A bill that would grant one-time stipends to several thousand local and state certified law enforcement officers in Arkansas zipped through the Arkansas Senate on Wednesday.
Full-time certified city and county law enforcement officers and full-time certified state Department of Corrections probation and parole officers would receive a one-time stipend of $5,000, while full-time certified state troopers will receive a one-time stipend of $2,000 in fiscal 2023 under Senate Bill 103 by Senate President Pro Tempore Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana. Fiscal 2023 starts July 1.
With no debate, the Senate voted 33-0 to approve the bill, sending it to the House for further action.
Afterward, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he's grateful the Arkansas Senate passed the law enforcement stipend bill and he trusts that the Arkansas House of Representatives follows suit.
"I want to send an unmistakable message that Arkansas supports and values our law enforcement officers," the Republican governor said in a written statement.
"Public safety is my top priority in this fiscal session."
In other action, the Senate voted 27-4 to send to the House Senate Bill 102 by Hickey that would create a state pregnancy resource center grant program and tap $1 million in state rainy funds to finance the program in fiscal 2023.
The Senate also voted 33-0 to approve a bill that would grant $15 million in spending authority to the state Department of Veterans Affairs from cash funds for matching funds for land acquisition, improvements, construction, renovation and purchase of equipment for a state veterans home in Northwest Arkansas in fiscal 2023.
The bill -- Senate Bill 104 by Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock -- also would grant the department $30 million in spending authority from federal funds for the same purpose.
The bill goes to the House for further consideration.
Today is the 18th day of the fiscal session, and legislative leaders are aiming to wrap up the session Tuesday.
On Feb. 14, Hutchinson called on state lawmakers to authorize using about $45 million in general revenue surplus funds to make a one-time payment of $5,000 to each certified city and county law enforcement officer as well as other front-line officers.
Hickey's Senate Bill 103 would create the Arkansas Full-Time Law Enforcement Officer Salary Stipend Act of 2022. House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, is the House sponsor of the bill.
The bill would require the chief fiscal officer to transfer $50 million from the general revenue allotment reserve fund to a law enforcement stipend grant fund to provide funding for the stipends. Hickey said he doesn't expect the stipends to cost a total of $50 million, and any leftover funds would be transferred back to the general revenue allotment reserve fund.
Eligible full-time law enforcement officers employed as of July 1, 2022, and officers hired after July 1, 2022, but on or before Jan. 31, 2023, who meet the eligibility requirements are entitled to the stipends, according to the Department of Finance and Administration's legislative impact statement on SB103.
The projected cost of the stipends will be $40.46 million in fiscal 2023 based on 7,300 officers receiving $5,000 stipends and 542 eligible officers receiving $2,000 stipends, the finance department estimated.
The Division of Law Enforcement Standards and Training will certify to the finance department the officers eligible for the stipends, and the finance department will distribute the stipends to the eligible law enforcement agencies, which will distribute the stipends to the officers, according to the finance department.
Hickey said Wednesday in an interview the push to provide law enforcement stipends came from many state lawmakers "with everything that has happened with law enforcement," and groups representing county sheriffs and police chiefs "telling us how hard of a time they were having in recruitment.
"It was like it was coming from everywhere," he said. "We started this thing to try to figure out if there was some way that we could, to be blunt, force the counties and the cities to do it. But then we got into the stuff, if we start doing that how are we going to make sure that they don't supplant the funds."
Asked if Hickey's bill to grant stipends to law enforcement officers was a response to a proposal by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, to grant law enforcement officers in the state a $3,000 income tax credit at a projected cost of $25 million that Rapert wanted lawmakers to consider in the Dec. 7-9 special session, Hickey said it was not a direct response and that many other lawmakers in the House and Senate favored providing financial support for law enforcement officers.
But Rapert, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, said "there were some promises made during the session that if [law enforcement officers] would please back off that [legislative leaders] would try to do something in the future.
"I am for, actually, for the stipend," he said in an interview. "However, what we were proposing, it served more full-time law enforcement officers in different departments across the state."
In December of 2020, Hutchinson's Task Force to Advance the State of Law Enforcement in Arkansas reported that it conducted an analysis with the state Department of Commerce to compare 2019 law enforcement officer entry-level salaries with the 2019 average statewide wage in Arkansas of $42,690 a year, highlighting the need for increased law enforcement officer pay.
The state Department of Commerce reported that the average wage for law enforcement officers was $40,750 a year with an average wage for entry-level law enforcement officers of $28,610 a year, according to the task force
PREGNANCY RESOURCE CENTERS
Hickey's Senate Bill 102 would require the state Department of Finance and Administration to create a grant program to provide grants directly to pregnancy resource centers in fiscal year 2023.
On Wednesday, 26 Republican senators and independent Sen. Jim Hendren of Sulphur Springs voted for the bill, while Democratic Sens. Linda Chesterfield of Little Rock, Greg Leding of Fayetteville, Clarke Tucker of Little Rock and Keith Ingram of West Memphis voted against it.
Democratic Sen. Stephanie Flowers of Pine Bluff voted present. Democratic Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, was recorded as not voting on the bill. Two other senators were excused.
Hickey told senators there will be an application process for pregnancy resource centers to apply for the grants through the finance department.
Rapert said he supports the concept of the grant program, but he doesn't know if $1 million is enough money for the grant program if all 35 pregnancy resource centers apply for the grants. He voted for the bill.
Afterward, Senate Republican leader Scott Flippo of Mountain Home said providing $1 million to this grant program "is just a scratch on the surface for the need.
"But it is a first step, and I hope that future General Assemblies are going to build upon this," he said, adding some other states provide grants to pregnancy resource centers.
Under SB102, a pregnancy resource center is an organization existing as of Jan. 1, 2022, that seeks to provide a range of services to "individuals facing an unintended pregnancy with the intention of encouraging pregnant women to give birth to their unborn children" and "[d]oes not perform, prescribe, provide referrals for or encourage abortion, or affiliate with any organization that performs, prescribes, provides referrals for, or encourage abortion."
Under the bill, a pregnancy resource center would include organizations traditionally known as "crisis pregnancy organizations;" maternity homes; adoption agencies; and social service agencies that provide material support and other assistance to individuals facing an unintended pregnancy to help those individuals give birth to their unborn children.
The bill would require the finance department to promulgate rules to implement the disbursement of the grants to the pregnancy resource centers. Under the bill, the rules are mandated to include a requirement that the entity requesting the grant funds submit a plan describing how the entity will spend the grant funds, and a statement that the funds will not be disbursed all at once, but in increments in according with the submitted plan.
Hickey has repeatedly said he didn't agree to provide state funding to pregnancy resource centers in exchange for the Arkansas Family Council not supporting anti-abortion legislation proposed by Rapert that includes a civil cause of action.
FAYETTEVILLE VETERANS HOME
Senate Bill 104 by English would grant the state Department of Veterans Affairs a total of $45 million in spending authority from cash and federal funds for land acquisition, improvements, construction, renovation and purchase of equipment for a state veterans home in Northwest Arkansas in fiscal 2023.
The current state veterans home in Fayetteville is located at 1179 N College Ave. in Fayetteville and the current plan is to build a replacement veterans home, state Department of Veterans Affairs spokeswoman Sue Harper said.
The total cost of a proposed 96-bed veterans home is projected to be $43 million to $45 million, she said.
"The Veterans Administration will only consider funding its two-third match after the host state has approved its one-third match," Harper said in a written statement.
The state envisions eventually constructing the veterans home in Northwest Arkansas in 2024-2025, she said.
English said the state's $15 million matching funds for the veterans home probably would come from "rainy-day funds or somewhere."
Earlier this month, Hutchinson said the finance department is conservatively projecting a $500 million general revenue surplus at the end of fiscal 2022 on June 30.