LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The newly-formed Arkansas Republican Women’s Legislative Caucus announced their priorities for the 2019 session Wednesday at the state Capitol.
The 21 women detailed their “Dream Big” initiative, a legislative package focused on education, juvenile justice reform, childcare and broadband access, and financial support for UAMS.
They told a full house in the Old Supreme Court room that they represent every corner of the state, and so do their priorities.
“These are red issues, these are blue issues,” said St. Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View. “These are issues for all Arkansans.”
The first piece of legislation would focus on literacy, requiring all school districts to submit and implement a plan on their campuses.
“Reading leads to learning,” said St. Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock. “Learning leads to opportunity.”
The second bill would tackle juvenile justice reform, improving the reintegration of youth back into society and finding alternatives to incarceration and treatment centers for low-risk youth.
“Our children are our future, and we must do everything we can to help them escape the cycle of poverty, abuse, violence and incarceration that many of them have known for their entire lives,” said St. Rep. Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren.
The third piece of legislation would repeal the state’s municipal broadband prohibition, allowing cities and counties to partner with any broadband provider of their choice.
“Arkansas is a leader in access to high-speed broadband for our school districts,” said St. Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville. “We lead the nation in computer science education, but our children need to be able to do homework at home. Access to high-speed broadband is crucial to that.”
The fourth bill would address childcare access, mostly in rural areas, encouraging entrepreneurs to open daycares by guiding them through the state’s regulations and helping them find funding via the Arkansas Department of Human Services website.
“We have areas in our state where moms would like to go to work, but they don’t have a place where they can take their child where they feel is going to provide good, quality care,” said St. Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville.
The final piece of legislation would support the push by UAMS to be designated as a National Cancer Institute, setting up a funding mechanism to cover the $10 to $20 million in annual recurring costs, according to Chancellor Cam Patterson. Lawmakers are still debating the plans for the funding increase.
“This will give so many of our citizens an option rarely available till now,” Irvin said. “It will increase their chances of survival.”
This legislative package coincides with a fellow Republican’s priorities: Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Patterson said if the legislature can get the funding for the National Cancer Institute designation, he committed to apply within the governor’s second term.