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Gov. Hutchinson says no need for bathroom bill, wants to split King-Lee day

by The Associated Press | January 4, 2017 at 11:34 a.m.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson talks about his priorities for the coming legislative session at the state Capitol on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016.

2:50 P.M. UPDATE:

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he's not making an economic argument for ending the state's practice of honoring Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee on the same day.

He said removing the Confederate general from the holiday honoring the civil-rights leader is the right thing to do.

Hutchinson on Wednesday said his agenda includes removing Lee from the King holiday. Arkansas is one of three states that honor Lee and King on the third Monday of January. An effort to remove Lee from the King holiday was rejected by a House panel in 2015.

Hutchinson said he believes King deserves the holiday to himself because of his civil-rights record and the effect he had. He said the proposal he's backing would mark a day in October to honor Lee but not create a state holiday for it.

Hutchinson said he hasn't talked with any businesses that don't want to move to Arkansas because of the combined holiday.

Read Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

1:50 P.M. UPDATE:

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he's told lawmakers he doesn't see the need for a so-called bathroom bill during the legislative session but is stopping short of saying what he'd do with such a proposal if it reached his desk.

Hutchinson on Wednesday said he doesn't see a need for legislation that would limit which restrooms transgender people could use at public schools. A law in North Carolina requiring people to use restrooms consistent with the gender on their birth certificates prompted widespread criticism that it's discriminatory and led to boycotts of the state.

Hutchinson, a Republican, said he doesn't think there's a problem that needs to be addressed with legislation and that the issue can be handled locally. Some lawmakers last year had said legislation may be needed in response to the directive from President Barack Obama's administration that public schools must permit transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity.

12:50 P.M. UPDATE:

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says fees and taxes on the state's medical marijuana program should pay for its regulation and that he doesn't want lawmakers to eye the new program as a way to raise money for tax cuts or other budget needs.

Hutchinson said Wednesday he doesn't want the state to go into a budget hole with its launch of the medical marijuana program voters approved in November. He said he wouldn't support imposing additional taxes on the drug as a way to raise money for other needs.

Hutchinson said any restrictions on the drug and the launch of the program, including limits on types of marijuana products sold, should be addressed first by the commission created to oversee the program.

The Republican governor is a former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and had campaigned against the medical marijuana ballot measure.

He also said he thinks the battle over reauthorizing funding for the state's hybrid Medicaid expansion is in the past and the focus needs to be on seeking flexibility from the federal government for new restrictions for the program.

Hutchinson said he believed the funding fight over the program, dubbed Arkansas Works, is behind lawmakers. He said the state needs to seek flexibility to impose a stricter work requirement and other changes to the program. The program uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for thousands of low-income residents.

The program last year faced a heated debate over its future in the Legislature, with some Republicans calling it an embrace of the federal health care law that the GOP has vowed to repeal.

The governor also doesn't want the Legislature to hold off on taking up his $50 million tax cut plan, saying it would send the wrong message to the state and delay his push to cut income taxes across the board.

He defended his proposal to cut income taxes for hundreds of thousands of low-income residents, calling it the most conservative approach and something the state can afford. House Speaker Jeremy Gillam earlier floated the possibility that lawmakers may not enact any tax cuts during the upcoming session and instead wait until a special session or 2019.

Hutchinson's plan faces pushback from some Republicans who have called for deeper tax cuts that take effect sooner. Hutchinson was elected in 2014 on a vow to cut income taxes across the board, and lawmakers in 2015 approved a $103 million tax cut the governor had championed.

12:20 P.M. UPDATE:

Top legislative leaders say they're not actively trying to discourage Arkansas lawmakers from filing bills on controversial social issues such as abortion or guns but say they want their colleagues to consider the purpose of such proposals.

Arkansas House Speaker Jeremy Gillam and Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren said they don't know if they would support legislation similar to a law in North Carolina that requires people to use bathrooms consistent with the gender on their birth certificates. The North Carolina law has faced widespread criticism from opponents who have called it discriminatory and has prompted boycotts of the state.

Hendren said the last-minute negotiations in 2015 over an Arkansas religious objections measure that became law provides a guide on how to find compromise on divisive issues.

The two spoke at a forum held by the Arkansas Associated Press Managing Editors.

11:50 A.M. UPDATE:

Arkansas House Speaker Jeremy Gillam is raising the possibility that lawmakers may not enact any tax cuts during this year's legislative session.

The Republican speaker on Wednesday said one concept he's heard floated is holding off on any tax cuts during the session, which begins next week, and wait until a special session later or the 2019 legislative session. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has proposed a $50 million income tax cut for low-income residents.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren said he thinks there is strong support for Hutchinson's tax cut plan along with a proposal to exempt military veterans' retirement benefits from the income tax. Some Republicans have been pushing for deeper tax cuts than the one Hutchinson has proposed.

EARLIER:

LITTLE ROCK — The top Republican in Arkansas' Senate says he expects lawmakers to begin modifying the state's hybrid Medicaid expansion even before the future of the federal health law that enabled the expanded insurance program is settled in Washington.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren told reporters Wednesday that he expects the Legislature to pursue additional restrictions to the program, which uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents, when lawmakers convene for the session next week. Hendren predicted a special session would be needed to address longer-term changes if Congress follows through on Republicans' vow to repeal the health law.

House Speaker Jeremy Gillam urged lawmakers to have patience as the health law's future is debated in Washington.

The two spoke at an Arkansas Associated Press Managing Editors forum.

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