Arkansas Legislature

The latest news about the Arkansas Legislature.

Arkansas House

A bill that would eliminate some exemptions of a work requirement in order to receive supplemental nutrition assistance has advanced to the House, after a committee approved it Thursday.

The House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee by a voice vote advanced House Bill 1512 which removes "no-good-cause" exemptions to a work requirement for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, also called food stamps.

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.

Loretta Williams

Two bills aimed at changing the way members of Arkansas’ agricultural regulatory agency are appointed have had varying degrees of success in the state legislature.

Both bills would alter the appointment process for members of the Arkansas State Plant Board, which oversees licensing and regulations for agriculture in the state. Currently, the majority of the board is appointed directly by groups representing various industries like timber, seeds and livestock.

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.

State Sen. Jason Rapert (file photo).
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A new bill would make nearly all forms of abortion a crime in Arkansas, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Senate Bill 6, sponsored by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, and Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, allows abortion to be performed legally only when the mother’s life is threatened or to remove an ectopic pregnancy.

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.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson meeting with cabinet secretaries at the Department of Corrections office in North Little Rock.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson touted his proposal to cut the state’s top individual income tax rate for new residents, called for reducing the used car tax, and said his new budget includes a $240 million surplus during a speech at the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas’ Annual Meeting Tuesday.

Hutchinson said his budget calls for reducing the top individual income tax rate for new residents to 4.9% for five years. Doing so would attract tech and manufacturing talent and also retirees.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen
Arkansas Times

An Arkansas judge has dismissed a lawsuit by a group of Republican legislators seeking to invalidate a mask mandate and other restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen on Wednesday ruled that the directives issued by Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's administration are within the governor's authority under state law and legislative rules.

Supreme Court justices are to hear oral arguments Tuesday in the appeal of an Arkansas case regarding an attempt by the state to regulate pharmacy benefit managers.
Scott Applewhite/ AP / NPR

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Tuesday in Arkansas’ appeal of a case regarding reimbursements pharmacies receive from insurance providers. At issue is a 2015 law passed by the Arkansas General Assembly which has the potential to be a precedent-setting case.

U.S. Supreme Court
Wikipedia

Arkansas Solicitor General Nicholas Bronni will defend before the U.S. Supreme Court the constitutionality of a state law regulating pharmacy benefit managers next Tuesday.

Passed in 2015, Act 900 seeks to regulate pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), which act as middlemen between pharmacists and insurance providers. Their reimbursement rates theoretically incentivize pharmacies to find lower wholesale drug prices.

Governor's Office / YouTube

A disproportionate number of new coronavirus cases in Arkansas appear to be coming from universities, with the governor and health secretary imploring students to avoid socializing during the coming Labor Day weekend.

The Department of Health announced Thursday an additional 969 people had tested positive for the virus. Washington County – home to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville – had the highest number of new cases, with 211 reported. Of those, 81% were people between the ages of 18 and 24.

Jason Rapert Ten 10 Commandments
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

An Arkansas state senator is in the hospital after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Sen. Jason Rapert on Thursday said in a statement provided by the Senate that he was hospitalized after being diagnosed with pneumonia and testing positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The statement said Rapert was responding well to treatment.

Rapert is a 48-year-old Republican who has served in the Senate since 2011. Last year he announced he was seeking the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor in 2022.

Arkansas House Speaker Matthew Shepherd during a brief speech Friday after being elected to another term leading the House.
Arkansas Citizens Access Network

Arkansas House Speaker Matthew Shepherd (R-El Dorado) was reelected Friday to another two-year term leading the chamber. Representatives unanimously showed their support for Shepherd during a voice vote after formally adjourning the biennial fiscal session of legislature. He was unopposed.

Shepherd became a state representative in 2011 and was first elected speaker in 2018. The next term will begin next January when lawmakers convene for the 93rd General Assembly.

Outgoing Senate President pro Tempore Jim Hndren (R-Gravette) praised members of his chamber for wrapping up the fiscal session in nine days. Budget sessions typically take about a month. Sen. Jimmy Hickey (R-Texarkana) was then elected by senators to ser
Arkansas Citizens Access Network

Arkansas lawmakers concluded the biennial fiscal session in less than two weeks, passing a $5.89 billion budget with significant cuts to most state agencies. The Senate also selected a new leader for the chamber.

With social distancing requiring legislators to conduct business in the Senate chamber and gallery as well as the Jack Stephens Center at the University of Arkansas Little Rock, it was anything but business as usual.

Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration Director of Budget Jake Bleed (left) and Education Secretary Johnny Key at the Joint Budget Committee meeting Wednesday.
Arkansas Citizens Access Network

Legislative leaders expect to wrap up the biennial fiscal session of the Arkansas General Assembly on Thursday. The House and Senate gave initial approval Wednesday to identical versions of the $5.8 billion Revenue Stabilization Act for the budget year that begins in July.

Lawmakers had been pressured to complete the session as quickly as possible given the threat of the COVID-19 outbreak. Fiscal sessions typically last at least a month, but Thursday will be the ninth day for this one.

Governor's Office / YouTube

A midst a sea of masked legislators, Gov. Asa Hutchinson addressed the 92nd General Assembly, which opened its biennial fiscal session on Wednesday in Little Rock.

Governor's Office / YouTube

Four weeks after the first confirmed case of the coronavirus was identified in Arkansas, 1,023 people in the state have tested positive for the virus. Gov. Asa Hutchinson made the announcement Wednesday, noting there were 77 additional cases over the previous 24 hours.

Arkansas Senate President Pro Tem Jim Hendren (R-Gravette) and House Speaker Matthew Shepherd (R-El Dorado) speak on their legislative priorities during a press event Friday
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas lawmakers are preparing to meet again amid the coronavirus outbreak, but legislative leaders say they hope to wrap up work in less than two weeks.

Senate President Jim Hendren said Friday lawmakers will move forward as planned with the fiscal session set to begin on Wednesday.

The session is moving forward days after two House members tested positive for COVID-19.

The session will include similar social distancing restrictions to last week, when lawmakers approved a $173 million coronavirus fund. Health officials say Arkansas has had at least 687 cases.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signs legislation creating COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund into law just before 1 a.m. Saturday.
Governor's Office / YouTube

The first extraordinary session of the 92nd General Assembly was rather ordinary in its business, but extraordinary in its setting.

Arkansas lawmakers wrapped up a three-day special session to create a COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund. The funding mechanism will collect money from a variety of surplus and discretionary state accounts and be available to handle special money from the federal government, if necessary.

Arkansas State Capitol
Chris Hickey / KUAR News

The Arkansas Senate spent its first day of the special session debating and not passing an amendment to a bill that establishes a COVID-19 rainy day fund for the state.

Nate Smith COVID-19
Governor's Office / YouTube

Seeming frustrated by reports that some people in Arkansas are not abiding by social distancing recommendations, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Wednesday he is issuing a directive that will give law enforcement the power to enforce limits on gatherings.

The state has recommended people avoid indoor social gatherings of more than 10 people and keep a distance of six feet between one another during the current health crisis.

Jack Stephens Center
UA Little Rock

Arkansas legislative leaders are polling support for a single piece of legislation for a special session that would begin Thursday to fill budget holes caused by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 coronavirus. During that special session, the House of Representatives will meet at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Jack Stephens Center rather than the state Capitol in order to limit close contact of legislators.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson spoke Monday to a joint meeting of the House and Senate City, County and Local Affairs Committees, defending his decision to allow foreign refugees into Arkansas.
KATV-Channel 7

Gov. Asa Hutchinson defended his decision allowing Arkansas to opt in to the Trump administration’s program of accepting foreign refugees, but some state legislators were skeptical at a committee meeting Monday.

Hutchinson appeared before a joint meeting of the House and Senate City, County and Local Affairs Committees after informing the U.S. State Department in a letter dated Dec. 23 that Arkansas would accept refugees.

A former lobbyist who pleaded guilty as part of a corruption investigation that ensnared several Arkansas state lawmakers is to be sentenced Monday. Rusty Cranford could face up to 10 years in federal prison, but his defense attorney says Cranford’s cooperation with investigators should weigh heavily with the judge.

Since pleading guilty to a federal bribery charge in June 2018, Cranford has repeatedly met with investigators and appeared before federal grand juries.

Linda Collins and Rebecca O'Donnell
Facebook

A judge has set a fall 2020 trial date for a woman charged with killing a former Arkansas state lawmaker who was found dead outside her home.

Jonesboro television station KAIT report s that the judge on Friday scheduled Rebecca Lynn O'Donnell's trial to begin Oct. 19. She is charged with capital murder in the death of former Republican state Sen. Linda Collins.

John Walker
Arkansas Times

The body of lawmaker and civil rights attorney John Walker will lie in state at Arkansas' capitol as part of his funeral arrangements this week.

Secretary of State John Thurston announced that Walker's body will lie in state at the Capitol on Thursday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. on the second-floor rotunda. Walker, 82, died at his Little Rock home on Monday.

The funeral for Walker is scheduled for St. Mark Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, at 11 a.m. Friday.

Rep. Mickey Gates
www.arkansashouse.org

The Arkansas House will meet next month to consider whether to remove a lawmaker who pleaded no contest to not paying state income taxes.

House officials announced Tuesday the chamber will meet Oct. 11 on the resolution calling for removal of Republican Rep. Mickey Gates. He was arrested last year and charged with not filing returns from 2012 through 2017.

As part of an agreement with prosecutors, Gates in July pleaded no contest to one count of not filing or paying income taxes. He was ordered to serve six months' probation and repay Arkansas.

Rep. Mickey Gates
www.arkansashouse.org

Arkansas' House speaker has taken the first step toward removing a lawmaker who pleaded no contest to not paying state income taxes and who has refused to step down.

Speaker Matthew Shepherd on Friday filed a resolution to remove fellow Republican Rep. Mickey Gates, who was arrested last year and charged with not filing returns from 2012 through 2017. As part of a plea agreement with prosecutors, Gates in July pleaded no contest to one count of not filing or paying income taxes.

Jason Rapert Ten 10 Commandments
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A federal judge is temporarily restricting who can see the video deposition of a legislator who sponsored a measure requiring a Ten Commandments statue at the Arkansas Capitol in a lawsuit challenging the monument.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a temporary order Wednesday preventing additional copies of state Sen. Jason Rapert's deposition from being made or distributed. An attorney for Rapert, a Republican who sponsored the 2015 law requiring the privately funded monument, had asked that the video only be available to attorneys in the case.

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