Arkansas Legislature

The latest news about the Arkansas Legislature.

Sarah Kellogg / KUAR News

School districts in Arkansas could have the concrete ability to consider out-of-state teaching experience when negotiating salary. The House Education Committee passed the bill by a voice vote Thursday morning.

According to Dr. Tony Prothro, the executive director of the Arkansas School Board Association, some public schools were already considering out-of-state teaching years, but it was unclear whether this practice was completely legal. 

Interstate highway big rock interchange interstates 630 430
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

An Arkansas lawmaker has proposed tapping into tax revenue from car sales and imposing a new tax on motor fuels to raise money for the state's highways, combining two approaches that have faced significant opposition in the predominantly Republican Legislature.

Republican Rep. Dan Douglas filed a bill Monday that he said he hoped would start the conversation on highway funding, which legislative leaders and Gov. Asa Hutchinson have called a priority for this year's session.

Andy Davis
Talk Business & Politics

A permanent half-cent sales tax for roads. An increase in the motor fuel tax. Registration fees, revenue transfers, and reforming the procurement process.

These are all ideas being floated to craft a highway funding plan in the Arkansas Legislature, according to Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock, who is one of several lawmakers in the middle of discussions.

Davis appeared on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics to discuss a highway plan and Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s state government reorganization effort.

Despite concerns from the director of the Arkansas State Police, a legislative committee has advanced a bill that would cut the cost of a concealed carry handgun license in half. The law was passed in 1995 and most of the revenue goes to state police, which processes and administers licenses.

On Thursday, Col. Bill Bryant told members of the House Judiciary Committee that reducing the fee would impact his agency.

Gilbert Baker
Arkansas Legislature

A former Arkansas lawmaker has pleaded not guilty to charges he conspired to bribe an ex-judge who admitted to lowering a jury's award in a negligence lawsuit in exchange for campaign contributions.

A federal judge on Thursday set a Feb. 25 trial date for former Sen. Gilbert Baker, who is charged with conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud in the alleged scheme. Baker was ordered to enter an inpatient substance abuse treatment program and surrender his passport.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A bill heading to the Arkansas Senate would ban sex offenders from participating in Halloween activities with children, including wearing costumes or handing out candy to trick-or-treaters.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday endorsed a proposal prohibiting Level 3 and 4 sex offenders from distributing candy or other items to minors as part of a Halloween-related event.

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

An Arkansas lawmaker has filed legislation that would ban abortion in the state if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its landmark 1973 decision that legalized the procedure across the nation.

Republican Sen. Jason Rapert's bill filed Tuesday would trigger the ban if the Roe v. Wade decision is overturned or the U.S. Constitution is amended to allow states to prohibit abortions. The Guttmacher Institute says four other states have similar trigger laws in effect.

Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville) in 2015.
Sarah Whites-Koditschek / KUAR News

Two Republican lawmakers in Arkansas are proposing exempting school employees, people under 18 and others from voter-backed increases in the state's minimum wage.

The bill filed by Sen. Bob Ballinger and Rep. Frances Cavenaugh on Wednesday comes two months after Arkansas voters approved an initiative to gradually raise the state's minimum wage to $11 an hour by 2021. The state's minimum wage rose from $8.50 an hour to $9.25 an hour on Jan. 1.

Freshmen Democratic Arkansas state Representatives Megan Godfrey of Springdale and Jay Richardson of Fort Smith give the party's response to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's State of the State address Tuesday.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Democrats in the Arkansas Legislature responded to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s State of the State address Tuesday by detailing their priorities for the session that is just getting underway. In particular, they voiced concerns about the impact the governor’s proposed tax cut plan would have on the state budget.

Two freshmen representatives, Megan Godfrey of Springdale and Jay Richardson of Fort Smith, read a prepared statement saying that allocating money for highways and expanding pre-kindergarten education would benefit more Arkansans than expanding tax cuts .

Arkansas Legislature
Sarah Kellogg / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s plans for Arkansas this year include more money for teacher pay, an increase in funding for the Department of Agriculture and the third phase of a tax cut plan. Hutchinson outlined parts of his proposed state budget and goals during his State of the State address Tuesday morning.

Speaking after taking his inaugural oath in the Arkansas House of Representatives, Hutchinson outlined what his idea for Arkansas’s future looks like.

Arkansas Legislature
Sarah Kellogg / KUAR News

The 92nd General Assembly of Arkansas began Monday afternoon. Thousands of bills are expected to be considered in the coming months with proposals to cut individual income taxes and a reorganization of state government among the top issues.

Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Dan Kemp first gave the oath of office to the 100 members of the House of Representatives. He then went to the Senate to give the oath to its 35 members.

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

While Arkansas lawmakers have already filed bills on gun registration, automatic voter registration and other topics, one of the main issues leadership wants to fix during the 2019 session that begins Monday is ethics reform.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas lawmakers will go into the upcoming legislative session with a $17 million surplus as Gov. Asa Hutchinson pushes his plan to reduce the top personal income bracket from 6.9 percent to 5.9 percent by 2023.

Halfway through fiscal year 2019 that began on July 1, Arkansas net available general revenues totaled $2.85 billion year to date, which is $163.2 million or 6.1 percent ahead of year ago levels and $17 million or 0.6 percent above the state’s official forecast, according to the monthly report by the state Department of Finance and Administration.

UAMS
UAMS.edu

Arkansas legislators will be meeting next week as part of an ongoing inquiry into a partnership between the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Baptist Health Medical Center-Conway. Arkansas Business delves into the conflict in this week’s issue:

Gov. Asa Hutchinson
Governor's Office / You Tube

Arkansas's governor is proposing a $5.7 billion budget for the coming year that sets aside money for raising the minimum salaries for public school teachers and for his tax cut plan.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday proposed increasing state spending in the fiscal year that begins July 1 by more than $129 million.

Arkansas House
www.arkleg.state.ar.us

The Arkansas Supreme Court has ordered election officials to not count votes cast for a ballot measure that would have imposed the strictest term limits in the country on state legislators.

Justices on Friday disqualified the proposed initiative, ruling that thousands of signatures submitted by supporters were invalid and should not have been counted. The court, however, did not rule on part of the lawsuit challenging the wording of the proposed amendment.

Arkansas finance officials say the state's revenue last month remained above expectations and higher than the same month last year.

The Department of Finance and Administration on Tuesday said the state's net available revenue in September totaled $569.6 million, which is $50.7 million above the same month a year ago and $15.4 million above forecast. The state's revenue so far for the fiscal year that began July 1 is more than $1.4 billion, which is $33.4 million above forecast.

Jeremy Hutchinson
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

The trial of former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, who is accused of using campaign funds for personal expenses, is being delayed until next year.

Online court records show U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker agreed Thursday to move the Republican's trial from Oct. 22 to July 8 in order to give the defense more time to prepare.

Prosecutors didn't object to the delay.

Hutchinson, who is the nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, resigned in August after being charged with eight counts of wire fraud and four counts of filing false tax returns.

He has pleaded not guilty.

Jon Woods
Arkansas Times

Former Arkansas state Sen. Jon Woods has reported to a federal prison in Texas to begin a more than 18-year prison sentence for bribery .

The Federal Bureau of Prisons website shows Woods is being held at a low-security facility in Fort Worth.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that Woods arrived at the prison at 1 p.m. Wednesday, the deadline for him to report.

Jeremy Hutchinson
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

A former Arkansas lawmaker whose uncle is the state's governor pleaded not guilty Tuesday to federal charges that he spent thousands of dollars in campaign funds on trips, groceries and other personal expenses.

Former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson made his first court appearance Tuesday. He was charged last month with eight counts of wire fraud and four counts of filing false tax returns. His case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker and is tentatively set for trial on Oct. 22. Hutchinson is the nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Both are Republicans.

A former Arkansas state representative has been sentenced to three years' probation for his role in a bribery scheme.

Former Rep. Micah Neal was sentenced Thursday to probation, the first year of which he must serve under house arrest. Neal also must complete 300 hours of community service and pay $200,000 in restitution.

Prosecutors said Neal and former state Sen. Jon Woods directed state funds to two nonprofits in exchange for kickbacks which were funneled through a consulting company. Neal pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy.

insidehighered.com

The former president of a private Christian college in northwest Arkansas has been sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty for his role in a kickback scheme involving former state lawmakers.

Oren Paris III was also ordered to pay $621,500 in restitution. Paris was president of Ecclesia College. He admitted to funneling bribe money to the lawmakers in exchange for state grants.

Activists on both sides of tort reform say they’ll proceed with their voter education campaigns despite a judge’s ruling stated that so-called Issue One is not qualified for the November ballot in Arkansas.

At a Northeast Arkansas Political Animals forum held at the Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce on Friday, speakers debated the merits of caps limiting medical malpractice awards and said the conversation will continue, despite Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce’s ruling on Sept. 6 that the proposed amendment does not meet a “single-subject test.” 

That ruling is being challenged by Arkansans for Jobs and Justice.

Jon Woods
Ashley Gardner

Former Arkansas state Sen. Jon Woods was sentenced Wednesday to more than 18 years and four months in prison for his role in a bribery scheme. The Republican must also serve three years of supervised release and pay over $1.6 million in restitution.

Woods was convicted in May of 15 felony charges. Prosecutors alleged he took kickbacks in exchanging for steering state money to a private Christian college. Woods co-defendant, Randall Shelton Jr. is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday.

Jon Woods
Arkansas Times

A sentencing hearing is to begin Wednesday at 9 a.m. for former Arkansas state Senator Jon Woods. He and several others have been convicted or pleaded guilty as part of a wide-ranging corruption investigation. Woods' co-defendant Randell Shelton Jr. will be sentenced Thursday, while their accomplices are scheduled to be sentenced next week.

Doug Thompson, a reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, covered Woods' trial from start to finish and spoke with KUAR about Woods' case.

Jeremy Hutchinson
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

Attorneys say a nephew of Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson plans to resign from the state senate to focus on defending himself from corruption charges.

Attorneys for Republican state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson Attorneys on Friday called the new accusations that he had spent campaign funds on personal expenses, including a Caribbean cruise and tuition payments, inaccurate. But they say he's stepping down so that Capitol business can proceed without "unnecessary distraction."

Rusty Cranford
Arkansas Nonprofit News Network

Next week, the first in a series of sentencing hearings will be held for former Arkansas lawmakers, a college president and others who were convicted or pleaded guilty for their roles in a wide-ranging corruption scheme.

It’s a complicated story largely centered around Rusty Cranford, a once-powerful lobbyist. Reporter David Ramsey wrote about this in a story for the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network.

Arkansas State Capitol
Chris Hickey / KUAR News

The state Tax Reform and Relief Task Force on Tuesday adopted a proposal by the panel’s co-chairs to back potential legislation to cut the state’s marginal tax rate to 6%, as well as backing another measure to join the growing list of states to cash in on remote or Internet sales tax bounty.

The two proposals were among a working list of nearly 20 corporate and income tax proposals and exemptions that lawmakers have sifted through for nearly a year to decide if certain exclusions that reduce state revenue are justified, need to be changed, or nixed from Arkansas’ tax structure.

Bishop Woosley Arkansas Lottery
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The Arkansas Scholarship Lottery reports that during the budget year that ended June 30, a record $500.4 million in revenue was collected. Nearly $92 million of that will go toward college scholarships, which is the third highest amount since the lottery was created in 2009.

"We broke several records, and we had an excellent year for our proceeds," said Lottery Director Bishop Woosley. He attributed the growth to a number of factors, including large Powerball and Mega Millions jackpots, along with growth in the sales of instant ticket games.

Arkansas School Safety Commission
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The Arkansas School Safety Commission is recommending that each school in the state have an armed presence on campus. That means at least one trained person with a firearm would be available to immediately respond to any act of violence, including an active shooter.

The recommendation was one of 19 included in a preliminary report from the panel, which was created by Gov. Asa Hutchinson after a February school shooting in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 students and staff and wounded 17 others.

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