about a proposed $1 billion steel mill project in Mississippi County for which the Legislature will be asked to approve a $125 million bond issue.

Carter, R-Cabot, said Gov. Mike Beebe and state economic development officials will meet separately with the Senate on Monday and the House on Wednesday.

“This is an effort to make sure everyone has the ability and chance to ask questions, obtain information, (so) we can start the due diligence process,” said Carter, R-Cabot. “Who knows, we may do it again. We’ll do whatever is necessary to make sure the membership is comfortable with the data and the decision-making process.”

The veterans home bill was among several items the House took up during a brief session Friday. The Senate did not meet.

The Little Rock Veterans Home was closed last year after it failed building and health code inspections, leaving just one other veterans home in the state, in Northwest Arkansas.

Rep. Allen Kerr, R-Little Rock, who presented SB 3 on the House floor said is a companion bill to House Bill 1013, which calls for the creation of a new veterans’ home to replace the one that closed in Little Rock. That measure passed the House earlier this week and is expected to be considered by the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee next week.

Edwards has estimated that building a new veterans’ home would cost about $21 million. He said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a program under which the state would only have to pay 35 percent of the cost, with the federal department paying the rest. Big River Steel announced this week it plans to build a more than $1 billion steel plant in Osceola, employing more than 500 people with annual average pay of $75,000.

The Legislature will be asked to authorize the issuance of about $125 million in general obligations bonds to support the project under Amendment 82, the so-called superprojects amendment passed in 2004.

Amendment 82 stipulates that once the governor announces the deal and the details are finalized, the Legislature will have 20 days to conduct its own independent economic impact study. After the Legislature has completed its review, the proposal will be drafted into legislation to be considered by the legislative committees and voted on in the House and Senate.

“We just can’t afford to wait another week before we start having these discussions,” Carter told reporters Friday. “We only have so long to go through this process. I’m ready to get started. Everybody is excited about the prospect and opportunity of creating a lot of jobs in Arkansas, but we want to get down to details.”

Big River Steel CEO John Correnti said last that if all goes well construction could begin this fall and it would be complete in about 20 months.

In other business Friday, the House Committee on Aging Children and Youth endorsed HB 1002 by Rep. John Edwards, D-Little Rock, which would terminate the parental rights of a convicted rapist to a child conceived as a result of rape.

Under the bill, most parental rights of a rapist to a child conceived as a result of rape would be automatically terminated upon a conviction of rape. The father would still be required to pay child support.

The measure is expected to be considered by the House as early as Monday.