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ROGERS -- Gov. Asa Hutchinson rolled out his reorganization plan for the state's Agriculture Department on Monday.

"Agriculture -- it's important to understand -- is the No. 1 industry in Arkansas," Hutchinson said during the Arkansas Farm Bureau's Officers and Leaders Conference in Rogers. "You may say, 'Governor, I know you know that.' But you need to know the governor understands that."

As hundreds of farmers and agricultural advocates finished their lunches, Hutchinson discussed the current state of Arkansas' economy as well as trade, farming and his plans to strengthen the "voice of agriculture" in policymaking.

He presented his proposal for the Agriculture Department, which would change reporting procedures and place a permanent department representative on the state's Pollution Control and Ecology Commission.

Everything else, he assured, will remain the same.

The key changes are geared to "streamline" chain-of-command communications, reducing the number of departments that directly report to the governor, officials said.

"It's a chain-of-command issue," Hutchinson said in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "What we want to avoid in state government is so many silos that don't coordinate with each other. So this allows us to break down some of those silos that don't coordinate with each other."

"It shouldn't be any additional workload," Hutchinson said. "So it should be a significant transformation in terms of efficiency and coordination in mission."

Hutchinson also proposed to make all employees of independent boards and commissions -- the Plant Board, the Livestock and Poultry Commission and the Forestry Commission -- report directly to the secretary of agriculture, instead of solely to their boards and commissions.

Hutchinson fell well short in his previous effort, in 2017, to reorganize the Agriculture Department.

During the regular session of the 91st General Assembly, House Bill 1725 barely got through a House committee before being defeated twice on the House floor.

The bill was drafted that winter by the Agriculture Department and shared with the leaders of a few farm organizations, attracting critics who said the subject deserved wider debate. The Arkansas Farm Bureau, with 190,000 member families, sent out an email the evening before the first vote in the House, asking recipients to encourage their representatives to oppose the bill.

Needing 51 votes in the 100-member House, the bill received 30 votes the first time and 44 the second.

That bill initially called for Plant Board reserve funds -- built up over the years from assessments paid by industries and manufacturers whose pesticides, seeds and other goods are registered in Arkansas -- to be transferred to the Agriculture Department and its secretary.

The Plant Board, which was placed under the Agriculture Department when the latter was created in 2005, is identified as a "Type 1" transfer agency, or one that retains the same statutory powers, authorities, duties and functions as before its transfer and continues to exercise those powers "independently of the head of the principal department."

The original version of HB1725 would have moved the board to a "Type 4" agency squarely under the control of the Agriculture Department.

The bill was amended to ensure the Plant Board retained control of the funds, as it has since its founding in 1917, but to no avail.

"The original legislation did more than change the reporting personnel," Hutchinson acknowledged Monday. "That led to its defeat, even though that [provision] was changed."

His reorganization plan, he said, keeps the Plant Board in charge of the reserves.

He also said it was important to bring the issue to farmers and farm groups much earlier than the last time.

"That's one of the things we intend to do, to have the legislation drafted and put out," he said.

Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward said Monday that the changes will clarify the relationship between everyone in the Agriculture Department to "help us work together as one team."

Another change, if approved, will place the secretary of agriculture as an additional and permanent member of the state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission. Recently, Hutchinson appointed Mike Freeze, director of the Arkansas Farm Bureau, to that commission.

Business on 07/24/2018

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