Senate President, House Speaker Discuss RFRA And Session Finale

Apr 6, 2015

Arkansas Senate President Jonathan Dismang and House Speaker Jeremy Gillam on this week's edition of Talk Business & Politics.
Credit Talk Business & Politics

Senate President Jonathan Dismang and Speaker of the House Jeremy Gillam said they are satisfied with the outcome of the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that nearly derailed the regular legislative session in the last full week.

Appearing jointly on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, which airs Monday evening at 6:06 on KUAR, Dismang, R-Searcy, and Gillam, R-Judsonia, indicated that interim work on the issue may occur. Dismang was asked what else the state might do to send a signal to the business community and general public that the state is not discriminatory, is open for business, and wants diversity in the workforce.

"I think we look at that in the interim to see if there’s legislation that needs to be drafted or passed. And really just see where the support of the body is at this point,” said the Senate leader. “I think we took Step A, which was re-establishing what we were trying to do with RFRA and making sure we didn’t inject language that could be utilized to do something like that, and again, we’ll take a look at Step B when we’re ready.”

Gillam said the debate truly ignited after Gov. Asa Hutchinson shifted his position on the amended RFRA bill after national media scrutiny and state business interests – including Wal-Mart and Acxiom – weighed in.

“For the House, the governor signaling that he was going to have a change in direction was probably the tipping point for us,” Gillam said, although he suggested that various pressure points, including protests from the LGBT community, also had an effect.

“It’s probably going to be different for most everybody involved in the process,” he added.

The final outcome clearly satisfied a strong majority of legislators even if there remains a divide between special interest groups that rallied for and against the measure.

“I think ultimately we got the result that we should have. We have something proven, tested and inside with the federal language being injected here in Arkansas law. And I think ultimately, again, we are where we need to be and I think it worked itself out,” said Dismang.

On other topics, Speaker Gillam said he thinks one of the most significant results of the 90th General Assembly regular session will be workforce education and training reforms.

“I think it’s going to be something that a year from now people will really start to see the dynamics change on,” said Gillam.

For Dismang, prison and parole reforms may have the largest impact. He noted new funding to ease overcrowding, utilizing out-of-state facilities, and developing regional prisons as examples.

“I don’t think we’ve gotten to where we truly need to be on that,” said Dismang, “[but] I think those are steps in the right direction and probably something significant and something you’ll be able to point to in the future.”

Speaker Gillam revealed on Thursday night after the session’s recess that he will seek a second term as House leader after encouragement from members. He also said he wants Dismang to serve as Senate President in the 2017 regular session. “I’m going to encourage him,” said Gillam. Dismang’s response to the question when asked more than once: “That’s a conversation for a future date,” he said. Watch the full interview below.