story by Ryan Saylor
Now that the 89th General Assembly has concluded, representatives and senators representing the Fort Smith and northwest Arkansas regions were asked to reflect on the session's successes.
Specifically, the members of the House and Senate were asked the following questions:
• On a personal level, how do you feel about the 89th General Assembly? Was it successful? Too partisan? More partisan than expected?
• How successful was the 89th General Assembly for constituents in this region? What are your reflections on how the Fort Smith and northwest Arkansas regions will be impacted by legislation passed during this session?
The questions were sent by e-mail and The City Wire received the following responses:
• Rep. Randy Alexander, R-Springdale: "I believe the 89th General Assembly was successful and it was less partisan than I had anticipated. Although a relatively few controversial bills get the majority of the attention, I would estimate that 80+% of the bills presented passed by a huge majority from both parties. As a conservative I felt the session was successful with the passage of some prolife bills, bills that strengthened the 2nd Amendment rights of Arkansans, a bill that legalizes the sale of raw milk, a voter ID bill, significant tax cuts and a variety of other bills. There were several bills passed that were part of the House Simple Plan.
"A series of tax cuts will benefit a wide number of individuals and businesses in Northwest Arkansas. We enacted reductions in personal income tax rates, the capital gains tax, sales taxes on utilities for manufacturing and agriculture businesses and state tax exemptions for active duty military personnel."
• Rep. Duncan Baird, R-Lowell: "I'm very happy with the results of this legislative session. It was a historic session. We had the first Republican majority in the House and Senate in over a century, and we were faced with several large issues: tax cuts, Medicaid, the Big River Steel project, and many others.
"There were questions in the beginning as to whether we would be able to resolve any of these issues. In the end, we addressed each one of these issues and did so in a way that I believe was best for the people of Arkansas.
"We passed over $100 Million dollars of pro-job, pro-business tax cuts and did so while funding our priorities and balancing the budget.
"We reject the traditional Medicaid expansion and implemented the Private Insurance Option, in addition to other conservative reforms for the existing Medicaid program.
"On the economic development front, we approved the issuance of bonds for the Big River Steel super project in eastern Arkansas, according to guidelines approved by the voters with Amendment 82.
"I think the session was a success for constituents in this region in the same way that it was a success for the state as a whole. The tax cuts will make Arkansas more competitive with neighboring states, especially in the area of manufacturing, which I think is very good for Fort Smith and Northwest Arkansas. The income tax cut will put money back in the pockets of hardworking taxpayers, which will be good for families and small businesses in the region."
• Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville: "I feel the 89th achieved strong positive results for the people of Arkansas. These accomplishments included significant tax reduction (up to $230 million per year by 2015/2016 with a focus on lower taxes for Arkansas working people), the Private Option health care program (including significant Medicaid and other health care reforms, all customized to meet the needs of Arkansans), and excellent social policy (expanding gun owner rights, pro life legislation, election reforms, etc).
"The session included the sharing of multiple points of view on several issues, but most issues were resolved with significant majorities voting for the solutions in both houses. I believe the session accomplishments exceeded expectations and as time goes on the successes will become even more appreciated as the impact is felt throughout the state, particularly in terms of turning our state into a Good Jobs Magnet. We have more work to do of course, for example we have only just begun to reduce the income tax rates which are too high for our region (every neighboring state has a top income tax rate below that of Arkansas)."
• Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith: "I feel like the Fort Smith Region was well-served this Session. Several key roles were played by those from our area, and I think we helped shape policy while advocating strongly for our Region.
"The Session, while a bit long, I felt was a successful one, and wasn't overly partisan. There certainly were some divisive issues, but very few came down simply as straight party line votes, and I think there was responsible governance in action in a bi-partisan way.
"Our Regions should benefit on many levels from the activity this Session immediately and in the future because of the health care decisions as well as tax cuts that helped create and grow jobs in manufacturing and other pursuits."
• Sen. Uvalde Lindsey, D-Fayetteville: "After a slow and rocky start driven by social issues, I believe the Session ended up accomplishing a great deal of good work. Enacting the Private Option to enable the expansion of health care coverage to 250,000 Arkansans was a high point (thanks to unanimous support from the Minority). I'm also proud that another priority of mine, the creation of new job opportunity for Arkansans, was set in place by the enactment of the Big River Steel project.
"The Session was less partisan than I anticipated – many of us left the rancor of the 2012 campaigns in the hallways of the Capitol, and helped a lot of Arkansans in our region and state."
• Rep. Stephanie Malone, R-Fort Smith: "On a personal level this was my third and final regular session, and I (am) extremely pleased with the overall outcome. I was named Chairman of House Rules by Speaker Carter, the first and only female to hold that position in the Arkansas Legislature. I was extremely honored to chosen by Speaker Carter to hold that position. I was the primary sponsor on a number of bills to support the men and woman of the Arkansas National Guard, one of those being HB 2106, which is now an act, amends tuition waivers for national guardsmen and airmen from 25% to 100%.
"This session the legislature face many tough issues. Both parties came together to make the best decision for the people of the state of Arkansas. At times, you saw some partisanship, for example overriding of vetoes, but again overall both parties knew when to put partisan politics aside and come together for the betterment of the state.
"Efforts to secure some funding for the Marshall's (sic) museum were successful which will help future fundraising efforts. A bill which eliminates state income tax for active duty military was also passed. With over 100 million in tax cuts, ranging from the grocery tax to repair parts for manufactures, passed this session everyone in Fort Smith will benefit from the efforts of this years legislative session."
• Rep. Sue Scott, R-Rogers: "Personally I enjoyed the session very much. I made many new, good friends, both Democrats and Republicans. I was heartened to discover an absence of partisan politics that were divisive. There were disagreements and discussions, but constructive and not destructive.
"I feel that most of the new legislation will be beneficial to northwest Arkansas, and the rest of Arkansas too. I did not experience a substantial separation of northwest Arkansas from the remainder of the state during this session. The disagreements on legislation did not seem to be geographically based.
"I am very proud to have been a member of the 89th General Assembly, and I feel that the other Representatives feel the same way as me. It truly was a history making session."