LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – As Missouri was swearing in a new governor, Arkansas was kicking off the 91st General Assembly.
Governor Asa Hutchinson has laid out an agenda he hopes to push through the legislature bodies, but several controversial bills may be filed before the 2017 session concludes.
A top priority of Hutchinson are tax cuts on the pensions of military retirees. During a media day in December, he touted the measure as a potential economic driver for the state.
“The 100-percent exempt status of retirement income for military retirees will attract more retirees to our state,” he says, “who will enter their second career in Arkansas.”
Hutchinson also wants to cut some $50-million in taxes for low-income Arkansans – more than 600,000 individuals making below $21,000 a year.
Highway funding will also be a topic tackled by lawmakers. The Governor wants to pay for road repairs with a combination of money that would be matched by Washington, and a quarter of all surplus dollars coming into the state.
However, surplus dollars are currently falling short of expectations.
The road to medical marijuana reform will also go through Little Rock. Lawmakers are expected to file bills that would push back deadlines established by the new law, while also clearing up potential gray areas in the industry.
Another controversial topic is the potential for a “bathroom bill,” similar to North Carolina’s, which would require individuals to use the restroom that aligns with the gender on their birth certificate.
Despite swirling rumors, leaders from both parties recently dismissed the idea during an interview with KARK in Little Rock.
“I will be surprised if someone carries that bill or promotes it,” says Senate Majority Leader, Matthew Pitsch. “Nobody has yet and I’ve not heard from any of our caucus members that they’re chasing that right now.
“I think the Governor is handling this well,” says House Minority leader, Michael John.
“I think he’s come out and said, ‘you know, we don’t just go find problems to try and fix them,’” he says. “This hasn’t been a problem in Arkansas.”
The House floor could also see a bill to allow concealed carry on college campuses by members of faculty and staff.
The bill would remove the “opt out” clause – something all colleges have been using.
Another potential change to education could be a new program that would pay for two-year degrees for Arkansas residents.
“This grant program will require a high need area of study, that will be regionally determined,” says Hutchinson, “mentorship support, and a three year commitment of students to the state.”
Hutchinson has asked for “patience” from lawmakers regarding healthcare.
He wants to wait and see what changes may be coming from Washington under the new administration.