Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Monday that he has not spoken to President-elect Donald Trump and doesn’t know when Trump will decide if two Arkansas elected officials will be part of his administration.
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge have met with Trump in his New York City offices to discuss positions in his administration. If Cotton or Rutledge were to accept a job, Hutchinson would select a replacement until the next election could be held in 2018, with the replacement ineligible to run for that office.
Hutchinson said in a press conference Monday that he would react to Trump’s decisions.
“I don’t know how that develops, and I think it would be presumptuous for me to get ahead of that, so we’ll wait and see what any announcements are this week, and if we have to make any decisions after that, we’ll do so,” he said.
In other business, Hutchinson said the Legislature must consider appropriate fees and taxes for medical marijuana users after voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing the drug’s use Nov. 8.
Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, said last week he is considering filing a bill to direct some of the revenue derived from the sale of medical marijuana to a fund to pay for an income tax cut.
Hutchinson said his administration is focusing on the regulatory process and on naming, along with the speaker of the House and Senate president pro tempore, the five-member Medical Marijuana Commission. It will create a process for licensing dispensaries and cultivation facilities. He said he expects appointments to be made within the next two or three weeks.
Hutchinson has already asked the Legislature to transfer $3 million in rainy day funds to pay for initial costs.
As for taxes and fees on users, he said he is open to legislators’ ideas. “First of all, I want to make sure the general revenue’s made whole and we don’t start losing money on it,” he said. “I don’t want to subsidize our marijuana program by taking funds away from education and other needs of this state.”
Hutchinson said enforcement of medical marijuana laws is still open to question based on how the Trump administration chooses to enforce the law. In response to a reporter’s question, he said he was not ready to answer if medical marijuana card owners should buy firearms.
In other business, Hutchinson was asked what he would say to the state’s congressional delegation if the Affordable Care Act, which created Obamacare, were repealed. The Affordable Care Act funds the private option, the program that uses federal Medicaid dollars to purchase private health insurance for 324,000 lower-income Arkansans. Hutchinson seeks to continue that program under a new name, “Arkansas Works.” His response was, “Give us plenty of time in transition.” He said he has always asked for states to be given a block grant to manage the Medicaid population.
Hutchinson also announced that he will present to the Legislature a plan to reduce the state’s Criminal Detention Facility Review Committees from 28 to 8 and the total number of members from 144 to 40. The committees are composed of trained volunteers who inspect city and county jails to ensure they comply with state-mandated minimum standards. Hutchinson said having so many committees is cumbersome, that some committees in rural areas spend little time inspecting facilities, and that reducing the number would allow the remaining committee members to improve their skills.
Afterwards, the governor’s spokesman, J.R. Davis, said much of the rest of the governor’s package will be rolled out in December.
“There’ll be several more mergers and then again, more reforms to the boards and commissions, doing away with some, consolidating others, but we’ll have more clarity in the middle of (December),” he said.
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