LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s proposed $87.1 million bond issue for an economic-development project in southern Arkansas sailed through House and Senate committees Tuesday, the opening day of a special session expected to last three days.

LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s proposed $87.1 million bond issue for an economic-development project in southern Arkansas sailed through House and Senate committees Tuesday, the opening day of a special session expected to last three days.

Two other parts of the governor’s agenda, a measure to move the date of the state primary elections and a measure to amend the state’s driving-while-intoxicated law, stalled in Senate committees.

Bond issue

The House and Senate committees on agriculture, forestry and economic development advanced matching bills that would authorize an $87.1 million bond issue to help Lockheed Martin compete for a U.S. Department of Defense contract to assemble 55,000 joint light tactical vehicles, or JLTVs, for the Army and the Marine Corps over 25 years.

House Bill 1003 by Rep. Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, and Senate Bill 6 by Sen. Bobby Pierce, D-Sheridan, are expected to come up for votes in the House and Senate, respectively, Wednesday.

Lockheed Martin is competing for the contract with Oshkosh in Wisconsin and AM General in Indiana. If Lockheed Martin wins the contract, it would assemble the vehicles at the Highland Industrial park just east of Camden in Calhoun County.

The contract is expected to be awarded this summer. If it goes to Lockheed Martin, it is projected to create 589 new jobs and allow 556 existing jobs to be retained.

"We’re not saying we’re in jeopardy of losing any (jobs) right now, but this gives us that assurance for the next 25 years that we’ll continue to keep those jobs in the Camden area," Mike Preston, director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, said during a joint meeting of the House and Senate committees on agriculture, forestry and economic development.

Aaron Burks, director of the Arkansas Development Finance Authority, told the committees the bond issue would have a 10-, 15- or 20-year payback term, depending on market rates at the time. He said the total cost to the state is estimated at $118.6 million if a 10-year term is chosen, $109 million for a 15-year term or $122.4 million for a 20-year term.

Annual payments likely would be between $6.3 million and $7.4 million, he said.

At a news conference Tuesday morning, U.S. Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton, both R-Ark., and U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, joined Hutchinson and state legislative leaders in voicing support for the bond issue.

"We’d all like to be purists, in which there is not any government involvement in high-stakes superprojects, but the fact is we’ve got a competitive environment with other states," Hutchinson said. "Other states in various ways are supporting these superprojects. Arkansas has been on the losing end of many of those competitions, and we want to compete."

Officials with Lockheed Martin also spoke at the news conference and showed off a prototype of the vehicle the company wants to make. Scott Greene, vice president of ground vehicles, said about 1,000 spin-off jobs likely would come to the area in addition to the 589 new jobs at Lockheed Martin.

"We have a lot of other businesses that’ll grow and other teams of businesses that will come into the area," he said.

Primary elections

SB 8 by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, which would move the state primary elections from May 20 to March 1, failed to clear the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The bill failed in a party-line vote in the committee, which has four Democratic members and four Republican members.

Stubblefield told the panel he believed moving the primaries up would allow the state to have a say in the outcomes of the presidential primaries and would make the state attractive to presidential candidates as a place to campaign.

Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, said she was concerned about requiring candidates to campaign, and possibly requiring voters to vote, in bad winter weather. Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, said she doubted that presidential candidates would bother to campaign in Arkansas with Mike Huckabee running for the GOP nomination and Hillary Clinton running for the Democratic nomination.

Stubblefield said later he would consider seeking a Senate vote to pull the bill out of the committee and send it directly to the Senate floor.

The House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee endorsed a similar bill, HB 1006 by Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock. The bill goes to the House.

That committee also advanced HB 1008 by Rep. Charlotte Douglas, R-Alma, which would push back the start of the state’s fiscal legislative session from February to April in order to avoid conflict with the earlier primary if approved. The bill goes to the House.

HB 1002 by Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, which would move the primary elections to March but would delay the change until 2018, failed to clear the committee.

DWI law

SB 4 by Sen. David Johnson, D-Little Rock, which would amend the state’s DWI law, failed to clear the Senate Judiciary Committee in two votes. The bill would declare that DWI is a "strict liability" offense, meaning that criminal intent does not have to be shown for a conviction.

The bill is in response to an Arkansas Supreme Court opinion that said current state law does require criminal intent for a DWI conviction. The governor has said Arkansas risks losing federal highway funding if it does not comply with a federal requirement that a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent be sufficient for a DWI conviction.

Chesterfield and Elliott said they voted against the bill because it would apply not only to driving while drunk but also driving while under the influence of drugs. They said people who might have had a drug slipped into their drink without their knowledge should be able to argue that as an affirmative defense.

Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Benton, the committee’s chairman, said the panel would consider the bill a third time Wednesday.

Agency mergers

Matching House and Senate bills to merge several states agencies cleared the House and Senate committees on state agencies and governmental affairs.

HB 1001 by Rep. David Branscum, R-Marshall, and SB 1 by Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, go to the House and Senate, respectively. They would merge the Department of Rural Services and the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority into the Arkansas Economic Development Commission; merge the Division of Land Survey into the Arkansas Geographical Information Office; and merge the Arkansas Building Authority into the Department of Finance and Administration.


Dale Ellis contributed to this report.