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STATE CAPITOL NEWS IN BRIEF

by Michael R. Wickline, Stephen Simpson | March 4, 2022 at 4:12 a.m.

Trooper pay raises

The Arkansas House of Representatives on Thursday approved an appropriation for the state Department of Public Safety that would open the door for significant pay raises for Arkansas State Police troopers in the coming fiscal year.

The House voted 96-0 to approve House Bill 1026, sending the bill to the Senate for further action.

In the event additional general revenue funds become available to the Department of Public Safety as determined by the state's chief fiscal officer, the bill would require the Division of Arkansas State Police to implement a salary administration grid, effective July 1, after review by the Legislative Council or the Joint Budget Committee.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson proposed a $7.4 million increase in the Arkansas State Police's general revenue budget to $78 million in fiscal 2023, and the state's proposed Revenue Stabilization Act includes that increase.

Under HB1026, "[a]ll employees in the certified law enforcement officer classifications, including recruits, at the Department of Public Safety are eligible for the increase in the salary administration grid," and the grid increase would be in addition to any cost-of-living or performance-based increases provided in fiscal 2023.

"Notwithstanding other provisions of law, salaries established by this section may exceed the maximum pay level for the grade assigned to the classification by no more than twenty percent ... for any affected employee," according to the bill.

The average annual salary for state troopers would increase from the current $44,944 to $54,130, and for troopers first class from the current $53,035 to $60,006 under the proposed legislation, according to Bill Sadler, a spokesman for the Arkansas State Police.

The average annual salary for corporals would increase from the current $63,612 to $71,237 and for sergeants from $74,319 to $84,439, while the average annual salary for lieutenants would increase from $84,229 to $94,076, for captains from $94,277 to $105,166, and for majors from $107,541 to $116,772.

HB1206 also would heed the governor's request to allow the Arkansas Crime Lab to hire five more forensic scientists to increase testing of sexual assault kits and meet the legal turnaround time of 60 days required by Act 839 of 2019. That would boost the crime labs' spending authority by about $312,000 to $13.9 million.

In January, some lawmakers said they want the state Crime Lab to be able to comply with the 2019 law after hearing the average turnaround time is about 10 months.

-- Michael R. Wickline

Game and Fish pay

The Senate voted Thursday to approve the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's operating appropriation for the coming fiscal year, after the Joint Budget Committee heeded the commission director's request to enable the commission to boost its enforcement officers' salaries in concert with raises for Arkansas State Police troopers.

The Senate voted 33-0 to send Senate Bill 12 to the House for further action.

The bill includes special language requested by commission Director Austin Booth under which the commission may exceed the maximum annual salary by up to 20% for colonel, major, captain, lieutenant, sergeant, corporal, wildlife officer first class and wildlife officer positions in order to allow the commission to seek and employ qualified law enforcement officers in fiscal 2023, which starts July.

Booth told lawmakers Wednesday that he seeks the flexibility for the commission to match or keep pace with the significant raises planned for Arkansas State Police troopers in the coming fiscal year for the commission's enforcement officers.

The commission faces the same challenges recruiting and retaining enforcement officers as the Arkansas State Police, he said. The commission has 22 vacancies among about 180 of these positions, he said

SB12 would authorize four additional non-law enforcement positions requested by Booth to increase the commission's maximum number of employees to 634. The bill would increase the number of division chief posts from nine to 11 with a maximum salary of $106,902, increase the number of biologist supervisor posts from 22 to 23 with a maximum salary of $86,609, and increase the number of biologist specialists from 53 to 54 with a maximum salary of $80,624.

-- Michael R. Wickline

Medicaid spending

The Senate voted 32-0 Thursday to approve the state Department of Human Services' Division of Medical Services appropriation in fiscal 2023.

The bill is Senate Bill 54 and goes to the House for further action.

The measure would grant $9.05 billion in spending authority for grant payments of the Division of Medical Services, including $7.147 billion in hospital and medical services, $842 million for private nursing home care, $579 million for prescription drugs, $257 million for public nursing home care, and $207 million for the ARKIDS B program.

SB54 would set aside the first $37.6 million of funding allocated to the Department of Human Services' grant account to be only for the home and community-based services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities under the Community and Employment Medicaid Supports Waiver program or a successor Medicaid Waiver program. At the close of fiscal 2023, any unexpended funds set aside for this purpose will be required to be transferred and made available for the same purpose in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2024.

-- Michael R. Wickline

House bills

The Arkansas House passed more than 30 bills Thursday with a majority of them dealing with budgets for state departments and universities.

Legislators in the House passed a number of bills by batching them together for one vote, with only a couple being pulled out separately to be discussed.

Some of the bills passed include appropriations for the 2022-23 fiscal year for the Division of Community Corrections; the Division of Environmental Quality; the Department of Public Safety; the Department of Finance and Administration; the Division of Heritage and the Division of County Operations.

One of the bills passed was an appropriation for the Division of Correction to grant $75 million in spending authority for a 498-bed prison expansion at the North Central Unit in Calico Rock.

The amendment also will require a firearms and ammunition audit to be done at the Department of Corrections.

The bill had been a topic of conversation Wednesday where several legislators debated the proposed prison expansion, but there was no discussion on the act Thursday as it was passed on its third reading.

Prison expansion has been a hot-button issue as several sheriffs approached legislators about overcrowding problems in their county jails because of Division of Correction inmates taking up space.

Opponents of the expansion have said the money would be better spent on programs aimed at preventing people from going to prison in the first place.

Several state schools also had appropriation bills approved by the House, including the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff; University of Arkansas at Monticello; University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Arkansas State University.

An act for the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville appropriation for the 2022-23 fiscal year was the only school-related bill to be separated from the bunch for a vote. There was no discussion associated with the bill, and it passed 88-4 with one present vote.

The House also read and adopted an amendment to House Bill 1055 that removed a requirement for the Board of Trustees of Arkansas Tech University to be from certain counties in the area. The change allows members to be from anywhere in the state.

-- Stephen Simpson


Print Headline: Trooper pay raises Game and Fish pay Medicaid spending House bills

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