Gov. Asa Hutchinson expanded on previous comments concerning two recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, including the prospect of adopting an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) in Arkansas. An ERPO, known colloquially as a red flag law, would outline a process officials could use to temporarily remove guns from individuals who are deemed a danger to themselves or others. Hutchinson said a red flag law would have to balance the need for protection with the due process of law.
"Whenever we know of somebody that’s got a massive amount of firearms, and they’re posting on the internet that they want to go and kill somebody and commit mass murder, and they might have actually more specific information, we need to have the capacity to stop that horrific crime," Hutchinson said. "I don’t think we’ve arrived at the right balance yet, and I haven’t seen a law, and I haven’t come up with the idea yet as to how we can have an Extreme Risk Protection Order in place and yet have sufficient due process at the same time."
He said he would like to incorporate the expertise and opinions of law enforcement, mental health experts and gun owners when drafting a new law. One law which would have created an ERPO was submitted this year by State Senator Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville), but was never brought to a vote.
Hutchinson also answered questions about laws against hate crimes, which could be proposed for the General Assembly’s next regular session in 2021. Arkansas is one of four states with no hate crime law in place.
"I’ve received drafts and recommendations from the ADL, and my staff is looking at good models from different states, so we’re working through that. I asked them today to get me a draft for legislation, and then we will circulate that to have comment on it. I think with that vetting process that we’ll make sure that we come up with the right solution," Hutchinson said.
Speaking on the state’s government transformation effort, Hutchinson said he expects to see $15-million-dollars in savings in the state’s budget by Fiscal Year 2021.
"But we're obviously seeing savings much earlier than that. They're not adding up to that amount now but… these are very significant items that we're looking at in terms of savings," Hutchinson said. He said efforts to transform the state’s government from 45 cabinet level agencies to 15 began as soon as he first took office.
"Since 2015 we're down 1,595 in terms of our state employees fewer now than in 2015. More significantly just in the last year from 2018 to 2019 we’ve reduced state employment by 145," Hutchinson said. The governor also spoke on the recent roundtable discussion held by Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. and Republican U.S. Rep. French Hill on "opportunity zones," which Hutchinson designated as areas that could benefit from an exemption in capital gains taxes to spur economic growth.
"Whenever you’re looking at some of the more rural areas of opportunity zones, these have to be marketed and we're looking at better ways to market the opportunity zones. You know, they might be investors on the east and west coast that need to be aware of the opportunities here and that's what some states are doing," Hutchinson said.
Speaking on the United States's trade war with China, now in its second year, Hutchinson says it continues to cause damage to Arkansas with few benefits. He said there has been “consistent communication over the last six months” about concerns on how tariffs are negatively impacting the state.
However, since the latest developments in the trade war, including continued negotiations and the United States implementing a new round of tariffs on China, Hutchinson says he has not directly communicated with the White House.
“I’ve said repeatedly this is not good for us in Arkansas. I’m concerned about it. I think that we’re positioning ourselves for a long-drawn-out trade war with China and not a quick resolution,” Hutchinson said. “And that is a deep concern to both our agricultural community, but also our manufacturing community here in Arkansas.”
However, according to Hutchinson, the trade has not majorly impacted state projects, though some have slowed down.
“Whenever you look at TY Garments, right here in Little Rock, they’re expanding. Risever in Jonesboro is moving and these are all China investments. So they’re continuing to move, but there has been some repercussions from the long term tariff battle that some of the projects have slowed down and are taking longer than we expected,” Hutchinson said.
When asked about what industries are seeing benefits in the state from the trade war, Hutchinson had one answer.
“If you look at the steel industry in northeast Arkansas, that has been a boon because of tougher steel restrictions on imports…That’s my answer,” Hutchinson said.