UPDATE Veterans home bill gets final approval by House


LITTLE ROCK — The House on Friday gave final approval to legislation calling for the creation of a new state veterans home to replace the one that closed in Little Rock after failing building and health code inspections last year.

House Bill 1013 by Rep. John Edwards, D-Little Rock, was approved 95-0 and now goes to the governor.

The bill had previously been approved in the House, but because the Senate added an amendment it had to return the House for final consideration.

“We want a home in a safe place and a convenient place,” Edwards told House members, adding that the location of the home was still to be decided and would not necessarily be Little Rock.

The Legislature has already approved Senate Bill 3 by Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, which would create a legislative task force to develop a plan for a new veterans home. Gov. Mike Beebe signed SB 3 into law as Act 38.

Edwards has also filed HB 1299, which would appropriate up to $14 million in federal funds, up to $7.5 million in surplus funds and up to $7 million in cash funds for construction of a new state veterans’ home.

That bill, which also would allow the director of the state Department of Veterans Affairs to accept donations for the project, has yet to be considered by the Joint Budget Committee.

Also Friday, the House voted 61-19 to approve HB 1251 by Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock. The bill would establish regulations for partnerships between public and private entities.

“I think we all respect and want to encourage government to take on more of the positive principles of private industry,” Sabin told House members. “We all know that the private sector oftentimes can do things more efficiently and with more expertise and more innovation than government, and what this basically does is it provides a framework to do that.”

The bill goes to the Senate.

In a 94-0 vote, the House passed HB 1328 by Rep. Hank Wilkins, D-Pine Bluff, which would require the state Division of Youth Services to appear before the General Assembly for all contracts and contract changes and to require that notice be given before changes are made to community-based provider contracts.

“In this era of term limits, we as a Legislature need to make sure we have every opportunity to assure that the taxes of the people of Arkansas are being properly spent,” Wilkins said while presenting his bill. “There have been several cases recently within DYS where contracts were modified (and) moneys were redistributed in a way that was not in accordance with what had initially been agreed to.”

The bill goes to the Senate.

The House voted 90-4 to approve HB 1386 by Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, which would allow some business owners to opt out of utility-sponsored energy conservation programs and direct their own conservation efforts.

Rice said many companies already opt out of the programs, but under his bill they could avoid the expense of repeatedly proving to the state Public Service Commission that their own conservation programs are working. He said the PSC is neutral on the bill.

The Senate did not meet Friday.

Elsewhere Friday, the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee endorsed HB 1412 by Rep. Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, which would make prosecuting attorney elections non-partisan, as are judicial elections.

Under the bill, prosecutors would be elected at the same time as the May primary election, which is also when nonpartisan judicial races are currently held. Runoffs for prosecutors and judges would be held on the second Tuesday in June. Judicial election runoffs are currently held at the same time as the November general election.

The bill was approved on a voice vote and goes to the House.