01/09/17   Arkansas' 91st General Assembly Convenes Today


The 91st General Assembly will convene at noon today for a legislative session expected to include topics such as tax cuts, health care and medical marijuana. Govenor, Asa Hutchinson has said he'll ask lawmakers to approve a 50-million-dollar income tax cut for low-income Arkansans, to take effect in 2019, and an income tax exemption for military retirement benefits estimated to cost the state 13-million-dollars a year.

Some legislators have their own ideas for cutting taxes, including Representative Warwick Sabin, a Little Rock Democrat who favors creating an earned income tax credit for low-income working families and Republican Representative Charlie Collins of Fayetteville, who favors cutting income taxes across the board. Governor Hutchinson says he's committed to lowering income taxes for high earners, but only after all other income groups have received tax relief.

The Governor will also ask lawmakers to reauthorize and fund the state's Medicaid expansion program, which provides government-subsidized private health insurance to more than 300-thousand Arkansans earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Hutchinson received federal approval last year to make certain changes to the program, now known as Arkansas Works, and has said he expects the state to receive greater flexibility under President-elect Donald Trump.

Voters in November approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana in the state and several bills concerning implementation and regulation of the state's medical-marijuana program have been filed in advance of the session. The Governor said last week he believes the focal point of discussions around medical marijuana should be that this is not recreational use, this is medical-marijuana.

The Governor also has said he wants lawmakers to make the state's dual holiday honoring the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee a holiday for King only, with Robert E. Lee to be honored with a day of recognition, but not a state holiday, in October.

The governor has said he sees no need for legislation on transgender bathroom access, a topic that North Carolina controversially addressed with a law  requiring people to use bathrooms that match their birth gender. Some lawmakers have said they support legislation on the issue.

Among other things lawmakers have filed include measures that would require voters to allow photo ID at the polls, ban the abortion procedure known as dilation and evacuation. Bar a community from receiving funds administered by the state if a community adopts a “sanctuary” policy, or a policy of not cooperating with the federal government in enforcing immigration laws, allow the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act of 1983 to be waived if a school district is in academic, fiscal or facilities distress, ban cellphone use by students in public schools, eliminate vaccination exemptions for religious or philosophical beliefs.