Governor touts downsizing reforms while looking at UAMS cancer center investments

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 485 views 

Image from the National Cancer Institute, the nation’s leader in cancer research.

On the day that Gov. Asa Hutchinson touted smaller state government, he was also touring a world-renowned research center in the capital city that could use expanded state support.

Hutchinson met with Republican legislative leaders on Wednesday afternoon (Sept. 5) amidst the backdrop of a stack of 15,000 pages of outdated government regulations and obsolete agency rules.

In a photo op at the Governor’s Conference Room at the State Capitol, Hutchinson stood with President Pro Tempore Sen. Jonathan Dismang of Searcy, Sen. Jim Hendren of Sulphur Springs, Bentonville’s Rep. Jim Dotson, and House Speaker Matthew Shepherd of El Dorado, to tout the initial work submitted by state agencies under Act 781 of 2017, known as the legislature’s “housecleaning bill.”

“To put this in perspective, these 800 repealed rules represent almost 25% of all the rules and regulations that currently exist in all of the (state) agencies in the state of Arkansas,” Hutchinson told reporters. “So, that is a repeal of one-fourth of our total rules and regulations that impact businesses and individuals in our state.”

During the 2017 regular session, Dotson sponsored House Bill 1180 that was signed into law as Act 781 by Gov. Hutchinson on March 31. The newly enacted law requires all state agencies to review and assess every rule and make recommendations as to which ones should be eliminated by the state-imposed deadline of July 1.

Legislative subcommittees finished their review and approval process Wednesday afternoon. Recommendations will go before the Arkansas Legislative Council for final approval in the coming weeks. According to Dotson, nearly 3,400 rules and regulations were inventoried, reviewed and assessed throughout this process. Of those, some rules date back 100 years and are no longer applicable.

Going forward, Act 781 also requires the Legislative Council to meet every four years and review new state agency rules and regulations and those currently on the books. Agency rules that have been in effect for 24 years or longer will remain in effect until the date of their first scheduled evaluation under the Arkansas Administrative Procedure Act.

Sen. Hendren, Senate Pro Tempore-elect, said the legislature will continue to refine efforts to make it easier for businesses and individuals to interact with state agencies online, get licenses and permits, and review regulations that impact their livelihood.

“This is a step in the right direction … as part of our ongoing efforts of government transformation,” said Hendren. “We still have more work to do.”

Earlier in the day within the sight line of the state capitol, Hutchinson toured the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, which is undergoing an international search for a new director – a move that could lead to millions of dollars of research funding for Arkansas, but could also require more state investment.

UAMS officials, including new chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson, spent nearly an hour showing the governor through cancer research labs and patient areas where scientists and doctors are looking for cures to life-threatening illnesses. The namesake on the building – former Lt. Gov. Win Paul Rockefeller – was a former GOP competitor for Arkansas governor against Asa Hutchinson in 2006, but dropped out of the race after discovering he had a blood disorder that could have developed into leukemia if left untreated. Rockefeller died at UAMS in July 2006 after two unsuccessful bone marrow transplants.

UAMS officials are seeking National Cancer Institute designation status, an important step to drawing more cancer research funding to Arkansas. NCI designation is needed to recruit a top-notch director and peer-reviewed funded physicians and scientists cancer research, according to Patterson. The new UAMS chancellor also said it could open up clinical trials that could save the lives of thousands of Arkansans.

While a highly sought-after director will bring millions in research funding with him or her, UAMS will need to offer between $25 and $50 million in funding to recruit a major researcher, according to hospital officials. The return on that investment could mean as much as $70 million or more in annual economic activity for Arkansas. UAMS has secured about $11.4 million in peer reviewed funding and $5.7 million in NCI funding so far. That translates to three research programs, 57 oncologists and cancer specialists, and 175 cancer clinical trials.

“Without that [NCI] designation, we don’t have access to about 68% of the federal funding in research dollars that can be utilized to help patients,” Hutchinson said after the tour.

When asked if he was prepared to commit to a dollar amount for UAMS in the upcoming legislative session – a session where the governor is pushing for up to $200 million in tax cuts – Hutchinson said if he’s re-elected, he’ll work for long-term funding for the cancer institute.

“I think we’d have to have more information as to the exact investment that’s needed and over what period of time,” he said. “I believe that we have to invest in it, work in partnership with UAMS, so we’ll have those conversations and we have to build legislative support for it as well. They do control the purse-strings. We’ve got a lot of budget needs this year.”

“I want to make sure there’s a long-term plan for UAMS in terms of its financial future, its stability,” Hutchinson added.

Editor’s note: Senior Reporter Wesley Brown contributed to this report.

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