Arkansas Business’ 2009 Legislative Preview

With the start of the 2009 meeting of the Arkansas General Assembly only a week away, it’s time to present Arkansas Business’ 2009 legislative preview.

Among our stories is a report by Jan Cottingham on Jim Purcell, director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, who’s about to have his first experience with the state’s General Assembly. His one major goal: persuade the Legislature to reduce the maximum that public universities can spend on scholarships funded by tuition and fees. There’s already quite a bit of discussion on the story at the Arkansas Times blog here.

Also part of the preview: Arkansas Securities Department Commissioner A. Heath Abshure’s lobby for legislation that would give the Securities Department the authority to regulate variable annuities and equity-indexed annuities; the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ quest to restore nearly $5 million that was slashed from its budget for fiscal 2009; the Arkansas Medical Society’s plan for funding and establishing a statewide trauma system; and the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce’s and the Arkansas Forest & Paper Council’s goal to further reduce or eliminate the sales tax on natural gas and electricity used in the manufacturing process.

In the preview week, we noted Arkansas Sen. Bob Johnson (the incoming president pro tem) as among our Arkansans to watch in 2009. You can read that profile here, in which Johnson singles out the lottery as his top legislative priority.

And finally, back to this week’s newspaper, where J. Bruce Cross, a labor and employment management attorney with Cross Gunter Witherspoon & Galchus of Little Rock, writes on that national card-check legislation everyone’s been talking about. Here, Cross forgoes the politics surrounding the issue (namely, how Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., will vote on it) to focus on how the Employee Free Choice Act would alter the way unions organize employees:

Essentially, the EFCA makes three major changes to the National Labor Relations Act. It:

1. Effectively eliminates secret ballot voting by submitting the “card-check” process as the primary way for unions to organize employees.

2. Requires companies and newly certified unions to enter binding arbitration if they cannot reach agreement on an initial contract after 120 days of negotiations. The arbitrator’s decision will create the contract between the employees and the employer. It will be binding on both parties for two years.

3. Creates monetary penalties for unfair labor practices committed by employers, but not unions, during an organizing drive and initial contract bargaining.

All this and more in this week’s edition of Arkansas Business.


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