Lengthy list of issues on agenda when Legislature convenes Jan. 9


    By John R. Schirmer
    News-Leader staff

    The Arkansas Legislature will convene Monday, Jan. 9, and Sen. Larry Teague of Nashville says  the meeting “will be a tough session.”

    Issues ranging from medical marijuana to tax cuts await the members of the General Assembly.

    Even with a host of issues on the agenda, Teague says the “first week to 10 days will be hurry up and wait. It takes a while for bills to get in. There’s always a lot of pomp and circumstance at first.”

    Many legislators have already pre-filed proposed bills, but Teague isn’t among them. “I haven’t looked at the pre-filed bills yet,” he said. “I usually don’t pre-file. I want to do what’s right for the state and what’s right for our people.”

    The ramifications of the new Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment will take much of the legislators’ time, according to Teague. Voters approved Issue 6, which grants the right to medical cannabis, during the Nov. 8 general election.

    Implementation of the amendment will be determined by the legislature and by a five-member Medical Marijuana Commission.

    Teague said the issue “could be another 30 days for the session. It could have bills for every committee. If someone has a prescription and is working, there are questions about his status.”

    Legislators “don’t have to consider the marijuana issue yet,” Teague said. “We can do it in a special session.”

    Other matters before the Legislature will include revenue. “It’s always an issue,” Teague said. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has proposed a $50 million income tax reduction. “I think it’s reasonable. It starts in January of 2019 and will affect half of that fiscal year,” according to Teague.

    Hutchinson has recommended giving retired veterans an income tax exemption. “That would be a $13 million loss,” Teague said. “If we wait until 2019, the $50 million in cuts won’t be hard to do.”

    Public education grades K-12 “is always a big issue,” Teague said. Part of the Legislature’s work will be related to the Little Rock School District, which is under state control. “We can’t tell what’s going on with the Little Rock schools.

    Teague will be the Senate Budget Chairman again. The budget “spends all the revenue and the bulk of the surplus” under Hutchinson’s proposals.

    As the session draws closer, Teague said there is something of which he always reminds legislators. “When we have the first budget meeting, I tell them not to spend more than we have.”

    An unknown factor for legislators will be the election of Donald Trump as president. “We don’t know about Trump and healthcare,” Teague said. Arkansas’s Private Option plan receives federal funding.

    Another potential issue is the so-called Convention of States, which would be called by state legislatures for the purpose of proposing amendments to the Constitution. In order for the convention to be called, 34 state legislatures must pass a resolution and deliver the resolution to Congress, according to conventionofstates.com

    The website says the Founding Fathers “gave us a tool to fix Washington, D.C.,” and amendments from the Convention of States would be the way to do it.

    Teague said that “at this point, I’m not comfortable with opening up the document our Founding Fathers gave us. I can’t get comfortable with the idea. There will be real pressure on our legislators to do that.”

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