Governor Asa Hutchinson’s address for Feb. 22

I had the honor of signing several important bills this week, including the income-tax reduction, the pay increase for starting teachers, mandatory newborn screening for spinal muscular atrophy, the free-speech legislation for college campuses, and a reduction in fees for concealed-carry licenses.

My 5.9 Tax-Cut Plan passed the Senate and the House with bipartisan support.

It is the third phase of my three-part plan to reform Arkansas's tax code. In Phase One in 2015, I signed the bill that cut taxes for middle-class earners. In Phase Two in 2017, we cut taxes for low-income earners. Those were the two biggest income-tax cuts in the state's history. With the signing of the bill on Tuesday, we have given Arkansas a more competitive tax rate that is being recognized by national publications like the Wall Street Journal.

I also signed the law that increases the minimum pay for starting teachers to $36,000 a year. This law, which became Act 170 when I signed it, reflects the importance of the profession of teaching and our respect for the role of teachers in the lives of our children. The starting salary will be among the highest in our region. It will allow us to retain our homegrown teachers and to attract some of the best and brightest into teaching.

Today, I visited with the British Ambassador to the United States, and he asked how can you lower taxes and raise teacher pay at the same time. Great question. I explained that we manage our budget very carefully in Arkansas, and our economy is growing.

I also signed a bill this week that reduces the fee for a concealed carry license from $100 to $50, and decreases the renewal fee from $50 to $25.

A fourth bill I signed this week protects First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly on college campuses in the state.

The bill requires universities to allow any person or group to speak anywhere on campus and prohibits schools from restricting speech to Free Speech Zones.

For a bill signing on Monday afternoon, several children in wheelchairs attended with their parents. The children all were born with spinal muscular atrophy, or SMA, which is a rare neuromuscular disorder.

When these children were born, there was no treatment for SMA, so doctors didn't screen children for the disease. But in 2016, the Federal Drug Administration approved a drug for treating it. If the treatment is administered before the child shows symptoms, the drug slows the advance of the disorder.

The bill requires infant screening so that those with SMA can begin treatment immediately. The bill also requires insurance companies to pay for the treatment.

After the supporters and children had witnessed the signing, the children in wheelchairs began to chase each other around the long table in the conference room. They made history as the first children to race wheelchairs inside the Governor's Conference Room.

The children didn't know it, but their laughter was like a big thank you to the parents and legislators who guided this bill to my desk. They reminded us that we can make life better for others.

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