Legislation that would implement Gov. Asa Hutchinson's government-reorganization plan is expected to begin its journey in the House this week, said House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado.
The Republican governor wants to reduce the number of state agencies reporting to him from 42 to 15. If enacted, the legislation would represent the most sweeping reorganization of state government since then-Gov. Dale Bumpers, a Democrat, led an effort that reduced the number of agencies from 60 to 13 in 1971.
In other action, Hutchinson on Tuesday is expected to sign a bill to implement his plan that state officials project will raise about $95 million a year for highways and about $13 million a year each for cities and counties.
Last month, the governor signed into law a measure to reduce the state's top individual income-tax rate from 6.9 percent to 5.9 percent over a two-year period, which state officials project will reduce state revenue by about $97 million a year after it's fully implemented.
This week, the House and Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs committees are expected to whittle down their lists of proposed constitutional amendments they would like to refer to voters in the 2020 general election. Proposed constitutional amendments on term limits and changing the ballot-initiative process are among the favorites.
The House and Senate last week approved a resolution referring a proposed constitutional amendment to voters in the 2020 general election that would make permanent the half-percent sales tax for highways that voters approved in 2012 for a 10-year period. The Legislature can refer up to three proposed amendments to voters.
State officials project the sales-tax measure, if approved, would ultimately raise about $205 million a year for highways and about $44 million a year each for cities and counties.
Lawmakers also are considering the fate of numerous bills, including one that would allow winners of lottery prizes exceeding $500,000 to keep their identities secret and one that would require the Legislative Council to review the Department of Correction with the help of a consultant.
The former bill is House Bill 1382 by Rep. Jim Sorvillo, R-Little Rock, which the House is expected to consider today. The latter bill is Senate Bill 487 by Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, which is in the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee. Its co-sponsors include Republican Sens. Jonathan Dismang of Searcy, Trent Garner of El Dorado and Bob Ballinger of Hindsville.
Today is the 57th day of the 92nd General Assembly's regular session. Under current plans, it has about a month to go.
So far, lawmakers have introduced more than 1,200 bills, according to the General Assembly's website.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, said he expects the Legislature to recess in either the first or second week of April.
The Senate on Thursday approved House Concurrent Resolution 1006, under which the House and Senate may recess April 12 -- if not earlier -- and reconvene before noon May 6 to take care of matters such as fixing bills or overriding any vetoes. The session would then adjourn.
April 12 would be the 89th day. The General Assembly met in regular session for 96 days in 2011, 101 days in 2013, 82 days in 2015 and 86 days in 2017. (Fiscal sessions, in even-numbered years, are of shorter duration.)
Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock, said he hopes to present legislation on the governor's reorganization plan to the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday. He hopes to win the committee's support for the bill and then ask the House to approve it on Thursday.
The legislation is House Bill 1763, and it is 2,049 pages long. It was introduced Friday afternoon.
The legislation is a combination of 16 bills that Davis introduced earlier in this year's session to allow lawmakers and the public to review the proposals and make comments. Some changes were made as a result of the input from lawmakers and the public.
The measure would create 15 Cabinet-level agencies through consolidation of existing entities, with each agency to be led by a Cabinet secretary:
• Parks, Heritage and Tourism
• Energy and Environment
• Finance and Administration
• Human Services
• Inspector General
• Labor and Licensing
• Public Safety
• Transformation and Shared Services
• Veterans Affairs
Davis said his fellow House lawmakers "just keep asking when are we ready to run it. They are ready to see it go through."
Shepherd, the speaker, said, "That's the big thing now -- the next up."
"We should have it in State Agencies on Wednesday, and if we garner a positive vote there, hopefully will be on the floor Thursday," said Shepherd, who along with Davis served on the governor's Transformation Advisory Board that helped develop the plan.
The Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday is scheduled to review House Bill 1361 by Davis, which would establish a Cabinet-level Department of Education, and House Bill 1371, for a Cabinet-level Department of Commerce.
The eight-member Senate committee has been reviewing the 16 bills that Davis introduced earlier in the session and that have been consolidated into HB1763.
Committee members -- Sens. Ron Caldwell, R-Wynne; Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs; Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana; and Will Bond, D-Little Rock -- have raised numerous questions about the legislation.
"The danger is to get in too big of a hurry" to approve the bill without adequately vetting it, Bond said.
Asked whether he expects supporters of the bill to ask the 35-member Senate to vote to extract the legislation from the Senate committee, Hendren said, "I feel like it is going to get out of the committee."
It would require 18 votes to extract the bill from the committee under the Senate's current rules. That's a rarely used maneuver.
In 2003, Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee proposed the previous major effort to reorganize state government.
Huckabee won the Senate's approval for his bill to realign 53 agencies into 10 departments, but the measure failed to clear the House of Representatives. The Democrats controlled the Senate and House back then. Republicans have controlled both chambers since 2013. The Health Department was merged with the Human Services Department, but they then were separated again.
TAXES ON TAP
The Senate today is expected to consider a bill that would increase the homestead property tax credit from $350 to $375 per parcel. The bill also would divert $8.2 million from the property tax relief trust fund to the county voting system grants fund and move excess money to state general revenue.
The legislation is Senate Bill 447 by Hendren.
A competing bill -- House Bill 1321 by Rep. Lanny Fite, R-Benton -- failed to clear the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee last week for the second time. Besides increasing the credit to $375 per parcel, that bill also would authorize a study by the House and Senate tax committees on the future use of the property tax relief trust fund that's financed by a half-percent sales tax.
House Revenue and Taxation Committee Chairman Joe Jett, R-Success, said he expects the committee to consider Hendren's bill on Tuesday.
Hendren said that if his bill clears the Senate, he would like to spend a few days to determine whether there is room for a compromise on the competing homestead property tax credit bills.
Davis said he expects the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee on Wednesday to consider his legislation that is projected to raise about $10.5 million a year from new tobacco and medical marijuana tax revenue to help the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences attain a National Cancer Institute designation.
The legislation is House Bill 1565. Dismang, the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee chairman, is the Senate sponsor of the bill.
The measure would help UAMS' Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute by dedicating receipts from the sales and privilege taxes on medical marijuana; increasing the required markup on cigarettes; levying an additional 50-cent tax on packs of cigarette papers; and incrementally increasing the minimum tobacco-buying age from 18 to 21 by 2021. It also would preclude city and county governments from regulating tobacco more strictly than the state and would decrease the tax rate on "modified risk tobacco products," which aren't approved yet in the United States but are being studied by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Hendren said he expects a bill to be introduced this week that would require out-of-state businesses without a physical presence in the state to collect and remit sales taxes on Internet sales to the state. He also expects the bill would gradually increase the five-year carry forward for net operating losses of businesses to a 20-year period.
The bill also would repeal the "throwback rule" for multistate business income and use the single sales factor in the apportionment formula for taxing multistate business income in a phase-in in fiscal 2021 and fiscal 2022, he said. The throwback rule is part of the calculation used by Arkansas for the apportionment of income by multistate businesses for income-tax purposes.
The legislation is among the recommendations of the Tax Reform and Relief Legislative Task Force that he co-chaired.
STATUES IN U.S. CAPITOL
A Senate-approved bill that would authorize new statues honoring civil-rights leader Daisy Gatson Bates and musician Johnny Cash to represent Arkansas in the U.S. Capitol failed to clear the House on Thursday, so the measure has been sent back to the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Senate Bill 75 by Sen. David Wallace, R-Leachville, initially cleared the House in a 54-21 vote.
But the affirmative votes of Reps. Charles Blake, D-Little Rock; Justin Boyd, R-Fort Smith; Sarah Capp, R-Ozark, and Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, were struck because they weren't in their seats when a House official called their names in what's known as the sounding of the ballot, according to House records.
Asked about whether he was concerned the statue debate could bog down the session, Shepherd pointed out that it looked like the current proposal had adequate support if all members were present during the vote.
"I've said repeatedly I believe in the committee process, letting the committees work," Shepherd said. "I don't see it as being something that's going to have any kind of negative effects as to other pieces of legislation or the work of the Legislature as a whole."
He said he "guesses" he's considering calling a committee of the whole to discuss the statue issue, but that such a move is unlikely. A committee of the whole is a meeting of an entire body to discuss a single issue as if it were in a committee.
SB75 initially failed to clear the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee two times before the Senate held a committee of the whole to hear presentations from several senators about who they favored honoring in the two statues. Senators' top two preferences were Bates and Cash.
Beyond Bates and Cash, other people considered in the Senate were: former Lt. Gov. Maurice "Footsie" Britt; former U.S. Sen. Hattie Wyatt Caraway; musician James C. Morris, better known as Jimmy Driftwood; Navy SEAL Adam Brown; former state lawmakers William Henry Grey and James T. White; and comedians Chester Lauck and Norris Goff, better known by their act as "Lum and Abner."
Monday on 03/11/2019
Print Headline: House shifts focus to state agency reshuffle; lawmakers aim to vote on bill soon