January 11, 2016 Edition

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Medical marijuana, tax cuts,
state revenue are among
concerns for legislative session

Fran Cavenaugh visits with Hoxie Mayor Lanny Tinker at a town hall meeting she hosted Thursday evening.

John Bland

With the start of the 91st General Assembly, Frances "Fran" Cavenaugh of Walnut Ridge took the oath of office early Monday afternoon to become state representative for District 60 in the Arkansas legislature. Prior to her swearing in, Cavenaugh, a Republican, held a series of town hall meetings for citizens, as well as firefighters, around the district.

At Thursday evening's town hall meeting at The Studio in Walnut Ridge, approximately 24 people attended, including Hoxie Mayor Lanny Tinker and Walnut Ridge Mayor Charles Snapp.

Mayor Snapp asked Cavenaugh for her thoughts on Gov. Asa Hutchinson's proposal to cut $50 million in taxes for low-income Arkansans.

"I'm all for a tax cut, but I want to know what kind of services will be cut," Cavenaugh said, voicing concern that she would not want to see services cut for children or such things as libraries.

She noted her committee appointments are: education and aging, which includes child welfare and veterans. She is also an alternate on the legislative council, which takes care of legislative business during the years when the legislature is not in session.

Cavenaugh has often stated that the welfare of children and the elderly are two of her special concerns. She presently serves as president of The Children's Shelter in Walnut Ridge.

Cavenaugh said she sees the need for restructuring the foster care system to better serve children in the program. "We need more foster parents, but we don't need people who just want a check," she added.

Cavenaugh said she has learned a lot through her town hall meetings. For instance, she learned that ranchers and cattlemen have expressed the need for a buzzard-hunting season. Killing buzzards is presently illegal, but cattle farmers have told her of their problems with buzzards attacking mother cows during labor and eating them and their newborn calves.

Legislating medical marijuana will likely be one of the most time-consuming topics of the session, she said. In the November election, Arkansas voters passed a state law legalizing medical marijuana, a law that goes against federal law. This makes the law a complicated one, she said. Federal banks, insured by FDIC, aren't supposed to take money from the sale of a federally-illegal drug, so "where are they going to put it," she asked.

With medical marijuana and other issues, Cavenaugh expects the session will extend well past April.

Cavenaugh said that the new state budget does not include General Improvement Funds, so finding alternate ways to assist entities, such as rural fire departments, will be a concern for the legislature.

With the incoming Trump presidency, the state legislature will have to address changes in federal laws and federal programs, she said.

Mayor Tinker brought up the issues surrounding mental health, and Cavenaugh shared that sheriffs in her district have expressed concern about the care of mentally ill prisoners who are incarcerated in their jails. Behavioral health issues, such as these, need to be addressed, she said.

Mayor Snapp told Cavenaugh that the city of Walnut Ridge has missed out on franchise fees and sales tax collections when the state has failed to have record of or received notice of annexed areas into the city. "It's an issue," he said, adding that other towns have likely had similar situations. Snapp suggested that the state should have a better method of keeping track of this.

Another sales tax issue is the concern that with more and more online shoppers, there is a loss of sales taxes that provide state and local revenue, Cavenaugh said. Since there is often no sales tax for online purchases, "we have to find a way to recapture that sales tax," she added.

"We're going to have to figure out a way to capture sales tax dollars for our local communities," she added. "If you shop local, you get more local services."

"No one wants to raise sales tax, but it will have to be addressed with online shopping," she concluded.

Mayor Tinker said he would like to see cities, such as Hoxie, again be able to use non-violent prisoners from the county jail as a money-saving labor source for the city.

"I think it's a good idea to use our prisoners in the county jails," Cavenaugh said, adding that policies are needed to protect sheriffs or cities from excessive liability.

Cavenaugh explained that legislative committees meet in the mornings, and sessions generally begin on the floor of the house at 1:30 p.m. House sessions and committee meetings are 100 percent live-streamed on the Internet.

Much of the preliminary work gets done in the committees, with many potential bills never getting past the committees, she said.

The legislators get much of their work done with the help of the Bureau of Legislative Research, which is a team of attorneys who do research for their potential bills, she said.

Cavenaugh urged her constituents to contact her with their concerns. She can be contacted through the Arkansas House of Representatives website or through her website, francavenaugh.com. She can be emailed at: frances.cavenaugh@arkansashouse.org or followed on Facebook as francavenaughstaterep60. She also has a weekly column that is released on Fridays.

Cavenaugh's District 60, consists of all of Lawrence County and portions of Randolph, Sharp and Greene counties.

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