LITTLE ROCK – The 92nd General Assembly has been in session for four weeks, and legislators have sent more than 40 bills for me to sign.
Among them are bills requiring testing of newborns for a genetic disorder and cutting in half the fee for a concealed carry permit. I hope to soon have a bill to raise the starting salary for Arkansas school teachers, which is one of my priorities.
The job of filing and passing a bill doesn’t start the day that the General Assembly convenes. It’s often a complicated process that begins weeks or even months before the legislature opens.
The sponsors must do the research and build a foundation that shows the need for the bill. They learn how other states have handled the issue. They consult constitutional experts and experts in the field that the law would address. Once they have written the bill, they have to build support for the law.
The moment that I sign a bill into law represents the culmination of a lot of work by a lot of people.
The bill that Representative Julie Mayberry sponsored is a life-saving bill that requires hospitals to test newborns for a degenerative disease that often is fatal. Until recently, hospitals didn’t test for spinal muscular atrophy because there was no treatment for it. But two years ago, the Food and Drug Administration approved a treatment, which is a drug that has saved the life of every child who has received the treatment before the symptoms appear. This bill requires hospitals to test the newborns so we know if the treatment should be administered to them. The bill requires insurance companies to pay for the test. I have signed this bill into law.
One of the bills I supported over the past year was one that would increase the starting salary for school teachers to $36,000 over the next four years. This would put Arkansas as leading our region in terms of beginning pay, and it will make it easier to recruit and retain teachers. The House approved the bill this week, and it should be on my desk in the near future.
Another bill that came to my desk this week cuts the fee for a concealed carry license from $100 down to $50; it also cuts the renewal fee from $35 down to $25. And so, yes, it is possible to reduce the burden of taxes and fees on our citizens.
I am a strong believer in giving people a second chance in life. I signed a bill that simplifies the process for a person who is leaving prison to obtain a driver’s license. Everything we can do to help a person re-enter society reduces the risk that he will return to prison.
I am still waiting to sign one of the most important bills of the session. That is the bill that would implement my 5.9 tax reduction plan, which will reduce the top income tax rate in Arkansas from 6.9 percent to 5.9 percent for individual filers.
This is important for our economic future. Our tax rate is higher than all our neighboring states, and that is another factor that a CEO considers when a company is scouting for a place to expand. The Senate approved the bill on Wednesday and passed it to the House. I am hopeful that our state representatives will pass the bill and send it to me to sign.
A lot is going on at the State Capitol, and I hope you are expressing your views. What happens here makes a difference.