Gov. Asa Hutchinson says potential agenda items for a possible special session of state Legislature will be school safety and tax relief for Arkansans.

Hutchinson met with Legislative leaders on Thursday to discuss the possibility of calling a special session of the Legislature to address school safety and consider giving tax relief to Arkansans faced with rising cost of food and fuel.

He is recommending that part of the state’s projected $1.4 billion surplus be used for increased school safety efforts, possibly in the form of a $50 million grant program, and tax relief.

Hutchinson said he also asked Cheryl May, chair of the Arkansas School Safety Commission and director of the Criminal Justice Institute, to reconvene the School Safety Commission.

Hutchinson said it important that Arkansans understand that Arkansas is not starting school safety efforts because of the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde, Texas where 19 elementary students and two teachers were killed.

The state’s school safety commission was created in 2018 and most of its recommendations have been either adopted or “being worked on,” Hutchinson said.

“I expect this to be a quick review and quick turnaround because the substantive work has been done,” he said. “But I need an update in order to make sure that we address the needs of school safety as any agenda item that might come up in any special session in the future.”

The 19-member commission worked for nine months, resulting in 30 recommendations, according to May.

A number of those recommendations are now state laws.

“Back in 2019 there were a couple of bills that were passed into law. Act 190 increases the amount of time that school counselors should spend with their students… Also, Act 629 allowed school districts to form their own institutional police departments. And during this last session, Acts 551, 620, 622 and 648 were passed that focuses on comprehensive school safety audits, emergency operation plans, lock-down drills, requires youth mental health first aid, and the other set of bills focus on school resource officers and training requirements and memorandum of understanding,” May said. “So, I think we have made a tremendous amount of progress.”

Hutchinson said he hopes the commission when it reconvenes will look at the importance of audits, checks, and recurring training.

“You can have the best laid plans but if there is not the audits, performance indicators, and the actual adoption of good policy then we’re going to have vulnerabilities as you’ve seen in Uvalde,” he said.

Questioned about gun access, Hutchinson said he previously commented there can be an “honest conversation” as to whether AR15 style weapons should be accessed by those who are 18 and whether the age limit should be raised from 18 to 21.

“I’ve said there should be a conversation about that,” he said. “I do think that’s important after what we’ve seen happen in Uvalde but there’s challenges there. California passed a similar law and it was struck down by the Courts as unconstitutional. What we do we have to do smartly and we have to do, working together, and thinking it through as to whether it would make a difference, and whether it is consistent with our Second Amendment liberties. But what we are together on is school safety and that’s our first responsibility.”

The other agenda item is tax relief, according to Hutchinson.

“This is important to consider in this time because the rising cost of fuel and the increasing cost of food are hurting Arkansas families,” he said. “The discussions that we had are based upon the best form of tax relief that we can enact that would help Arkansans.”

A decision has not yet been made as to whether there will be a special session, but “clearly there is a need,” Hutchinson said, adding that if there is one it could be as early as July or August.