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Bill to restructure Agriculture Department advances

by Cristina LaRue | March 31, 2023 at 1:44 a.m.

A bill that would abolish several Arkansas boards and commissions under the Department of Agriculture and consolidate those responsibilities was approved by the Senate Thursday and now heads to the House.

Senate Bill 403 -- filed March 9 by Sen. Blake Johnson, R-Corning -- passed in the Senate Agriculture, Forestry & Economic Development Committee on March 28 with an amendment, and passed on the Senate floor Thursday with only one dissenting vote, from Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale.

The bill would consolidate 16 state agriculture boards and commissions and would charge the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission, the Arkansas Forestry Commission, the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission and the state Department of Agriculture to take up the work of the eliminated commissions and boards.

The board of directors of the certified cotton growers' organization would become a subcommittee of the state Plant Board.

The bill "will create five subcommittees under those four main commissions and boards and it has a savings of almost $100,000 and almost 1,900 man hours and it makes consistent five-year terms across those boards and commissions and it cleans up eight possible constitutional conflicts in those 16 [boards] that are present now," Johnson said Thursday on the Senate floor.

Notably, the Veterinary Medical Examining Board would be abolished and its responsibilities transferred to the Arkansas Livestock & Poultry Commission, which would gain two additional member seats that must be filled by veterinarians, one of whom would have to specialize in large animal or food supply veterinary medicine.

The Livestock & Poultry Commission would have to create a committee to make recommendations about rulemaking, disciplinary issues and ethical complaints.

Veterinary members on the commission would have to join this committee, and the chairman of the commission would also have to designate an additional two veterinarians licensed in Arkansas to serve on the committee.

State Plant Board members would have terms lengthened from two to five years or until a successor has been elected or appointed and the terms for a meeting quorum would change, the bill says.

A majority of voting members currently must to be present for the Plant Board to have a quorum and pass measures; the bill updates the state's code to "a majority vote of those members present shall be required for any action of the board to take place," according to the bill.

The bill's amendment also states the Red River Commission would be abolished effective July 1, 2026.

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