Primary, Superproject Bills Head To Governor

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 63 views 

A three-day special session wrapped up Thursday afternoon after lawmakers approved a change to the state’s primary election date as well as a plan to bring up to 600 new jobs to South Arkansas.

The session ended about 3 p.m. Thursday after debate earlier in the day on two primary-related bills – Senate Bill 8, sponsored by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, and House Bill 1006, sponsored by Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock.

The Senate approved Stubblefield’s bill by a 28-6 margin Wednesday night, sending it to the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The bill from Stubblefield would set a March 1, 2016 primary for federal, state, county and judicial elections as well as a March 22, 2016 runoff.

The filing period would run from Nov. 2 to Nov. 9, with protections added Wednesday night in the amended Senate bill to help with independent candidates filing for office.

The change would only be in effect for the 2016 elections.

The committee met Thursday morning to hear the bill. However, two lawmakers – Reps. Nate Bell, R-Mena and Camille Bennett, D-Lonoke – expressed concerns about the Senate bill.

In the past several days, Bell has stated his opposition to the bill citing both costs of the primary and that the idea was not thought out.

“We are taking and making a significant change. This is not the way to do the people’s business,” Bell said.

However, two lawmakers who serve on the committee said Thursday afternoon they supported making the change.

Rep. Jack Ladyman, R-Jonesboro, said while he understood the concerns of candidates on moving up the date, the change would give voters an added say on picking a nominee for President.

Rep. Dwight Tosh, R-Jonesboro, echoed the comments from Ladyman.

“It is an opportunity to try it and see if the voters like it,” Tosh said. “I like it and it gives voters an opportunity to allow their vote to mean something.”

Bennett objected to the bill, due to a lack of a fiscal impact study from the Bureau of Legislative Research on the amended bill.

The original bills did have a fiscal impact statement, noting there would be no cost to the state’s treasury or taxpayers for changing the primary date, records noted.

The House voted Thursday morning by a 65-20 margin to waive the fiscal impact statement requirement on bills introduced during the special session.

The committee voted Thursday afternoon to approve Senate Bill 8, sending it to the House. The House voted 67-22 late Thursday to approve the bill, sending it to the governor.

Davis’ bill was approved in the Senate by a 26-6 margin.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved two bills to provide up to $87 million in general obligation bonds to help with an economic development project in Camden.

The House voted 90-0 to approve Senate Bill 6, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Pierce, D-Sheridan, while the Senate voted 30-2 to approve House Bill 1003, sponsored by Rep. Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado.

The bills cleared both chambers earlier in the week.

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin, with a facility in Camden, is in the running with two other companies – Oshkosh and AM General – to land a Defense Department contract for the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.

Company officials have said they are planning to invest more than $125 million for the facility, Talk Business and Politics reported Wednesday.

Of the $87 million, nearly $83 million would go toward Lockheed Martin retain the 530 jobs currently in Camden, $1.6 million would go toward construction and equipping a training facility at Southern Arkansas University Tech in Camden with the rest going toward debt service on the bonds, Brown reported.

State officials have also said the spending for the bonds are contingent on Lockheed Martin receiving the federal contract.

In a statement late Thursday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the project gives the state a key economic opportunity.

“This is an important next step in our attempt to help Lockheed Martin secure a federal Defense project and create hundreds of new jobs in South Arkansas. The state of Arkansas is doing its part by overwhelmingly passing the Amendment 82 legislation,” Hutchinson said. “We are on board with bipartisan support. I’ve called this a golden opportunity for Arkansas, and it is – not just for us to expand our economy but to contribute to our nation’s defense.”

Hutchinson will sign the bill into law during an 11:30 a.m. Friday news conference in the Governor’s Conference Room at the Capitol.

The House and Senate also approved several other bills Thursday.

The House voted 73-11 to approve Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale; while the Senate approve House Bill 1008, sponsored by Rep. Charlotte Vining Douglas, R-Alma.

Both bills would set an April 13, 2016 date for the state’s fiscal session in Little Rock. Lawmakers will be able to pre-file bills starting March 14, 2016, under the bill.

The House voted 80-2 to approve a DWI-related bill.

The bill, Senate Bill 4, sponsored by Sen. David Johnson, D-Little Rock, would restore the strict liability standard for alcohol-related offenses in Arkansas. The bill was approved Wednesday in the Senate on a 25-6 vote.

Lawmakers approved two similar bills dealing with agricultural vehicle traffic on U.S. 63 in Northeast Arkansas.

The bills – House Bill 1005, sponsored by Rep. Brandt Smith, R-Jonesboro, and Senate Bill 3, sponsored by Sen. John Cooper, R-Jonesboro – would make sure state law matches up with federal law on the issue. The issue involves the changing of U.S. 63 to Interstate 555 from Lake David to Jonesboro. The four-lane highway’s change to an interstate has been a key issue with residents in Northeast Arkansas.

Cooper said the change would have a “big impact” for people in the region.

The change is also contingent on work being done as part of the federal highway bill. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, has said he plans to introduce an amendment to the bill to seek a waiver that would allow certain agricultural traffic to travel on the St. Francis Floodway Bridge near Payneway.

Under current federal law, agricultural vehicles cannot travel on interstate highways. There has been a plan to build an access road bridge across the floodway. However, it could cost as much as $50 million to build, officials have said.

The legislature also approved two government reorganization bills Thursday.

The House voted 85-0 to approve Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, while the Senate approved House Bill 1001, sponsored by Rep. David Branscum, R-Marshall, by a 32-0 margin.

The bills would move the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority and the Department of Rural Services to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission; the Arkansas Building Authority to the Department of Finance and Administration; and the Division of Land Surveys in the Arkansas Department of Agriculture to the Arkansas Geographic Information Office.

Hutchinson applauded the actions of lawmakers on the government reorganization bills.

“I’m very pleased with the broad-based, bipartisan support for our efficiencies measures. It signals to the taxpayers of Arkansas that the executive and legislative branches of government are of one mind when it comes to finding smarter, more efficient ways to deliver services. It makes sense. If we can do a better job for the taxpayers at less cost, we should,” Hutchinson said.