By Kathryn Hazelett

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of blog posts about the legislative process on the state, federal, and local levels, and what you can do to help create and influence policy as a citizen. Entries from the series are linked at the bottom of the post.

In Arkansas, our legislative session ended a few weeks ago. At Southern, we watched a lot of bills and spent time working for some and against others, and were very pleased about Act 774, which adds a line to the state income tax form to allow taxpayers to split their refunds into checking accounts and savings accounts. By making saving that easy, taxpayers are far more likely to do it. Look for that new line on your Arkansas tax forms for the 2020 tax year.

You might be wondering how that idea (or any others) became a law.

Policy changes can really be straightforward, and they also require a lot of time and effort and generally follow these steps:

  1. Idea
  2. Research
  3. Final Policy Proposal
  4. Introduction of the Idea to the Decision Makers (or, the People in Charge of Changing/Enacting the Policy)
  5. Implementation/Outreach

Adding a line for savings started out as an idea. One afternoon, we were in a meeting discussing ways to save at tax time and one of my colleagues remembered that another state had added a line for savings on their actual tax return (rather than requiring a separate form to be filled out, which is what currently happens with your federal taxes).  And, from there, the idea took off.

We did research about how it would work to add a line in Arkansas, looked at all of the other states’ tax forms, researched savings and savings policies, and then took the final policy proposal idea to a state legislator, who then turned it into a bill, which made its way through a Senate committee, onto the Senate floor, over to a House Committee, and then to the House floor, and finally to the Governor’s desk, where it was signed and became an Act, or actual law. Together, the state legislature and the Governor are the decision makers for policy ideas at the state level. We’re going to talk more about how to reach out to your decision-makers next week and how sometimes having a group or coalition who shares your ideas is helpful in enacting change.

That’s where we are today – “Add a Line” is a new law — and what happens next is just as important as what happened to get us to today. Now, the Department of Finance and Administration will implement the law by  changing the tax forms so that the new line for savings will be printed in the new forms and coded for those of us who e-file.

After that, it’s back to us and our fellow tax-filing friends to do the outreach to make sure that taxpayers know about the new line and use it to save.

Policy change starts with an idea. Do you have one?

Icons in header image courtesy of The Noun Project.

Advocacy 101 Series

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