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Legislators wrap up special session

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By John R. Schirmer

News-Leader staff

State legislators went home May 23 after wrapping up a special session called by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to fund highway projects and to deal with 12 other items.

The three-day session passed 12 of Hutchinson’s 13 agenda items, including his highway proposal.

“We had competing highway measures,” State Sen. Larry Teague of Nashville said. “I didn’t intend to vote for it [Hutchinson’s bill], and I didn’t. There’s not much in it for rural highway maintenance.”

Teague had said before the session started that he would not vote for any proposal which did not offer help for roads in rural Arkansas.

Hutchinson’s bill provides about $50 million per year in state funds and $200 million per year in federal highway funding.

“No taxes were raised by the highway bill,” Teague said. The main source of revenue will come from dedicating up to 25 percent of the state budget surplus. Based on the average for the past 10 years, what will be about $48 million.

In other business, legislators passed a so-called efficiency bill which includes transferring the Arkansas History Commission to the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

“I didn’t vote for it,” Teague said of the legislation. “People at Old Washington are worried about it.”

The 105-page bill also gives Hutchinson control of the Governor’s Mansion Commission.

The legislature rejected a proposal to combine Crowley’s Ridge Technical Institute at Forrest City with East Arkansas Community College. Members “need to take more time” to consider the merger, Teague said.

Legislators revised school election laws to “prevent confusion for two districts,” Teague said. They include the Pulaski County and Helena-West Helena districts.

Lawmakers approved a bill to make Department of Human Services juvenal records easier to release to legitimate research organizations gauging the effectiveness of juvenile programs. The bill was passed “to close a loophole in laws against sexual indecency with a child,” Teague said.

Overall, the special session was “pretty uneventful,” according to Teague. “Most of the items for this one could have waited” until the general session in January.

Teague said he doesn’t know of “any subject matter that would mean calling another special session.”

Legislators already have met three times in 2016 – once in the fiscal session required by state law and twice in special session.