Arkansas General Assembly Officially Opens 2017 Session

Jan 9, 2017

The 91st session of the Arkansas General Assembly pledges allegiance to the United States of America.
Credit Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

The Arkansas General Assembly convened for its 91st regular legislative session on Monday at noon. Both the state House and Senate are firmly in the hands of Republicans. Major issues such as tax cuts and implementing the voter-approved medical marijuana program likely will be hashed out nearly entirely within the GOP's supermajority ranks.

UPDATE II: Fourth-term House member Jeremy Gillam, a Republican from Judsonia, was unanimously approved to be Speaker for the second session in a row. After thanking his brother picking up slack on his berry farm during the 6o-plus day session, Gillam referenced President Abraham Lincoln's Team of Rivals to illustrate how he intends to govern.

"Lincoln said he had no right to deprive the country of its strongest minds simply because he disagreed with them," Gillam said. "He was a man who listened to different points of view."

He continued, stressing it can be difficult to overcome grudges.

"You may see a member who successfully defeated your bill two years ago or backed your opponent last fall or maybe one who criticized your legislation on Twitter last week," said Gillam to mild applause and laughter. "Our forward looking focus will sharpen each other as iron sharpens iron."

Gillam pointed to the extension of term limits as an opportunity for a new era of professionalism in the legislature.

"For the first time in over two decades we have an opportunity to maximize the potential of our institutional knowledge. It is our responsibility to apply that knowledge to overcome challenges we face. Our branch of government can once again grow roots of stability. We have an opportunity to lead and we cannot afford to squander it. We must be creative, we must be collaborative, and above all we must be civil."

During his address, Speaker Gillam also noted a historical anniversary. One hundred years ago the state legislature voted to allow women the vote in primary contests. He said Arkansas was trailblazing.

The House has adjourned until Tuesday.

UPDATE I: Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Dan Kemp administered the oath of office to the members of both chambers of the legislature. Speaking in the House, Kemp preceded the oath by reciting the pre-ambles to the U.S. and Arkansas Constitutions. He noted some parallels to consider.

"In each of these preambles, the Constitution is established by the people," said Kemp. "We ought to remember this."

Post as of 12:10 p.m.

The legislature gaveled in replete with a prayer from Rev. Tim Noel of Trinity Baptist Church in Searcy.

"We are one nation under God, which we are so very thankful for," prayed Noel. "As we've prayed so many times in this room, God that everything we do we are able to look back at the end of the day to know that we did everything for your honor."

Noel continued, "We love you, and ask for a good session. We ask these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen."

Judging by the applause for the national anthem performer, Leigh Wing, legislators and those assembled in the public gallery enjoyed the instrumental twist to the tradition.

Both the state House and Senate will meet in a joint session on Tuesday morning to listen to an address by Governor Asa Hutchinson.

Proceedings are ongoing. Check back for updates.