UPDATE: Hutchinson's Expansive Special Session Call: Highways, Academic Distress Halt, & Levees

May 16, 2016

Arkansas Capitol.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson's call for a special session of the Arkansas Legislature on highway funding has a more expansive agenda than anticipated. 

A merger between state agencies, re-organizing levee districts, abolishing a state-funded workers compensation fund, changes to school board elections, and a one-year pause in grading school districts have all made it on the docket. 

The Republican governor formally issued his agenda on Monday for the session set to begin on Thursday.

Agenda items on the governor's call:

To increase funding for repair, construction and proper maintenance of Arkansas bridges and roads and to address legislative review of proposed rules of the State Highway Commission.

·         To promote efficiency and effectiveness in the operations of state government by transferring the Arkansas History Commission to the Department of Arkansas Heritage and amending the membership, tenure, and duties of certain agencies, task forces, committees, and commissions.

·         To merge Crowley’s Ridge Technical Institute into East Arkansas Community College.

·         To enhance and streamline the process of identifying and filling board vacancies for certain improvement districts, including levee, drainage, irrigation, watershed and river improvement districts.

·         To protect the property rights of an individual in the use of the individual’s name, voice, signature and likeness.

·         To address the qualifications of professionals under the Private Security Agency, Private Investigator and School Security Licensing and Credentialing Act.

·         To clarify the law regarding workers’ compensation payments under the workers’ compensation law that resulted from initiated measure 1948, No. 4 and to end payments to the Death and Permanent Total Disability Trust Fund.

·         To reenact the original date of the sunset of the Arkansas Works Program established by identical Acts 2016 (2nd Ex. Sess.), Nos. 1 and 2.

·         To amend the law to enable annual school elections to be held in November, to make technical corrections to the law concerning the annual school elections and to amend the funding structure and other essential administrative provisions concerning certain school elections.

·         To amend Ark. Code Ann. § 9-28-217 to permit release of juvenile records to a person, agency or organization engaged in bona fide research or evaluation project determined by the Division of Youth Services of the Department of Human Services to have value for the evaluation or development of policies to advance juvenile justice.

·         To amend the criminal offense of sexual indecency with a child.

·         To prohibit identification of schools or districts as being in academic distress pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. § 6-15-428 for the 2016-2017 school year and to prohibit assignment of school ratings pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. § 6-15-2105 for the 2016-2017 school year.

·         To amend Ark. Code Ann. § 12-80-104 concerning earthquake resistant design requirements for buildings and other structures.

·         To confirm gubernatorial appointees.

Read the full proclamation here.

UPDATE: Education Commissioner Johnny Key offered this explanation in a statement for the provision prohibiting the designation of "academic distress" and school letter grades in the 2016-17 school year.

"As Arkansas transitions from the provisions of No Child Left Behind, along with our transition to the ACT Aspire assessment, this bill allows the Arkansas Department of Education to work with educators and other stakeholders to develop a comprehensive accountability system under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The federal act provided a pause from certain provisions of federal accountability, and this bill simply mirrors that concept for state accountability measures like academic distress and school A-F grades.

"If the legislation passes, no new schools will be designated for academic distress, nor will A-F grades be issued, based on 2016 ACT Aspire results. Schools may still exit academic distress if they meet the existing criteria. The legislation will not affect the school rewards program.”

KUAR will have more with Commissioner Key later this week.