Arkansas House of Representatives Chamber

10:30 a.m.

Thank you, Speaker Shepherd, and to Senate Pro Tem, Jimmy Hickey, and to the honorable Members of the General Assembly.

Thank you for that warm greeting. Let me assure you that is gratefully received, and hopefully that signals a strong relationship as we enter this session.

I also welcome those members joining from the Senate chambers, and those that are joining from the public.

First, let me extend my congratulations to the new members. By my count, we have over 20 members newly elected in this session. And for some, it is a return in a new role and for many others, this will be your first regular session.

Well, as you will remember, when I was elected governor, we hit the ground running, and we did not intend to slow down. So buckle your seatbelt, because we've got a lot of work to do.

Now, this marks my seventh year as governor, and today will be the last time that I address the General Assembly in regular session. Thank you for not applauding on that last line.

Today, we begin this session with historic challenges besetting our nation.

We are beginning the 11th month of a global pandemic that has impacted every aspect of life, from losing friends and loved ones, to increased unemployment needs; to changes in education, health care community events, and even in this legislative session, our life is different today.

And then last week, we witnessed a violent mob assault our nation's capital. When they breached our Article 1 branch of government, they attacked the foundations of our democracy. And let me say clearly, that each person who breached the heart of our democracy must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

A presidential election often divides the country along political and cultural lines. And I understand the passion. It is okay to be passionate. But we must not let passion cloud our common sense and our commitment to our state and nation. And when the election is over, then we need to come together, united to strengthen our democracy and heal our land.

As we enter this session, I ask you to take the long look through the perspective of time. How do we want history to remember this session?

Will it be one that brought people together? Or did we just add more fuel to the flames of division?

We all have our political principles and convictions. And we dare not abandon those. But we can still find solutions and ways to work together for the common good.

Some people look at the upcoming session and predict that it will be acrimonious and accomplish little. I wholeheartedly disagree with that assessment. I expect us to meet the challenge of the moment and to pass legislation that will give our health care workers and public the tools needed to defeat the Coronavirus.

I expect legislation that will boost our economy.

We need laws that will assure that our police officers have the highest standards, are fully trained, funded, and supported.

And yes ... And yes, we want laws to increase accountability and oversight as well.

And we must ... and we must take action to reward our teachers who make a difference every day for the next generation.

This session will also build on the accomplishments of the past.

In each regular session, we have lowered taxes on-hard working Arkansans, and this year the individual income tax rate has been reduced to 5.9%. In total, as a result of our all of our income tax cuts, we have moved $800 million from the government checkbook into the hands of individuals across our state.

And because of your efforts, we have raised the pay of our dedicated teachers in our public schools, and we have become a nationally recognized leader in computer science education.

We have, for the first time, devoted state resources to expand high speed internet in unreached areas of our state. $86.8 million has been invested in the Rural Connect Grant program. This has provided internet access to over 70,000 Arkansans, who previously lacked service. This is progress.

We equalized our sales tax collections, so that online transactions are treated the same as sales from our Main Streets small businesses, and those small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities.

The legislation that you passed allowed our cities and counties to survive through the pandemic. Thank you.

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