From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our great nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
The legislature completed the 2021 regular session with a midnight meeting to approve what as literally an 11th hour compromise. It was a fitting end to a dramatic session that began four months ago.
The General Assembly lowered taxes for thousands of Arkansas families and businesses, while also adopting a conservative budget that leaves the state in excellent fiscal condition.
The legislature pushed back against public health directives from the executive branch, repealing mask mandates and limiting the governor’s authority to regulate businesses.
More importantly, we enacted income tax exemptions that will save Arkansas families $179 million next year if they received benefits from the Payroll Protection Program.
We lowered income taxes for people who lost their jobs during the pandemic last year, saving them an estimated $59 million.
We lowered the sales tax on the purchase of used motor vehicles costing less than $10,000, a measure that will save Arkansans more than $13 million next year.
We shored up the state’s rainy day fund and other reserves that will be critical in the event of an economic downturn.
It’s the same principle that families use when budgeting for household expenses. You don’t spend every dollar you earn if you can afford to put some into savings.
We raised teacher salaries in districts where teachers earn less than the statewide average. Salaries will go up by an average of $2,000, with the goal of bringing them up to more than $51,000 a year.
We made some significant changes to the state Medicaid expansion program. Recipients will have incentives to work, in order to continue being covered by private health insurance.
Importantly for hospitals and physicians, we didn’t change reimbursement rates.
Medical providers who treat patients covered by Medicaid expansion will continue to be paid the same rates paid by private insurance companies, which are higher than traditional Medicaid rates.
The tax cuts and health care legislation that we passed will benefit hundreds of thousands of Arkansans, beginning immediately.
However, those bills didn’t generate as much publicity as several high-profile measures that generated lots of headlines, but which, frankly, won’t affect many people.
For example, the legislature prohibited transgender girls from playing on the girls teams in high school sports. However, the bill’s supporters admitted that this has never happened anywhere in Arkansas.
The legislature enacted a long series of Second Amendment bills, out of concern that federal authorities want to confiscate our firearms.
In fact, it was a Second Amendment bill that forced legislators to meet in a final midnight session, to fix a proposal that could have led to several unintended consequences, such as 800 felony cases being tossed out and funding of the Game and Fish Commission being shut off.
The legislature enacted a long list of changes to election laws, which may cause confusion at polling places next year.
One of my goals is to make election laws easier to understand, because it’s for the health of our democracy to protect everyone’s right to vote.
It was an eventful session, and the legislature did not actually adjourn. We went into extended recess, so that we can meet again in the fall to redraw the boundaries of the four Congressional Districts in Arkansas.
In order to do that, we have to wait until census results are available in September.
From the Capitol, it is always my greatest honor and most sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.