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Daily Legislative Update

February 18, 2014

Special Edition

Daily Legislative Update

 

SPECIAL REPORT

 

For months now, the State Chamber/AIA has worked with members, cabinet chiefs and key legislators to tackle concerns all companies have when it comes to attracting and maintaining an interested and competent workforce.  The issues are varied and complicated and the needed changes are systemic.

 

That said, great progress is unfolding at the State Capitol today of which the business community and Arkansas’s existing and future workforce is the clear beneficiary.

 

The 2014 Fiscal Session has hinged on whether enough votes existed in both chambers of the Legislature to achieve the super-majority (3/4) vote needed to pass the appropriation bill for the Department of Human Services and in particular, the controversial Private Option. As of the close of business yesterday, the Private Option appeared to be fragile.

 

However, news is quickly circulating that in exchange for her much needed 27th vote for continued funding of the Private Option, Senator Jane English (R – North Little Rock), has secured extensive funding and infrastructure improvements for workforce education and training for Arkansas’s current and future students, the workforce, and all businesses across Arkansas working daily to attract and maintain a competent workforce.*  “These developments are nothing short of spectacular,” says Randy Zook, State Chamber/AIA President and CEO.

 

Senator English, a former director of the state’s Workforce Investment Board at the Department of Workforce Services (DWS) and a one-time project manager at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC), said altering workforce training and providing health insurance for working Arkansans are connected.

 

“My thing is if we don’t do it now, when are we going to do it?” said English. “We’ve got to get to the system where we turn the whole thing upside down and we provide a really good workforce system here that people can access with the kind of skills so that we don’t have to have everybody on food stamps, we don’t have to have everybody in the private option.”

 

The changes that English has advocated – and that key legislators and administration officials have agreed to – include:

 

1. $16 million into AEDC Industry Training;

2. College/Career Readiness — $9.6 million;

3. Fast Track Working Group — Workforce Cabinet, Business Leaders/Chamber and Legislature;

4. Department of Higher Ed — Evaluate existing programs and identify shortage areas and programs. Evaluate existing Workforce 2000 programs and make recommendations for addressing state needs.

5. On-going Business Advisory Council — who’s doing what, now and what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s missing.

6. Legislature/Workforce Cabinet to present a package in 2015 session to address ongoing funding for workforce education/training: Workforce 2000 funding, Create Rebate, Two-year college funding formula, Ongoing funding for Career Pathways, College and Career Coaches and Adult Education.

 7. Department of Education and Career Education – Will begin the development of creating a tiered system of high school diplomas, with special emphasis for 16-20-year-olds lacking a path under current constructs.

 

In many ways, this enables a giant leap forward in Arkansas’s ability to compete at the national and international level for high-skilled, high-wage producing career opportunities.  We will keep you posted as this matter continues to develop.

 

* Special thanks to Roby Brock and Talk Business for contributions to this message.  You can read Roby’s original report at http://talkbusiness.net/2014/02/senator-english-changes-private-option-vote-action-new-jobs/

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