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Arkansas Governor Focuses on Police Funds as Session Starts

3 min read

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday called for tapping into the state’s surplus to give local law enforcement a one-time $5,000 payment and new equipment, as the Republican delivered his final state of the state address.

Hutchinson, who is serving his final year as governor, kicked off a legislative session that he and leading lawmakers hope to keep focused on the state’s budget despite a push by some Republicans to enact new abortion restrictions and take up other culture wars issues.

Hutchinson said he’ll support a plan to give the one-time payment to every county and city certified law enforcement officer in the state, a move that will cost the state $45 million. He also proposed using another $10 million in surplus funds to award grants for law enforcement agencies for equipment, including body cameras. Finance officials have said they expect the state to end the current fiscal year with a $500 million surplus.

“Currently, our law enforcement is underfunded, underpaid and underappreciated,” Hutchinson said in a half-hour address to members of the House and Senate. “The actions of this general assembly to fund more, pay more and to appreciate more will send the unmistakable message that in Arkansas, we support and value our law enforcement officers.”

Hutchinson’s speech was briefly interrupted by protesters opposed to his plan to use up to $100 million in surplus money for a nearly 500-bed expansion of the state’s prison system. Chanting and shouting “no new cages,” the protesters were removed from the House gallery.

Hutchinson has said the expansion is needed because of expected growth in the state’s prison system and to ease a backlog of state inmates being housed in local jails.

Hutchinson didn’t address efforts by some Republicans to enact an abortion ban similar to Texas’ restrictive law, which leaves enforcement up to private citizens through lawsuits instead of to prosecutors through criminal charges.

Hutchinson, who has signed several abortion restrictions since he took office in 2015, has said the state should wait to see what happens from the Supreme Court, which will issue a ruling this year on Mississippi’s law that bans abortions at 15 weeks. That decision could weaken or overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

More: Read the governor’s full remarks here.

Another abortion measure filed Monday would add rape and incest exemptions and modify penalties for an outright ban Arkansas enacted last year that’s been blocked by a federal judge.

Any of the abortion proposals would need two-thirds support of lawmakers from both chambers to be considered since the session is intended to focus on the state’s budget.

Hutchinson has proposed a $6 billion budget for the coming fiscal year that increases state spending by 3.3%. The proposal includes increased pay for state troopers and additional funding for programs for the developmentally disabled.

The Legislature is also expected to take up proposals aimed at curbing costs of the state’s health insurance plans, which Hutchinson and legislative leaders say they believe can be addressed during the fiscal session.

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