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The 93rd General Assembly wrapped up its fiscal session this week, and today I’d like to commend legislators for their support of law enforcement in Arkansas.
The 93rd General Assembly was one of the most law enforcement friendly sessions ever. Legislators voted to fund stipends, pay raises, new positions, and equipment. They increased the reimbursement to county jails for the care of state prisoners and allocated money for the expansion of a prison in Calico Rock.
Legislators and leaders of law enforcement joined me at a table in the rotunda as I signed three bills that the General Assembly passed with unanimous bipartisan support.
The new laws were recommendations from a task force which I created during the national unrest that swept the nation after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in the summer of 2020.
At the time, protesters around the country were burning buildings in cities. Many demanded that cities slash spending on police departments or disband them altogether.
When I introduced the task force, I stated clearly that there would be no discussions of diminishing our support of law enforcement. The task force’s mission was to find ways that the state and cities could support law enforcement. I wanted to ensure that officers were as safe on the job as humanly possible. I wanted to improve the relationship between police officers and their communities.
This is why I signed into law 3 bills that support our police officers across the state. Senate Bill 103 grants a one-time stipend of $5,000 to full-time certified city and county law enforcement officers and full-time certified state Department of Corrections probation and parole officers.
The bill gives a one-time stipend of $2,000 to full-time certified state troopers and other certified law enforcement officers of the Department of Public Safety.
Officers who are employed by July 1 of this year, or who are hired by January 3 of next year, are eligible for the stipend. The bonus is a show of appreciation for our current officers, and it’s also a recruiting tool as we seek to hire great officers.
House Bill 1026, which became Act 223, increases the average annual starting salary for state troopers from around $42,000 to $54,000. That raises the salary by more than $11,000. The raise moves us up in the rankings in surrounding states from seventh for starting salaries to second.
Act 223 also funds salaries for five more forensic employees for the Arkansas Crime Lab to accelerate the testing of sexual assault kits, which must be completed within 60 days of submission.
Act 225 includes money to fund a prison construction project at Calico Rock. This is important to assure space for those who are currently backed up in our county jails.
It also provides $10 million for body cameras, bullet-proof vests, and other equipment that will improve safety for officers and build community confidence in their professionalism.
Government has no greater responsibility than to assure public safety. We also owe it to our police officers, who risk their lives every day to keep us safe and to provide cutting-edge training and the best equipment to keep them on the job and safe from their work.
Our support of law enforcement did not begin with the 93rd General Assembly, but we certainly put an exclamation point on our support this year.