The legislature wraps up with a little futile resistance to prison expansion
The legislature is done.
The House took only a few minutes to complete action on the final budget bills.
The Senate took a little longer because of some debate on HB 1034, the Corrections Department appropriation which included an appropriation of $75 million to build 500 new prison beds at Calico Rock, an expansion that will eventually millions in additional operating costs.
Democratic senators raised arguments about the high incarceration rate in Arkansas and a need to consider alternatives to prison, including locking up fewer non-violent offenders. Republican senators spoke of the need to lock up criminals and to reduce the burden on county jails where state prisoners are backed up. A few said some efforts are underway to review some jailing practices, such as locking up people for failure to pay fines.
The bill passed 30-3, with nays from Sens. Joyce Elliott, Linda Chesterfield and Greg Leding.
One piece of action that won’t occur until formal sine die adjournment, tentatively set Tuesday, March 15. The House will vote on a designate to be House speaker in 2023. Speaker Matthew Shepherd will be seeking another term. Sen. Bart Hester was chosen by the Republican caucus to be the nominee to succeed Sen. Jimmy Hickey as president pro temp, generally tantamount to election in the Republican-controlled Senate. It didn’t work out that way two years ago, however, when a coalition of Democrats and Republicans upset Hester’s nomination to elect Hickey. He sought another term, but Hester defeated him and Sen. Kim Hammer. I don’t expect to see a replay of the surprise formal vote that occurred in 2020.
The Senate session also extended a bit for speeches from nine senators who won’t be returning.
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