Law enforcement officers will receive $5,000 stipend from the state | Opinion

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Certified law enforcement officers will receive a $5,000 salary allowance this year, thanks to a Senate bill approved by the Arkansas legislature.

To qualify for the allowance, officers must have completed a basic training program approved by the Arkansas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training. They must work at least 24 hours a week.

Under Senate Bill 103, the allowances will go to officers employed beginning July 1. If hired after July 1, they can still qualify if hired before January 31, 2023.

State troopers will receive a $2,000 stipend. In separate legislation, they are expected to get significant pay increases, from an average starting salary of around $42,000 to around $54,000.

Lawmakers have earmarked $50 million to pay benefits, but don’t expect to spend all that amount. Allocations to about 7,300 law enforcement officers and 542 state police officers will cost about $40.6 million.

The House of Representatives added $75 million to the corrections department’s budget for a possible expansion of the Calico Rock North Central Correctional Unit, to add 498 beds to the 800-bed unit.

If the north-central unit adds 498 beds, its salary and operating costs will increase by $13 million a year, according to a representative who spoke about the expansion.

The governor said the state can afford one-time expenses like allowances and the capital project, based on the favorable revenue report for January that indicates Arkansas is on track to complete the fiscal year with a large surplus.

The Joint Budget Committee recommended an increase in the fund to reimburse county jails when they hold inmates who have been sentenced but for whom there is no room in a state prison unit. The current rate is $32 per inmate per day and lawmakers are working to increase it to $40 per day.

Sheriffs have expressed concern about the backlog of state inmates in county jails. First, they say reimbursements of $32 a day are not enough to pay an inmate’s accommodation costs.

Second, they fear harboring more serious offenders than in the past. This leads to more attacks on prison staff, they say. It also means that they often have to release juvenile offenders who have committed crimes, in order to make room for dangerous offenders.

The Senate also approved SB 102, to create a new grant program for pregnancy resource centers. The bill earmarks $1 million for centers, where women with unwanted pregnancies receive adoption counseling and help obtaining social services.

The Senate also approved SB 54, an appropriation for the Arkansas Medicaid program. It is part of the Medical Services Division within the Department of Human Services.

SB 54 appropriates $9 billion for health care for approximately one million Arkansasians who, at some point in a typical year, will be eligible for Medicaid. Services include prescription drugs, long-term care, doctor visits and hospital stays.

Lawmakers have been working for months to add an estimated $37.6 million to home care and community services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Within a few years, the additional funding should eliminate the waiting list for these services. About 3,200 people are on the list.

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