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8.11.22 – AP – Little Rock, Ark.

 Arkansas lawmakers on Thursday approved a $500 million tax cut package and adjourned a special session without taking up teacher raises, abortion ban exceptions or other issues Democrats had hoped to add to the agenda.

The majority-Republican House and Senate gave final approval to the tax cuts proposed by GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson after the state’s surplus reached $1.6 billion. Hutchinson planned to sign the legislation Thursday afternoon.

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The legislation includes a proposal to speed up when corporate and individual income tax cuts lawmakers approved last year take effect.

Democrats had hoped to extend the session to consider raising teacher salaries. Hutchinson proposed teacher raises earlier this year, but decided against putting it on the session agenda because of a lack of support in the Legislature.

GOP leaders have said the session wasn’t the right time because the Legislature hadn’t completed its annual review of school funding.

Other bills Democrats hoped to add included one adding rape and incest exceptions to the state’s abortion ban.

The House also gave final approval to setting aside $50 million for a school safety grant program Hutchinson proposed after the Texas school shooting that killed 19 students and two teachers.

One of the bills co-sponsor’s, state senator (R) Beebe-District 28, Jonathan Dismang told KATV he believes the special session ran pretty smooth.

“Everybody benefits in the state, we got additional work to do and we’re on it right now actually,” Dismang said.

According to Dismang, they won’t be disbursing the school safety program funds until they figure out how it’ll be used.

“Wanna make sure that each school regardless of size is achieving or being able to request an appropriate amount of funding,” he said. “Also, the funding is being used appropriately at the district level to ensure that they’re creating a safe environment for students.”

State representative (D) Pine Bluff-District 17, Vivian Flowers said the elephant in the room was not addressing teacher pay increase. She said it’s embarrassing that issue wasn’t resolved during this special session.

“It is an abomination that we came here to increase tax cuts for the wealthiest Arkansans, but we could not find the gumption during an election season to make sure that our teachers are adequately paid,” Flowers said.

Flowers told KATV there are teachers leaving the state everyday. She believes those educators are left wondering how much longer should they have to wait on legislators to act.

“Not to prioritize anything else until we prioritize state dollars on education, they’re saying later ask them when later is gonna be,” she said.

Dismang said school districts received federal funds that can go towards teacher retention or recruitment.

Flowers told KATV Arkansans should challenge all three gubernatorial candidates on where they stand on education. She also said those voters should ask their legislator how and on what they voted on during the special session.

Governor Hutchinson shortly after signing the tax cut package into law, he shared his thoughts on why teacher pay was not discussed during the session.

“You can say someone was right, someone was wrong but the bottom line is that we listen to each other, we worked out what the plan should be, which is addressing it next year.”

The next regular session begins January 2023