Legislature: All over but the final touches on the power grabs | Arkansas Blog

Monday, May 23, 2016

Legislature: All over but the final touches on the power grabs

Posted By on Mon, May 23, 2016 at 7:07 AM

click to enlarge LAST ROUNDUP: The closing day of the session today should be perfunctory.
  • LAST ROUNDUP: The closing day of the session today should be perfunctory.

The Arkansas legislature meets today — the House at 9 a.m. and the Senate 10 a.m. — to complete Gov. Asa Hutchinson's special session agenda.

The so-called highway special session has turned out to be much more — particularly in some extraordinary consolidation of power — essentially abolishing the state History Commission and putting its operation under the sole control of flower shop owner-Heritage Director Stacy Hurst and wiping out 60 years of custom in eliminating control of the Governor's Mansion by an appointed commission. The governor is now in charge completely at the Mansion (how Mike Huckabee would have loved that) — major purchases, renovation and the like will now be according to the personal tastes of the occupants, not an institutional commission with a longer view on the public's house. More to come on changes of policy at the Mansion and the question of how much the Governor's Hall, built in a bipartisan fundraising exercise, will be open for public use in the future.

Highways? The governor won approval of his free lunch highway program. General revenues will be tapped to support highways — at a cost to all other state employees and agencies. This thanks to the infusion of Obamacare money, preserved by the continuation of the Medicaid expansion earlier. Hutchinson will be able to seek re-election in 2018 without a tax increase on the ballot. That's important to him politically because lean and hungry Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin is on the constant lookout for wedges to leverage himself into the race for governor.

The Democratic Party's irrelevance was completed this session when Sen. David Burnett gave up his ability to slow the train on the executive takeovers in return for Republican leadership allowing passage of a special interest bill to exempt a Nucor steel mill in his district from earthquake building codes. Burnett rolled over in the regular session and allowed a gay discrimination bill and a Ten Commandments monument bill out of committee. His thanks for all this will be the governor and Republican Party working to defeat him in November.

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