By Associated Press - Monday, January 9, 2017

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Latest on the Arkansas Legislature convening its 2017 session (all times local):

3:15 p.m.

Three Arkansas lawmakers who defected from the Democratic Party to the GOP over the past two years will be leading top committees in the House this year.

House Speaker Jeremy Gillam on Monday announced who will chair his chamber’s committees in the 91st General Assembly. Rep. Joe Jett will chair Revenue and Taxation, Rep. Jeff Wardlaw will chair Public Health and Rep. Mike Holcomb will chair Public Transportation.

Jett and Wardlaw both left the Democratic Party last year after the GOP expanded its majorities in both chambers. Holcomb switched parties in August 2015.

Gillam told reporters that the chairmanships were not offered to the lawmakers in exchange for their party switches. He noted that Holcomb had previously been the transportation panel’s vice chairman and that Jett had been the tax committee’s chairman as a Democrat.

Rep. David Hillman, who left the Democratic Party for the Republican Party last year, was named vice chairman of the Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development Committee.


1:05 p.m.

Senate President Jonathan Dismang is urging his colleagues to be models of civility as they take up a growing list of challenging and potentially divisive issues in this year’s legislative session.

Dismang, a Republican from Beebe, was sworn into a second term as the 35-member chamber’s leader as lawmakers convened Monday for the 91st General Assembly.

Dismang shied away from addressing some of the topics facing lawmakers this session, including dueling tax cut plans and a push for new abortion restrictions. He said he wanted senators to find ways to work together and be examples.


12:55 p.m.

Members of the Arkansas House have re-elected Rep. Jeremy Gillam of Judsonia as their leader.

In thanking members for their 99-0 vote, the Speaker of the House said the 91st General Assembly was poised to “embark on a journey that will move the state forward.”

The Republican called for civility in today’s political climate, and noted that President Abraham Lincoln had put people from opposing parties into key posts in the government. Gillam also said that some of the greatest decisions made by governments weren’t unanimous.

Gillam also thanked voters for allowing legislators to serve longer terms in office. He said the legislative branch can now “once again grow roots of stability.”


12:05 p.m.

Arkansas lawmakers have begun this year’s legislative session, facing a division over tax cuts and questions about how to start the state’s medical marijuana program.

The House and Senate convened on Monday for the start of the 91st General Assembly. Gov. Asa Hutchinson is scheduled to address a joint session of the Legislature on Tuesday.

The session begins months after Republicans expanded their majorities in both chambers of the Legislature in the November election and through the defection of three Democratic lawmakers. Republicans hold 26 of the 35 seats in the Senate and 76 of the 100 seats in the House.

Hutchinson has called on lawmakers to approve a $50 million tax cut for low-income residents, but some fellow Republicans are pushing for deeper cuts that would take effect more quickly.


6 a.m.

Arkansas lawmakers are set to return to the Capitol for this year’s legislative session, with dueling tax cut proposals and efforts to launch the state’s medical marijuana program dominating the agenda.

The House and Senate are set to convene Monday for the 91st General Assembly. Gov. Asa Hutchinson plans to address a joint session of the Legislature on Tuesday.

Hutchinson has called for a $50 million income tax cut for low-income residents, but has faced pushback from some fellow Republicans who want to see a deeper cut that will take effect more quickly. The Legislature is also expected to take up legislation implementing the constitutional amendment voters approved last year legalizing medical marijuana.

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