Today's Assembly Highlights: March 3

March 3, 2003
Posted at: 5:24 p.m. CDT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Supporters say the state needs to put more money into mental health care services or put Arkansans at risk. Representative Jay Bradford of White Hall is sponsoring a bill to allot an additional $11.5 million each of the next two years for local mental health centers and hospitals.

Bradford says that without additional funding, more people who need treatment will end up in jail, where they will languish without getting the proper treatment, or be turned loose to hurt themselves or others. The Legislature passed identical legislation two years ago but never provided the money.

The House today rejected legislation that would establish a commission to work toward narrowing the achievement gap between poor and minority students and others. Legislators were concerned about the cost and bureaucracy. The commission bill also would have required schools to develop individual plans for students who are struggling, including offering things such as summer school and Saturday school. The bill failed 45-37 but could come back for another vote later.

The House today passed legislation requiring high school students to attend a full day of classes. The legislation would require high school students, especially seniors, to take a full courseload. Representative Joyce Elliott, the bill's sponsor, is also an English teacher at Robinson High School in Little Rock. She says the state is doing a disservice to its high school students by allowing seniors to attend school part time when they have already met nearly all their graduation requirements.

The House also narrowly passed another measure that would require schools to develop plans for parental involvement and offer training. Concerns about costs for schools to put such plans in place worried some representatives.

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to continue its discussion of legislation to limit damages in medical malpractice and other civil lawsuits.

Governor Huckabee says his plan to reorganize state government is not a throwback to what Jimmie Lou Fisher proposed last fall. Fisher, the former state treasurer, was Huckabee's Democrat challenger in the November election. She announced then that she could improve the state's public schools and could fund the changes without raising taxes. She said the money needed could be found largely by eliminating waste in state government. She said she could save about seven percent by doing that.

Huckabee said at the time that a seven percent in savings would be painful and would mean serious cuts in social services. His plan now before the state Legislature would save eight percent or more, he says, by reorganizing 53 state agencies into ten major departments. Huckabee says Fisher's plan remains unrealistic because it would trim state government across the board.

He says his plan would reduce administrative functions. He says he's talking about cutting the costs of delivering services the services themselves.

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