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BENTONVILLE -- A jobs training bill that would greatly benefit Northwest Arkansas has passed the Senate and should soon pass the House, but there are some potential snags, regional lawmakers told a forum Saturday.

Regional school districts would be able to pool resources into one workforce training center under Senate Bill 288 by state Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs. The bill would allow more than one school district to put money and other resources into workforce development centers that all participating districts could use. Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, is lead sponsor in the House.

The proposal leaves out community colleges, Northwest Arkansas Community College President Evelyn Jorgenson objected at the 9 a.m. legislators forum hosted by the Rogers/Lowell and Greater Bentonville chambers of commerce, which was held on her college's campus. Technical schools such as Northwest Technical Institute in Springdale could receive public school taxpayer support under this bill, but the state's 22 community colleges could not.

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Community colleges already have a means to get school property tax money, Hendren said. If voters agree, a property tax can be collected on their behalf. SB 288 creates something new. Beyond that, the bill's goal is to create training centers for students who do not attend college. Opening another door for community colleges could divert money away from what the bill intends.

Richard Page, superintendent of Gravette School District, agreed with Hendren's view. "If there were possibilities for creating centers like these, we'd already have one," he said. Gravette High School is 19 miles from NWACC.

Supporters of the bill say it would help efforts to provide more workforce education for specialized, in-demand skills, such as welding and computer programming for industrial equipment. Without a change, a school district cannot spend money outside its district. The bill also would allow specialists in job skills to teach without teacher certification.

In other issues, Reps. Grant Hodges, R-Rogers, and Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, spoke in favor of Senate Joint Resolution 8. The proposed constitutional amendment would allow the Legislature to set court rules if voters approve the measure in the 2018 general election.

This method reflects the relationship between Congress with the federal judiciary and was proposed after the courts, over the course of years, largely negated limits on damages and other limits passed by the Legislature in 2003 by their rules process. As of now, the state Supreme Court sets the rules.

Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, reported that her bill setting rules for telemedicine has become law. Telemedicine uses high-speed video and imaging to allow doctors to diagnose patients by electronic means.

Also, Douglas told the crowd at the forum that a measure to increase financial support for highways will be filed next week and that the proposal will require voter approval.

NW News on 02/26/2017

Print Headline: Jobs training bill likely to pass, forum told

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