Arkansas Legislature

The latest news about the Arkansas Legislature.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson called for a $180 million annual tax cut for the state’s biggest earners during his State of the State address Monday kicking off the 2018 fiscal session.

 

Hutchinson said the goal is to compete with other states for business investors. He said that at a recent meeting with the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, he was asked how much top earners pay in Arkansas state taxes.

"And I said, ‘Well, it’s 6.9 percent, and they looked at me and responded, ‘That is worse than Connecticut.’ That story emphasizes the competitive nature of taxes in a mobile society.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson giving his State of the State address to Arkansas lawmakers at the start of the fiscal session Monday.
ArkansasHouse.org

Arkansas' governor says he wants to cut the income tax for the state's top earners by $180 million, and says his plan to set aside $48 million in surplus money will help set the stage for that reduction.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson told lawmakers Monday he'll push for cutting the state's top income tax rate from 6.9 percent to 6 percent. Hutchinson issued the recommendation as lawmakers convened for an abbreviated session focused on the state's budget.

Arkansas's Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson will likely see most of his approximately $5.6 billion proposed budget for fiscal 2018-19 adopted without changes. It goes to the House of Representatives this week, where three in four voting members are Republican, and the Senate, with its strong Republican majority.

"I created a balanced budget that actually has a $64 million surplus that funds education, the priority needs of our state," Hutchinson said. "I'm hoping the legislature will greet that well, and will pass that, and as I give the State of the State address" today, "that'll be something I emphasize."

Jake Files
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

A top Arkansas lawmaker has pleaded guilty to federal charges that he pocketed thousands of dollars in state funds intended to go toward the construction of a sports complex and falsified bids to ensure that he would get the money.

Republican state Sen. Jake Files pleaded guilty on Monday to wire fraud, money laundering and bank fraud charges related to the state funds and for pledging a forklift he did not own as collateral for a bank loan. Files was released on a $5,000 bond after entering his plea in Fort Smith.

Picture of Tobacco
Public Domain Pictures

The American Lung Association released its annual State of Tobacco report for all 50 states Wednesday. Arkansas received an F in four out of five categories, failing in tobacco prevention, tobacco taxes, access to cessation services, and the minimum age of sale for tobacco products.

HB 1228 religious freedom gay rights
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

For many, 2017 was a time of historic support for the rights of LGBTQ people. But, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the educational arm of the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, says more can be done to improve equality in  Arkansans.

State Representative's Husband Arrested In Perry County

Jan 12, 2018

There's evidently some trouble in the Perry County home of state Representative Mary Bentley. Law enforcement arrested her husband Ted on Sunday morning for allegedly violating an order of protection. The Petit Jean Country Headlight newspaper (paywall) reports Mary Bentley took out an order of protection against Ted on December 6th. Deputy Danny Story told the paper Mrs. Bentley has filed for divorce. 

House Chamber of Arkansas General Assembly
Wikipedia

The Arkansas House will soon offer voluntary sexual harassment training to lawmakers, while the Senate is considering whether to conduct similar training when lawmakers convene next year.

The House is scheduled to conduct the training for staffers next week. It is mandatory for staff, but not lawmakers. House Speaker Jeremy Gillam said lawmakers will be offered the same training when they convene next month for a session focused on the state's budget.

Public Education funds in Arkansas are meeting bare minimums set under law and not getting any extra money in the governor’s proposed budget for next year.

Education Commissioner Johnny Key fielded lawmakers’ questions and concerns about the proposed budget at a Joint Budget Committee hearing on education funding Wednesday in advance of February’s fiscal session.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson presented his $5.6 billion budget proposal to state lawmakers Tuesday ahead of this year’s fiscal session and outlined his longer-term vision for reducing taxes.

Hutchinson says there is a projected surplus of $64 million in the new state budget, partly because of higher than expected revenues. He says he’s using the majority of the extra money to create a reserve fund that only the legislature can tap into.

Arkansas public colleges and universities are weighing in on Gov. Asa Hutchinson's request for an in-state tuition freeze. The Republican governor included the request in his proposed budget for the 2019 fiscal year presented Tuesday to the Joint Budget Committee of the Arkansas Legislature. It comes ahead of  coincides with Hutchinson's proposal for next month's fiscal session of the legislature to increase the budget for state Higher Education by $10 million.  

Gov. Asa Hutchinson presenting his proposed budget for fiscal year 2019 Tuesday to the Joint Budget Committee of the Arkansas Legislature.
Governor's Office / You Tube

Arkansas' governor is proposing a $5.6 billion budget that increases funding for the state's Medicaid program and sets aside surplus money for future tax cuts and highway needs.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday proposed increasing state spending for the fiscal year that begins July 1 by nearly $173 million. Most of that increase goes toward Medicaid. Hutchinson said the funding increase is lower than what was originally proposed for the program last year.

The main campus of the University of Arkansas For Medical Sciences in Little Rock.
UAMS

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences is cutting 600 positions as it faces the prospect of cutting $30 million in expenses this fiscal year. Only 258 of the once-budgeted positions were filled. UAMS is the state’s largest public employer with a staff of more than 10,000 and is the only Level One Trauma Center in the state.

The Arkansas Plant Board has doubled down on its plan to ban Dicamba, the agricultural weed killer. The vote Wednesday was a slight rebuke of state Rep. Bill Sample (R-Hot Springs) and colleagues on a legislative subcommittee that last month asked the board to reconsider the ban, specifically the April 15 cutoff date for spraying Monsanto’s controversial herbicide.

David Wildy, a prominent Arkansas farmer, in a field of soybeans that were damaged by dicamba.
Dan Charles / NPR News

The State Plant Board will meet next Wednesday to reconsider a ban on a controversial weed killer that has divided Arkansas’s farming community. The meeting is in response to a request for changes by a subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council for restrictions in the use of dicamba during next year’s growing season.

The herbicide can be sprayed on crops that have been genetically modified to tolerate it, but is blamed for widespread damage to neighboring non-resistant crops.

flickr.com

Federal court documents made public Monday cite an unnamed former Arkansas legislator and a Northwest Arkansas businessman as accomplices in a scheme with a New Jersey political consultant and several executives of a Springfield, Mo., charity to spend nearly $1 million on illegal political activity and kickbacks to co-conspirators.

Leslie Rutledge Attorney General
Talk Business & Politics

Arkansas' top attorney says a document related to a harassment complaint involving a lawmaker within the past nine years doesn't have to be released to the public since it's considered an employee evaluation record.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge says in an advisory opinion that a witness statement connected to the harassment investigation is exempt from release since it didn't result in anyone's suspension or termination.

State lawmakers took a step toward enhanced concealed carry on college campuses Friday in spite of some pushback from firearm trainers who don’t want to be required to teach the new class for compensation they say is too low.

 

State Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville) was among the majority of lawmakers who voted to approve the plan anyway.

“You know, when this is done, there will be less gun-free zones which are soft targets in Arkansas. There will be more people, carrying in more places, being able to protect themselves and others in more places when this rule is implemented. That’s called liberty,” he said at Friday’s legislative council meeting.

Arkansas Center for Health Improvement President Joe Thompson (left) and Arkansas Insurance Department Commissioner Allen Kerr exchanging notes after speaking to a legislative committee.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Friday is the last day of open enrollment for signing up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s healthcare exchanges, or marketplaces

State officials are predicting more Arkansans to enroll this year than the last -despite efforts by the Trump administration to limit the enrollment period and to curtail outreach and advertisement about its existence.

The exchange has been open since November 1st and closes December 15th. Enrollees can choose between private insurance plans and determine eligibility for federal subsidies, made possible by the ACA.

House Chamber of Arkansas General Assembly
Wikipedia

Seven Republicans and two Democrats with little or no political experience have filed paperwork to run for statewide office.

Three special elections are upcoming for House and Senate seats vacated after the passing of one lawmaker, and two others getting new posts in President Donald Trump’s administration.

Dicamba damage
University of Arkansas

Arkansas lawmakers have recommended state regulators reconsider their plan to ban a controversial herbicide that's been blamed for widespread damage by farmers who say it's drifted onto their crops.

A subcommittee of the Legislative Council on Tuesday voted to delay considering rules proposed by the state Plant Board to prohibit the use of dicamba from April 16 through Oct. 31 next year. The subcommittee's recommendation on Friday goes before the full council, which is the Legislature's primary governing body when lawmakers aren't in session.

Wendy Reaves (seated) speaks to members of the Arkansas Tobacco Settlement Commission with her daughter Regan and Gov. Asa Hutchinson looking on.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson says diverting money from Arkansas’s tobacco settlement to help people with developmental disabilities has cut the number of families on a waiting list by 500.

Speaking at the quarterly meeting of the state’s Tobacco Settlement Commission Tuesday, Hutchinson praised commissioners for supporting a proposal he made in September 2016.

"You embraced that idea, which I wanted to thank you for," he said.

Ten Commandments
Max Brantley / Arkansas Times

In Arkansas commission has cleared the way for the installation of another Ten Commandments monument outside the state Capitol, months after a prior marker was destroyed by a man who crashed his car into the statue while livestreaming it on Facebook.

The Arkansas Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission signed off on the final design Tuesday. The monument will include four concrete posts for protection. It's expected to be installed in the coming weeks.

Dicamba damage
University of Arkansas

Monsanto has asked a judge to prevent Arkansas lawmakers from banning the use of a weed killer that farmers in several states have said drifts onto their crops and causes widespread damage.

The Missouri-based agribusiness asked a Pulaski County judge to issue a preliminary injunction preventing the state from banning dicamba's use while the company challenges a prohibition approved by the Arkansas Plant Board last month.

A federal judge has canceled next week's scheduled trial for a former Arkansas state senator accused in a reported kickback scheme.

Former Sen. Jon Woods was set to go on trial Monday on 15 counts on fraud, but a judge in Fayetteville canceled the trial Friday so a hearing can be held on new evidence in the case. No hearing date has been set.

Woods was charged along with Oren Paris III and Randell Shelton Jr.

Ten Commandments
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A man charged with crashing his vehicle into Arkansas' Ten Commandments display nearly three years after he was accused of destroying a monument at Oklahoma's Capitol has been found mentally unfit to go to trial.

A Pulaski County judge on Thursday found Michael Tate Reed unfit to proceed and ordered him to be held by the state hospital for further evaluation. Judge Chris Piazza set a September 2018 hearing on Reed's mental status.

A federal appeals court says it won't reconsider a panel's ruling that Arkansas can block Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, two years after the state ended its contract with the organization over videos secretly recorded by an anti-abortion group.

Assistant Pro Tempore 1st District Senator Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot).
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

President Donald Trump has appointed an Arkansas state Senator as the federal representative on the Southern States Energy Board. Eddie Joe Williams says he’ll be sworn into the new post in 30 to 45 days, and in the meantime he’ll resign as state Senator.

He’s held an elected office of kind or another in the Cabot area since the early 2000’s. He was elected to the Senate in 2010. A special election will have to be called to fill out the remainder of his term.

The Arkansas Supreme Court says a system of grants lawmakers used to pay for local projects around the state violated a constitutional requirement that budget measures have a distinctly stated purpose.

Justices on Thursday reversed a lower court's ruling in favor of $2.9 million that went toward one of eight planning districts in 2015. The case was brought by former state Rep. Mike Wilson, who was also behind a lawsuit that prompted the court in 2006 to bar the Legislature from directly funding local projects around the state with surplus money.

Campus Carry Advocates Say Safety Course Will Address Concerns

Aug 31, 2017

John Fulbright is manning a table at a gun show on a Sunday afternoon at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds in Little Rock.

He’s selling firearms and holsters for people who want to hide the weapons they’re carrying. He hovers over dozens of guns laid out for sale on the counter, and pulls a hard, synthetic holster out of its box to  hold it up for display.

“Some people like the appendix carry, which is carried in the front. Some people carry at the 3 o'clock positions, sometimes back to the five or 7 o'clock positions,” he says. “It’s just what’s comfortable for that person. They carry inside the waistband, outside the waistband...”

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