Matching budget bills advance

LITTLE ROCK — The Joint Budget Committee on Wednesday advanced matching House and Senate bills laying out a $5.5 billion proposed budget for the coming fiscal year and setting spending priorities.

Senate Bill 295 and House Bill 1548 go to the Senate and House, respectively.

The proposed budget mostly aligns with the budget plan Gov. Asa Hutchinson unveiled late last year. It would increase state spending by $163 million over the current fiscal year, with $113 million of that increase going to the Department of Human Services.

Other increases in the budget proposal include nearly $11 million for the Department of Correction, $9 million for the Department of Community Correction and $6 million for public schools.

Giving final legislative approval to the budget bill, known as the Revenue Stabilization Act, is expected to be one of lawmakers’ last tasks before they go home next week.

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Bathroom bill withdrawn

LITTLE ROCK — The Senate on Wednesday adopted a motion by Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, R-Pocahontas, to withdraw her bill on bathroom access and refer it to interim study,

Senate Bill 774 would require government entities to label their bathrooms for use by one gender and allow a person to use only the bathroom that matches the gender on the person’s birth certificate. A person who encountered a person violating the measure in a bathroom in a government building could sue the government entity in charge of the building.

North Carolina experienced costly boycotts after passing a broader bill on bathroom access, which was widely seen as targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson opposed SB 774, saying there was no need for it. The Christian conservative Family Council supported the bill, which it said would protect people’s safety and privacy.

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Bill to raise maximum speed limits goes to governor

LITTLE ROCK — The House on Wednesday concurred in Senate amendments to a House bill to raise maximum speed limits on highways in the state.

House Bill 2057 by Rep. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio, would raise speed limits on controlled-access highways from 70 mph to 75 mph and on other highways from 60 mph to 65 mph. The maximum speed limit would remain 30 mph on highways in urban districts.

The House and Senate previously approved the bill, which now goes to the governor.

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Marijuana tax bill advances

LITTLE ROCK — The Senate voted 31-1 Wednesday to approve a bill to impose a 4 percent tax on every sale of medical marijuana.

House Bill 1580 by Rep. Douglas House, R-North Little Rock, would affect every transaction in which medical marijuana changes, including purchases by patients and dispensaries. The bill passed previously in the House and now goes back to that chamber for concurrence in a Senate amendment.

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Bill to move school elections sent to governor

LITTLE ROCK — The Senate voted 23-7 Wednesday to approve and send to the governor’s desk a bill to change the dates of school board elections.

Under current law, annual school elections may be held on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November, which is the date when general elections are held in even-numbered years, or on the third Tuesday in September, which typically does not coincide with any other election.

House Bill 1621 by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, would require that the elections be held at the same time as general or primary elections or on the equivalent dates in nonelection years. The bill would not affect millage elections.

The bill passed in the House earlier this month.

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Bill on debit-card lottery purchases sent to governor

LITTLE ROCK — The House voted 60-23 Wednesday to approve and send to the governor’s desk a bill to give retailers who sell lottery tickets the option to allow customers to use debit cards to buy the tickets. Current law allows the tickets to be purchased only with cash.

Senate Bill 617 by Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, passed in the Senate earlier this month.