Arkansas governor touts major accomplishments of first 100 days
Sarah Huckabee Sanders cites “transformative” education overhaul and “tough” felony sentencing changes
Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders marked 100 days in office on April 19, 2023, with a speech in front of the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion and an audience of lawmakers, state officials, political leaders and her father and mother, former Gov. Mike Huckabee and First Lady Janet Huckabee. (Photo by Sonny Albarado/Arkansas Advocate)
With her parents and many Arkansas legislative leaders watching Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders reminded her audience that she “came here to shake things up.”
With a spring breeze fluttering the flags behind her, Sanders spoke from a lectern set up outside the front doors of the Governor’s Mansion to mark her first 100 days in office.
Part of that shakeup came in the form of the Arkansas LEARNS Act, which slid through the Legislature “in record time,” Sanders said, “because we came here to break the status quo.”
The wide-ranging education overhaul legislation went from introduction to Sanders’ signature in three weeks and became effective immediately because of an emergency clause.
“We’re giving teachers the historic pay raise they deserve. And giving Arkansans the right to choose whatever school works best for their families. And we’re making historic investments in early literacy and pre-k and career & technical education,” the governor told the crowd of about 60.
Many educators opposed the law, and critics continue to question its funding and the ultimate impact of its voucher program on public education.
“The change we are bringing to the educational system in Arkansas is transformational and will have an impact for generations to come,” the governor said, noting that the law is “already paying off” because the state recently was able to keep the Marvell-Elaine School District open despite it being on the Department of Education’s consolidation list. That wouldn’t have been possible without the LEARNS Act, she said to applause.
Sanders also highlighted her other big legislative priorities:
- The Social Media Safety Act, which will require social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to verify the age of any new customers and require parental approval for anyone under 18. “As a mom, one of my biggest priorities is protecting our children from predatory social media companies,” Sanders said Wednesday.
- Income taxes: The Legislature passed a two-point cut in the top tax rate for individuals and businesses, reducing state revenue by $150 million. “As long as we have some of the highest taxes in the region, we know people will continue to leave for greener pastures, which is why I’m so proud we were able to continue working on phasing out our income tax,” she said.
- The Natural State Initiative: Sanders described herself as the state’s “chief sales person” when it comes to its number two industry — tourism. She appointed her husband Bryan Sanders to head a new advisory panel to “continue growing our outdoor economy.”
- The PROTECT Act, which lengthens prison sentences for most felons and makes significant changes in the state’s parole system, among other things. “We made landmark changes to our Arkansas justice system, cracking down on the criminals terrorizing our city,” Sanders said.
The changes in sentencing and parole “will be tough,” but “Arkansas justice will be tough and fair,” she said.
Sanders also said she plans to build a 3,000-bed prison “to stem the prison shortage in our state. We will no longer allow inmates to walk free simply because we’re out of space,” she said. About 2,000 state prisoners are being held in county lockups now because of lack of space.
She concluded her remarks by praising the resilience and charity exhibited by Arkansans toward one another after March 31 tornadoes wrecked parts of Little Rock, North Little Rock, Sherwood, Jacksonville, Cabot and Wynne.
“We put all the politics we’d been focused on on the back burner,” she said.
“The road to recovery is going to be a long one. But I saw something so incredible. Something that gave me hope,” she said, describing people who hugged one another, gave the jackets off their backs and opened their doors and hearts to neighbors and strangers.
“It reminded me why Arkansas is such an incredible and special place.”
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