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Senate Approves Greater Homestead Property Tax Credits

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LITTLE ROCK – The Senate passed legislation to increase the homestead property tax credit, which will save more than 716,000 Arkansas homeowners about $12.5 million a year.

Senate Bill 447 also allocates $8.2 million for Arkansas counties to upgrade their voting machines.

Homeowners who claim the property tax credit now get $350 each year. SB 447 would raise that to $375. The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 34-to-0 and sent it to the House of Representatives.

Legislative leaders announced that they would seek a tax reduction of almost $100 million for Arkansas taxpayers who claim the standard deduction. The lost revenue would be offset by increases in taxes on cigarettes and “vapes.”

The Senate also passed SB 464 to keep confidential any information that may help identify the manufacturers of the lethal injection drugs used by the state Correction Department to execute inmates convicted of capital murder.

Anyone who recklessly disclosed information could be found guilty of a felony if it led to the identification of the producers of lethal injection drugs.

The Correction Department has had difficulty maintaining drugs used for lethal injection, in part because pharmaceutical companies sometimes face boycotts and protests from opponents of capital punishment.

Both the Senate and House have approved HB 1439 to prohibit abortions before 18 months of gestation. It has exceptions for medical emergencies or if the mother’s pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

Both chambers also passed HB 1561 to authorize a pilot program allowing companies to test driverless cars. Only three vehicles could be on the roads at any one time. Arkansas will become the 30th state to allow tests of autonomous vehicles.

Both chambers have passed SB 145 to promote renewable energy production. Supporters of the bill say it could double the number of jobs in the field of installation of solar panels. The state’s major electric utility did not oppose the bill because it was written so as to prevent cost-shifting to existing utility customers who don’t have solar equipment.

It allows people to lease solar panels, rather than own them, which supporters say will promote further development of renewable energy.

The House approved HB 1567 to require physicians, clinics and health care providers to electronically enter evidence from rape and sexual assault into a computer data base maintained by the state Crime Lab.

Victims and law enforcement can then track the progress of the evidence in the rape kit. The bill is a follow-up to legislation enacted in 2015 creating a system of collecting and maintaining evidence. It should help prevent backlogs, and should help authorities solve other cases because DNA testing can be used to catch offenders of other crimes after they are submitted into a data base.

The governor signed Act 416 to raise $95 million a year for highway projects. The revenue will come from motor fuels taxes, registration fees on hybrid and electric vehicles and new casino taxes.

Next year, Arkansas voters will decide whether to permanently extend a half-cent sales tax, with revenue going for highway projects.

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