Arkansas lawmakers wrapped up the 2022 fiscal legislative session, sending the governor a state budget of about $6 billion for the coming year.
Members of the House and Senate approved identical versions of the budget during Tuesday’s meetings. The finance bill, called the Income Stabilization Actpassed in both houses by wide margins.
The senators spent much of their meeting debating an appropriation that would fund the expansion of a northern Arkansas state prison. Senator Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, said further reform of the criminal justice system is needed to curb the rise in the number of people incarcerated.
“Our prison population is currently increasing by 1.5% per year. The population of our state is growing at approximately 0.35% per year, which means that our prison population is growing four times faster than the population of our state. “, Tucker said. “We can’t solve this problem.
Tucker argued that the final cost of the 498-bed expansion will be much higher than the $75 million needed to build. Sen. Mark Johnson, R-Little Rock, agreed the expansion is a one-time solution, but said it was needed to help local jails that need to house inmates from state prisons to reduce overcrowding.
“Will 498 new beds at Calico Rock solve this problem? No, but it will help. And more importantly, it will stop us from imposing an unfunded mandate on our counties to deal with state prisoners, people who have already been convicted and who should be in the Department of Corrections,” Johnson said.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the expansion was necessary to reduce the approximately 2,300 state prison inmates being held in county jails while waiting for beds to become available in state prisons. Funding for the expansion must be approved by the State Legislative Council at a later date.
Hutchinson signed into law two bills on Tuesday aimed at increasing funding for law enforcement in the state; one of which includes an increase in the reimbursement rate for county jails housing state prisoners from $32 to $42 a day.
Another bill provides a one-time $5,000 bonus to all city and county law enforcement officers, as well as parole and probation officers, which Hutchinson says will go toward, hopefully a hiring incentive for police departments.
“This includes new recruits who will come on board by January 3. and so that means it’s not just a reward for our law enforcement officers, but it’s a recruiting tool for our counties and cities to attract the best law enforcement,” Hutchinson said. .
Arkansas State Police troopers will receive a one-time $2,000 bonus from the legislation. Hutchinson also signed a bill increasing the starting salary for state troopers from $42,357 to $54,000 a year, making Arkansas second among states in the region in terms of starting salary for the state police.
The legislation, House Bill 1026also provides funds to a grant program to help law enforcement purchase new equipment.
“It is for our cities and counties and our law enforcement officers that we are funding $10 million in grants for body cameras, bulletproof vests and other equipment that will build the confidence of the public. community and professionalism of our law enforcement officers,” Hutchinson said.
The bills stemmed from recommendations made by a task force formed by the governor following the May 2020 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.