Governor Asa Hutchinson
ASA: No regrets this session
met with reporters this morning for a post-session rundown
, with Hutchinson talking about topics ranging from the private option to HB 1228 to the authorization for a monument to the Ten Commandments on Capitol grounds.
Hutchinson said that overall, he was "very, very pleased" with the session and how it turned out, calling it "a session that reflected the best of Arkansas." He said he couldn't think of a single disappointment or regret, though he noted that the going may well be harder in years to come. Hutchinson said he evaluates his success on whether his agenda was accomplished. During the session, he said, he was able to cross off every item he'd intended to get passed, including middle class tax cuts, prison reform, computer science education, and other issues.
Gay people and poor people could be forgiven for not having such a rosy view of the happenings, being targeted for discrimination in the first case and on the losing end of tax, spending, benefit and other bills in the case of poor people.
Hutchinson called the continuation of the private option "the miracle of the session," though he admits that the solution reached this session will require more work later on. He said that reauthorizing the private option "solved the problem for now," but more importantly, it gave stability and certainty to hospitals and Arkansas Workers.
Hutchinson said that most options are on the table with regard to revamping the private option,
though simply passing legislation that mirrors the current private option under a different name is not.
"Just in terms of integrity and honesty, I don't think there's anybody who expects the… private option to be tweaked and relabeled," Hutchinson said. "That's not going to fly with the Arkansas voters and that's not my expectation. I think this is going to be a total refiguring of it, in an Arkansas way, with compassion and fiscal prudence, and also one that's innovative. The private option was an innovative solution, and I have a lot of confidence that we're going to see the legislative task force come up with a solution for the future. I'm also encouraged by the flexibility I think the federal government is going to give Arkansas on this."
Asked if there would be a special session to specifically deal with the private option, Hutchinson said that he hasn't made up his mind yet, adding that a lot of that decision will rely on the timing of the report by the task force set up to study the issue. He did say, however, that a special session would give lawmakers "more flexibility in terms of time, but also less distractions." For those reasons, he said, he would suspect that discussion of the private option would be better suited to a special session than the fiscal session.
Shifting gears to "religious freedom"
legislation that many critics said would write a blank check for LGBT discrimination, Hutchinson was asked if he regretted his role in getting HB 1228 out of the Senate Judiciary committee, where it was bottled up until Democratic Sen. David Burnett flipped his vote to allow it out of committee — reportedly at Hutchinson's urging. Hutchinson said he had no regrets.
"No, it's an important issue, and it deserved a vote on the floor," he said. "That's not the kind of issue you want bottled up in committee. I'm glad it ultimately got to the floor for a vote and I was glad to encourage that. In hindsight, sure, I wish we all knew 45 days ago what we know today. We could have been more precise in the language, and I would have made my call for a bill that precisely mirrors the federal bill earlier."
Hutchinson said the religious freedom bill he eventually signed, SB 975, met his requirement of more closely mirroring the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Asked why he hasn't issued the executive order to protect LGBT state workers, which he mentioned during his press conference asking the legislature to recall HB 1228, Hutchinson said: "It was sort of an urgent matter at the time as to how I was going to address this bill that was sitting on my desk – 1228. I said I'm sending it back and I'm asking the legislature to redo it. That was my first request. I didn't know what they would do. They could have said, go home. They could say: no wer'e not. So I said, another option that I am considering as an alternative would be an executive order. I saw those as options. They gave me what I asked for – a new bill that mirrored the federal bill – and to me, that resolved the issue."
Asked if that means he won't issue the executive order down the road, Hutchinson said he'll wait and see. "I don't see any urgent need for it now… We'll see what the future develops. But I considered the issue resolved when they gave me my first request on the bill." The governor wasn't asked if he supported legal discrimination against LGBTQ people in Arkansas, which is now the law.
On why he signed the bill to construct a monument to the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol,
Hutchinson said that he was impressed by the floor speech by Rep. Kim Hammer (R-Benton), who spoke about the numerous references to religion and God already to be found on the grounds of the State Capitol, including angels in sculpture and quotes about God on the Little Rock Nine sculpture to the north of the building.
"I was really impressed with some of what he articulated on it, in terms of the historical aspect of it," he said. "I thought it was really remarkable in terms of history of it. I signed it because I think it is a recognition of that document, the Ten Commandments, being a part of our foundation as a democracy and as a country. I think it is important that it's done in a way that's reflective of that history, and that it's not simply used to make a political point. That's really more in the implementation of it and how it's done. I trust the Secretary of State to carry that out in a way that has the right balance of history and the diversity of our religious history that's based on that."
On the lethal injection bill
passed this session, Hutchinson said that he's confident that the changes made to the state's execution protocol are constitutional and consistent with past rulings by the Supreme Court. "I don't think there's any real issue as to the alternative methods that are allowed in the current law," he said. "I think the challenge is going to be more on the confidentiality of the sources of the drugs. There's already a lawsuit on that, and from my conversations with the Attorney General and our own review, I feel pretty comfortable that the courts will say that confidentiality is reasonable and appropriate."
Hutchinson said that he has considered the gravity of possibly carrying out an execution in Arkansas during his tenure, but said he is bound to follow the law. "My responsibility is to faithfully execute the laws," he said. "It's important that you do that with serious gravity. We're a long way away from any such night, but that's important. Then, second, you want to make sure that the case is one in which there is not a reasonable doubt, and that due process has been met and there's been sufficient court reviews, and that those protections are in place."
Hutchinson lauded the strong, bi-partisan support for the middle class tax cut,
which he said was recognition of the large number of Arkansans who benefited from the cuts. "This is something that benefits 600,000 Arkansans. It benefits over 100,000 of our military retirees. It's a balanced tax cut that benefits the economy of Arkansas."
Hutchinson said that he plans to sit down with legislators soon to work on the next step, saying he plans another round of tax cuts in the future, "depending on how fast the economy grows," though he said he did not anticipate it being discussed in the fiscal session. He wouldn't say which tax bracket will be impacted by the next round of cuts, but he did say: "In terms of my priority, I've always said that we need to flatten and reduce the high-marginal rates in Ark across the board. I'd like to get there."
"We have a good budget," Hutchinson said. "It's a sound budget, but you don't want to get it out of balance by moving too quickly toward the next step, so I think that's more of a general session issue.
Overall, Hutchinson called the 90th General Assembly "a unique session" which mostly gave him the things he had wanted. He said that while the Governor of Arkansas is not as structurally strong as some other governors (he noted the simple majority to override a veto, for example), he said he was impressed by how many members of the legislature, from both sides of the aisle, were willing to see his agenda succeed. While that may change in the future, he said, his mode of governing won't.
"The strength of the governor is from respect for the office and recognition that we need to have a leader, and the desire that we need to have the governor succeed," he said. "That's impressed me. That's not a Republican thing. That's a Republican and a Democrat thing."
He also said he'd move quickly to appoint three special justices to decide the question of whether a special justice appointed last year should see the same-sex marriage case through to the end or whether new Justice Rhonda Wood should decide the case. Whatever speed he uses won't speed a final outcome in the case much. It seems likely to languish until after a definitive U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Tax cuts for working poor? A non-discrimination act for gay people? What further punishment he has in mind for poor when he asks again to continue Obamacare? How corporate welfare is morally preferable to cutting individual welfare? Monuments for non-believers or even flavors of Christians different from Bro. Rapert? He didn't get into this territory.