Roby Brock / Talk Business & Politics

Roby Brock is the Editor-in-Chief and Host of Talk Business & Politics.

He can be reached by e-mail at: Roby@TalkBusiness.net.

Follow him on Twitter: @RobyBrock.

Drax Biomass, which is headquartered in Monroe, Louisiana, plans to build three plants in Arkansas to produce pellets for use in its power station in the United Kingdom.
Drax Biomass

Drax Group announced Thursday it will begin constructing the first of three new “satellite” pellet plants in Arkansas. Drax Group is a worldwide sustainable biomass production and supply company.

The three plants are together expected to produce approximately 120,000 metric tons of sustainable biomass pellets a year from sawmill residues, supporting the renewable energy company’s plans to increase self-supply to its power station in the U.K.

Talk Business & Politics

UA Walton College economist Mervin Jebaraj said new tax cuts and those proposed for later this year could help in a variety of ways, especially for lower income Arkansans, and he suggested the state’s businesses will have to work harder to overcome a national negative reputation in the wake of this year’s high-profile controversies in the legislature.

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas addressed a wide array of issues facing Congress on Talk Business & Politics.
Talk Business & Politics

Still coy on running for President in 2024, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., offered a wide range of opinions in an interview Sunday on foreign and domestic policy issues and the 2022 and 2024 election cycle.

Cotton, the state’s junior senator, was re-elected to a six-year term in November 2020. He was active on the campaign trail for fellow Republicans in 2020 and expects to travel broadly to support GOP candidates in 2022. He’s still not willing to discuss speculation that he may be a Presidential candidate in 2024.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The leaders of the two legislative chambers and Gov. Asa Hutchinson outlined expectations for the end of the 93rd Arkansas General Assembly, and it should be an unprecedented and lengthy adjournment.

Holding a joint press conference Thursday to review the Revenue Stabilization Act (RSA), which keeps the state’s budget balanced, the trio of leaders explained their plans for completing the session business and taking care of additional matters later this year.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on this week's Talk Business & Politics.
Talk Business & Politics

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson may not have formally committed to a 2024 Presidential run, but he’s raising his profile to be a national voice in the 2022 cycle.

Hutchinson said Sunday in an exclusive Talk Business & Politics interview that beyond taking the reins as chairman of the National Governors Association (NGA) this summer, he plans to start a political action effort for education advocacy and to raise money for GOP candidates across the U.S. in the 2022 elections.

Arkansas State Capitol
Chris Hickey / KUAR News

Arkansas lawmakers considered a variety of bills on Wednesday, but the main drama centered on the state’s Medicaid program. For the second day in a row, House members could not muster enough votes to approve a Department of Human Services budget that includes funding for a revamped Medicaid expansion program.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas House Minority Leader Rep. Tippi McCullough, D-Little Rock, said the abrupt ending to the Thursday judiciary committee that debated a hate crimes bill has raised more questions than answers.

House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Carol Dalby, R-Texarkana, called the vote on SB 622 for supporters of the bill and then quickly adjourned the committee before a roll call vote could take place. SB 622 is a class protection bill that enhances time served for certain violent crimes and is touted by some as an alternative to hate crimes legislation.

U.S. Rep. French Hill announced plans Thursday to introduce the PPP Revenue Adjustment Calculation to Increase Capital Accessibility Long-Term, or the PRACTICAL Act, next week in Congress.
Talk Business & Politics

U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, announced plans on Thursday to introduce a change to the Paycheck Protection Program that he touted would help small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hill, R-Little Rock, said he was introducing the PPP Revenue Adjustment Calculation to Increase Capital Accessibility Long-Term, or the PRACTICAL Act, next week in Congress. In Arkansas, more than 14,000 businesses have received $4.6 billion through PPP funding over the course of the pandemic. Hill said it has helped save more than 375,000 Arkansas jobs.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaking to the Arkansas Legislative Council Monday, asking for an extension of his state pandemic emergency.
KATV-Channel 7

Gov. Asa Hutchinson asked lawmakers Monday (March 29) to approve his 60-day extension of the COVID-19 pandemic emergency, and they agreed but not without lengthy debate.

On a voice vote from the Arkansas Legislative Council, state legislators extended the emergency order although several members raised objections. In essence, the legislature voted “no” on a proposal by Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, to deny the governor the extension. After members voted down the rejection of his request, they voted to approve five executive orders related to the emergency declaration.

Arkansas Democratic Party Chair Michael John Gray speaking on Sunday's Talk Business & Politics.
Talk Business & Politics

Democratic Party of Arkansas chairman Michael John Gray said Sunday that lowering filing fees to zero in some instances is the best way to ensure competition for Republican-held seats in the state Legislature.

Last week, the party voted to eliminate filing fees for Democratic candidates who are challenging incumbent GOP state legislators or where there is no incumbent Democratic legislator. The party also lowered its filing fees for U.S. Senate, Congress, governor, other constitutional offices, and incumbent legislative seats.

Leslie Rutledge Attorney General
Talk Business & Politics

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge says her new lawsuit against Walgreens is part of a continuing mission of accountability for the opioid crisis, and she says her experience as the state’s top legal officer makes her more qualified to be the next governor of Arkansas.

In a Talk Business & Politics interview, Rutledge claimed Walgreens should have done more to curtail the prescription of opioids. By not doing so, the national pharmacy chain has contributed to the black market for the extremely addictive drugs.

Arkansas House Speaker-Designate Matthew Shepherd
KATV, Channel 7

Arkansas House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, said that the session’s expected April 9th recess and May 3rd sine die will likely be extended. He told members at the end of the day’s House session and elaborated to reporters in his end of the week press conference.

“We’ll file a resolution to extend the session by a little bit,” Shepherd said. “I know members are concerned about having enough time to get their bills through and get them moved on.”

The legislature will meet Monday and Tuesday of next week, then take off for spring break.

UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson (at the podium) alongside Gov. Asa Hutchinson and a sign language interpreter at a press conference on the coronavirus on May 8, 2020.
Governor's Office

UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson said there have been lessons learned one year into the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Arkansas, there have been more than 5,400 deaths and over 325,000 identified coronavirus cases. Patterson said it’s put a huge strain on the state’s healthcare system and made the year “seem like a decade.”

That said, UAMS and other healthcare providers adapted to the huge influx of patients. He’s proud of the response, and he anticipates it won’t be the last time a plan for a pandemic is needed.

Arkansas Farm Bureau announced Monday it is partnering with Arkansas PBS on programming and other projects.  Corn
Arkansas Farm Bureau

Arkansas Farm Bureau and Arkansas PBS are partnering to produce community programming and local projects, the two groups announced Monday.

The content, which will be called “Good Roots,” will focus on education initiatives, health awareness and supporting agricultural and rural community life. Major funding for “Good Roots” is provided by Arkansas Farm Bureau.

Talk Business & Politics host Roby Brock speaking with Rep. Michelle Gray (R-Bethesda), Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View) and Arkansas Secretary of Human Services Cindy Gillespie.
Talk Business & Politics

Under construction for the past year, Arkansas lawmakers and Gov. Hutchinson’s administration will unveil their newest version of Medicaid expansion on Monday.

ARHOME (pronounced “Are-Home”) stands for Arkansas Health & Opportunity for Me. Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, and Rep. Michelle Gray, R-Bethesda, will be two of the lead sponsors of the proposal.

Arkansas state Sen. Jim Hendren in a video released Thursday announced he is leaving the Republican Party. The nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he is considering a run for governor.
YouTube

Arkansas State Sen. Jim Hendren has moved his political party affiliation from Republican to Independent and has plans to form a new organization aimed at working in bipartisan fashion, he announced Thursday.

Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin heads the Common Core task force.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., pivoted from his pursuit of the governor’s office to Attorney General last Monday. His departure from the GOP primary field for the state’s top post leaves Sarah Huckabee Sanders and current Attorney General Leslie Rutledge in the race.

Leon Jones, who heads the state’s Fair Housing Commission, said Thursday (Feb. 11) he plans to run for Arkansas Attorney General on the GOP ticket.

Griffin said his switch in the race was made after hearing from supporters.

fox16.com

The field for Arkansas governor just got smaller. Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., announced Monday (Feb. 8) he would no longer seek the state’s top executive post and instead will run for Attorney General.

Arkansas Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe, seen here speaking at a March 13, 2020 press conference about the coronavirus outbreak alongside Gov. Asa Hutchinson, announced Thursday he will run for lieutenant governor in 2022.
Governor's Office / YouTube

Arkansas Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe announced Thursday that he will seek the Republican nomination for Lt. Governor in 2022.

He has served as the state’s surgeon general since 2015 when he was appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Bledsoe has been one of the governor’s chief advisors through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bledsoe is an emergency room physician and earned his medical degree from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. After a residency at UAMS, he spent five years on the faculty in the Johns Hopkins Department of Emergency Medicine.

Arkansas Capitol
flickr.com

The chairmen of the Joint Budget Committee and House Revenue & Tax Committee want to provide tax relief for Arkansans who may not even know they could owe it. Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, and Rep. Joe Jett, R-Success, filed SB 236 on Thursday which would exempt unemployment compensation benefits from state income tax in 2020 and 2021.

File photo. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R).
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge on Tuesday announced she is leading a coalition of 16 states that have filed an amicus brief supporting the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) lawsuit against New York Attorney General Letitia James.

The NRA’s lawsuit seeks to block James’s attempt in a separate lawsuit to dissolve the NRA, which has come under intense scrutiny for alleged mismanagement of funds and potential violation of rules of operation for nonprofits.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

While legislators prepare to debate the issues in the 93rd Arkansas General Assembly, a more critical debate is already underway: How to conduct a COVID-19 legislative session at the state capitol?

Unlike the fiscal session earlier this year, legislative leaders are already instituting changes that will keep the session accessible to the public, safe for participants, and within the boundaries of their constitutional duties.

Asa Hutchinson governor
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

During a primetime television address delivered Thursday night, Gov. Asa Hutchinson reiterated many of the talking points he has been making for months. In a post-speech interview with Talk Business & Politics, Hutchinson expounded on what he hoped to accomplish in the speech, why he’s seeking more legislative input, what is frustrating him with the federal response, and how he’ll handle the potential for rising cases after the Christmas holidays.

The following transcript is a Q&A with Talk Business & Politics' Roby Brock.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on this week's Talk Business & Politics.
Talk Business & Politics

Gov. Asa Hutchinson anticipates a lot of negotiation over taxes in the upcoming legislative session. With an expected $240 million surplus,

Hutchinson has laid out proposals to:

  • Reduce the top individual income tax rate for new residents to 4.9% for five years. Doing so would attract tech and manufacturing talent and retirees, he said.
  • Lower the sales tax on used vehicles from 6.5% to 3.5% for those with sale prices between $4,000 and $10,000. There is no tax for cars sold for less than $4,000.
  • Place $100 million in the state’s long-term reserve account.

hendrix college
Hendrix.edu

Hendrix College has received a $15 million gift from the Windgate Foundation, the largest outright gift in Hendrix’s history.

“We are grateful for the support of the Windgate Foundation,” said Hendrix President W. Ellis Arnold III. “More than ever, it is critical that we continue moving forward, to meet today’s challenges and to continue to be a leader in higher education in the future.”

A $50 million grant program for hospitality and service sector businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic launches and state government leaders expect to make grant awards in late December.

Stacy Hurst, Arkansas Secretary for Parks, Heritage and Tourism, said the grants will hopefully help those hard-hit businesses stay alive until COVID-19 is under control.

An Arkansas Supreme Court ruling on Thursday (Oct. 29) declared that an existing half-cent sales tax for state highways could not be spent on a $1 billion widening project on Interstate 30 known as 30 Crossing.

The state’s high court ruled that a sales tax approved by voters in 2012, Amendment 91, could not be used on highways with more than four lanes. 30 Crossing proposed to add six lanes of surface highway to ease congestion around downtown Little Rock. A lawsuit brought by a number of environmentalists has been opposing the massive infrastructure project.

Vote button
Talk Business & Politics

A lawsuit was filed Tuesday by the League of Women Voters of Arkansas to alter the process for accounting for absentee ballots this fall. The lawsuit claims the state's requirements for accepting absentee ballots is unconstitutional, and seeks a court-ordered change before the Nov. 3 general election.

The lawsuit – League of Women Voter of Arkansas v. Thurston – was filed in federal court against Secretary of State John Thurston and several members of the State Board of Election Commissioners.

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a proposed initiated act to overturn a state law expanding optometric procedures does not qualify for the November ballot. The measure would have overturned Act 579 of 2019, which permitted optometrists to perform limited eye surgeries.

Safe Surgery Arkansas, which was supported by the state’s ophthalmologists, is the group that was pushing to overturn Act 579. Arkansans for Healthy Eyes, a group led by optometrists, had challenged the ballot initiative.

Talk Business & Politics

U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, launched a new ad in his Second Congressional District re-election campaign that raps Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, for her votes on taxes, particularly a cell phone fee that partially funds 911 calls.

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