When the 94th General Assembly convenes January 9th, 2023, Arkansans will see a lot of fresh faces at the Capitol — 26 new House members and 13 new Senators. Read on to get informed ahead of the biennial lawmaking extravaganza! 

Public Education and School Choice 

Public Education will likely dominate the session, with teacher pay raises and school choice at the top of the list. We expect Democrat-led bills that increase pay for public educators and staff, hopefully with bipartisan support. Additionally Republican Senate leadership wants to expand school vouchers, or private school tuition subsidization through tax credits. Arkansas’s school choice issue is complicated; many lawmakers who run voucher legislation have ties to school-choice lobby. Some context via our Pay AR Teacher coalition partners at AEA: ​​

“Across the nation, states have implemented and expanded charter schools that are unaccountable to the public and voucher programs that have siphoned off public taxpayer money to pay for private school tuition. This powerful and well-funded effort is nationwide, but one of the biggest contributors is based right here in our state, and each year the network of privatizers working in Arkansas is growing.”

Network of school-choice orgs and their ties to the Arkansas Dept. of Education via AEA

Jail expansion 

Rumor has it the GOP wants to add an additional 3500 beds to our prison system. Right now Arkansas has the 4th highest incarceration rate in America, and the US has a higher incarceration rate than any other democracy in the world. The Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit focused on mass incarceration research, reports Arkansas’s incarceration rate at 942 per 100,000 people. This means we lock up a higher percentage of people than 45 other states. But as our abysmal crime rate demonstrates, Arleg’s obsession with prison expansion isn’t working

Tax Cuts

Will the Assembly try to eliminate income tax? Republican leaders have said as much and so has Governor-elect Sanders. If the GOP-led legislature shies away from full income tax elimination, look for additional tax breaks, especially for top earners. Back in August, members voted to accelerate tax cuts that mostly benefit the wealthiest Arkansans and largest corporations — instead of giving teachers a raise. Some context via Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, which lobbies for a tax system that does right by all Arkansans:

Arkansas has a regressive tax system. Low-income Arkansans have long paid more as a share of their income in state and local taxes compared to the wealthy. Tax cuts to corporations and top earners have made this worse in recent years. A weak state budget threatens the well-being of kids who depend on things like an adequately funded state foster care system, summer reading programs, health care for children and families, pre-K, and a strong public education system.”

Via Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families 

Legislative Power-Grabs + Direct Democracy 

Would it even be the Arkansans General Assembly without a legislatively referred check on direct democracy? The 93rd General Assembly was hot for any and all legislation that limited the power of direct democracy — think minimum wage increase, medical marijuana, and other popular ballot measures that voters love and some lawmakers hate. We expect similar bills to come around this session, mostly because one US Senator is very afraid of primary reform. 

Tom Cotton loves to talk about the dangers of primary reform and the harm ranked choice voting would cause. However Poynter, a nonprofit media institute and newsroom that provides fact-checking, media literacy and journalism ethics training, says Cotton’s take is false. The group says Cotton’s comments misinterpret how ranked choice works. “It is dangerous for democracy when politicians claim a rigged election when they happen to lose,” Poynter says. Ranked choice primary reform was at the heart of 2022’s effort to erase people-driven ballot initiatives; we expect attacks on our constitutionally guaranteed right to the ballot initiative process in 2023, too.