Arkansas Legislature

The latest news about the Arkansas Legislature.

State Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View.
Arkansas Times/Brian Chilson

The freshly minted Select Committee on Senate Ethics held its first meeting Thursday and elected its leadership. The Senate last week approved rule changes creating the committee to hear and investigate claims of corruption. Its formation comes on the heels of federal investigations that have led to five former lawmakers being convicted.

State Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, was confirmed as chair. She says good ethics rules aren’t partisan.

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

Several Arkansas legislators joined state Education Commissioner Johnny Key and staff members of the Bureau of Legislative Research Tuesday to begin the discussion on teacher salaries in the state, which goes a long way toward shaping education funding annually.

Historically, members of the Senate and House of Representative education committees make public education funding recommendations to the governor. His proposed budget is shaped by them and subsequently submitted to the entire legislature for debate and consent.

Rep. Mat Pitsch and former Rep. Frank Glidewell will face eachother in the Republican party runoff on Tuesday, June 19, 2018.
mathewpitsch.com and glidewellforsenate.com

Primary runoff elections will be held across Arkansas on Tuesday.

There are two state legislative races. One is to fill the vacated seat of former Sen. Jake Files, who pleaded guilty to bank fraud and was sentenced to 18 months in prison on corruptions charges. The Republican primary runoff for the seat in western Arkansas, Senate District 8, is between two Fort Smith denizens: Former Rep. Frank Glidewell and current Rep. Mat Pitsch.

Jake Files
Arkansas Times

Former Arkansas state Sen. Jake Files was sentenced Monday to 18 months in federal prison for what the judge called "egregious" violations. The Republican of Fort Smith pleaded guilty in January to charges of wire fraud, money laundering and bank fraud as part of a wide-ranging corruption investigation.

Jake Files
Arkansas Times

Federal prosecutors are asking for up to 24 months of prison time for former Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, more than the 12 to 18 months that may have been suggested by the United States Probation Office. Files’ attorney is seeking a “very brief term of incarceration.”

Files’ sentencing is set for 10 a.m., June 18 at the federal courthouse in Fort Smith with U.S. District Court Judge P.K. Holmes III, presiding.

An ex-lobbyist has pleaded guilty in a multimillion-dollar scheme to bribe Arkansas lawmakers and embezzle from a Missouri-based nonprofit where he worked.

Rusty Cranford of Rogers, Arkansas, admitted paying bribes to former state Sen. Jon Woods, former state Rep. Henry Wilkins IV and a legislator identified only as "Arkansas Senator A." Outside his lobbying work, Cranford oversaw Springfield, Missouri-based Preferred Family Healthcare's operations in Arkansas.

House Speaker Jeremy Gillam speaking to reporters after the inauguration of Governor Asa Hutchinson.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Arkansas House Speaker Jeremy Gillam is resigning this month to take a governmental affairs job at the University of Central Arkansas.

The move opens up a leadership vacuum in the state legislature and is riling up democrats, who see it as a sign of a revolving door between lawmaking and lobbyist-like activity.

The Republican from White County had already announced he wasn’t running for re-election. The House will caucus June 15 to elect an interim speaker.

Ten Commandments Jason Rapert
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

Opponents of a Ten Commandments display at the Arkansas state Capitol are suing to have the monument removed, arguing it's an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by government.

Separate lawsuits were filed in federal court Wednesday challenging the display, which was installed on the Capitol grounds last month. A 2015 law required the state to allow the privately funded monument.

The monument was reinstalled last month after the original version was destroyed last year by a man who crashed his car into the display.

Former state Senator Jim Argue
Karen Tricot Steward / KUAR News

Jim Argue, a former state lawmaker and president of the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas, died on Thursday at the age of 66, succumbing to a brief battle with kidney cancer. Argue played a major role in shaping education laws and building up the Methodist Foundation’s assets.

The long-time Little Rock resident served in the Arkansas Legislature from 1991 to 2008. He served in the House from 1991 through 1996. He then moved to the upper chamber, which included time as President Pro Tempore of the Senate.

A federal jury has convicted a former Arkansas state senator of fraud involving legislative grants to a small college in Springdale. A co-defendant was also convicted.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that Jon Woods was convicted Thursday on 15 of the 17 counts he faced, while co-defendant Randell Shelton Jr. was convicted on 12 of 15 counts. Federal prosecutors said the men were involved in a kickback scheme involving Ecclesia College. The college's former president pleaded guilty in the case last month, and former state Rep. Micah Neal pleaded guilty last year.

Asa Hutchinson governor
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The governor of Arkansas says he's opposed to raising the state's sales tax on groceries after a legislative panel voted to study the idea as a way to pave the way for further income tax cuts.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson told lawmakers Thursday he's opposed to raising the 1.5 percent sales tax on groceries, which is set to decrease next year to .0125 percent. A task force looking at ways to further reduce income taxes voted last week to study proposals to raise the tax and, in conjunction, creating a credit or rebate for moderate and low income residents to offset the hike.

Voter ID Vote photo ID
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas officials are appealing a judge's order blocking the state from enforcing a voter ID law nearly identical to a measure struck down as unconstitutional four years ago.

Almost all the action in Democratic state House primaries next month is taking place in central Arkansas. The seat for House District 33 is open after a high profile incumbent, Warwick Sabin, announced he is exploring a run for mayor.

The primary election is between Tippi McCullough and Ross Noland. The primary winner faces no opposition in the November general election.

Take a listen to the audio link above to hear the candidates thoughts about education, UAMS, public safety, and legislative leadership.

Ten Commandments
Max Brantley / Arkansas Times

A Ten Commandments monument will be installed outside Arkansas' Capitol next week, months after the original display was destroyed.

The Arkansas Secretary of State's office said it expects the new display to be installed on the morning of April 26.

The original display that was installed outside Capitol last June was destroyed less than 24 hours later. The man accused of driving his car into it apologized in 2015 for also destroying a Ten Commandments monument outside Oklahoma's Capitol.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen taking part in an anti-death penalty demonstration in front of the Arkansas Governor's Mansion in April 2017.
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

A handful of state lawmakers are calling for Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen’s impeachment amid questions of his fitness to serve on the bench.

Griffen on Tuesday repeated his April 2017 protest of laying on a cot in front of the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion, intending to symbolize a condemned inmate on a gurney.

State Sen. Trent Garner (R-Camden), who called for Griffen’s impeachment following last year’s protest, said Griffen’s vocal objection to capital punishment is one of many questionable actions and public statements made during Griffen’s tenure.

Jury selection is underway in the trial for a former Arkansas state senator accused in an alleged kickback scheme.

Former Sen. Jon Woods faces 15 fraud charges. Prosecutors accuse of him of taking kickbacks from former Ecclesia College president Oren Paris III in exchange for directing state funding to the college.

Paris pleaded guilty last week to one count of fraud and agreed to testify for prosecutors. Woods' attorney, Patrick Benca, has said his client is innocent and that defense attorneys will prove that, despite Paris' guilty plea.

The Arkansas House of Representatives chamber.
arkansashouse.org

The Arkansas House of Representatives is getting upgrades to its historic chamber and committee rooms at the state Capitol building. New desks, carpeting, chairs and voting machines will feature prominently in the House chamber, which is already undergoing renovations.

Gary Clements of North Little Rock-based Clements & Associates is serving as the consulting architect on the project. He said the upgrades are the final steps in a larger project for the chamber.

Asa Hutchinson
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas' governor has signed into law legislation to continue the state's Medicaid expansion, which will impose a work requirement on thousands of participants this year.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson's office said Thursday the Republican signed the budget bill for Medicaid and the expansion, which uses federal and state funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents. More than 285,000 people are on the program, which was created as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health law.

House Speaker Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia).
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

An impasse over the Arkansas Treasurer’s budget is being averted in the state Legislature. After two-days of falling short of the needed three-quarters vote, lawmakers moved on Thursday to strip a contested provision, regarding a proposed tax deduction for contributions to a savings fund for private education. Representative Lane Jean spoke from the well of the House.

Arkansas House
ArkansasHouse.org

Arkansas lawmakers have voted to continue the state's Medicaid expansion another year after federal officials approved a plan to impose a work requirement on the program.

The Arkansas House approved by a 79-15 vote Wednesday the budget for the state's Medicaid program and the expansion, which uses federal and state funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents. The measure needed at least 75 votes to pass. It now heads to the governor's desk.

State Sen. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale) cast the decisive 27th vote in favor of granting Gov. Asa Hutchinson's appropriation to the Department of Human Services funding the state's health care coverage for low-income Arkansans called Arkansas Works. 

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for a vote, and then on to Hutchinson, who's expected to sign it.

The Arkansas House of Representatives chamber.
arkansashouse.org

Legislation detailing Arkansas' proposed $5.6 billion budget for the coming year calls for increasing funding for Medicaid and setting aside nearly $64 million in surplus funds.

Lawmakers on Monday got their first look at the proposed Revenue Stabilization Act, the budget bill that calls for a nearly $173 million increase in spending for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The Joint Budget Committee is expected to take up the measure on Tuesday.

classroom desks
http://www.nctq.org

Arkansas lawmakers have advanced a proposal to allow taxpayers with tax-deductible 529 college savings plans to withdraw funds for tuition at public, private and religious K-12 schools.

A legislative subcommittee on Wednesday recommended including the change in a budget bill for the state treasurer's office. The proposal now heads to the Joint Budget Committee.

Ten Commandments
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A new Ten Commandments monument will likely be placed at the Arkansas State Capitol in April. It’s a replacement for one destroyed last June, less than 24 hours after it was unveiled, by a driver who intentionally crashed his car into it.

Chris Powell, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office, says they’ve decided to wait until after the legislature wraps up the fiscal session, then a special session, so that the grounds won’t be as busy and heavy equipment can be brought in.

Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters Monday he will call lawmakers back to the State Capitol shortly after the ongoing fiscal session to pass legislation to address growing concerns on rising health costs associated with so-called PBMs, or pharmacy benefit managers.

The Arkansas House of Representatives chamber.
arkansashouse.org

All but a dozen Arkansas House members have gone through voluntary courses on sexual harassment that are being offered in response to a wave of high-profile misconduct cases nationwide.

Eighty-seven of the House's 99 members attended a course that was offered throughout the day on Wednesday, according to sign-in sheets released by the chamber. A spokeswoman for the House said the other 12 members of the chamber are scheduled to attend a make-up course being offered next week. There is one vacant seat in the 100-member House.

Trent Garner
Arkansas Times

An Arkansas lawmaker says he won't push for a measure easing a requirement for concealed handgun trainers during this year's session after the governor said he supports delaying the mandate's deadline so the issue can be addressed later.

Republican Sen. Trent Garner said Thursday he'll drop his proposal removing the requirement that concealed carry instructors offer both the regular training and the enhanced training under an expanded concealed handgun law approved last year.

Election vote
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

After a day of special legislative elections, one race is final, one primary is decided, and a run-off will occur in a third match-up for three different legislative seats.

Voters in State Senate Districts 16 and 29 and State House District 83 turned out Tuesday to fill vacancies that have occurred in the last few months. The Arkansas Secretary of State’s office provided the following election results.

C-SPAN
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The television network C-SPAN is visiting Arkansas. The non-commercial network, best known for its uninterrupted gavel-to-gavel feeds of the U.S. House and Senate, is touting its educational resources and recording videos from visitors for its “Voices from the States” segment.

Its high-tech C-SPAN Bus is traveling the country on a 14 month “50 Capitals Tour” and Tuesday morning was parked in front of the Arkansas State Capitol. Gov. Asa Hutchinson boarded the bus for a live interview on the network’s Washington Journal call-in program.

As Arkansas lawmakers headed to Little Rock Monday for the fiscal session, former Rep. Eddie Wayne Cooper, D-Melbourne, pleaded guilty in federal court for his role in a conspiracy to embezzle more than $4 million from a Springfield, Mo.-based health care charity.

Timothy Garrison, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that Cooper, 51, waived his right Monday to a grand jury and pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Rush to charges of one count of conspiracy to embezzle from the nonprofit organization.

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