Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday signed into law two bills that open the door for a more than $11,000 increase for state police troopers' starting salaries and create a one-time stipend for several thousands of local and state law enforcement officers.
Flanked by Arkansas State Police troopers and other law enforcement personnel in the state Capitol rotunda, Hutchinson said this year's fiscal session, which is set to officially end next week, will be remembered for legislators' commitment to supporting law enforcement.
"I hope that we can all understand and appreciate the fact that there's not been a session of the Legislature in history to my knowledge that has done more for law enforcement than this session of the Legislature," Hutchinson said at the bill signing ceremony for House Bill 1026 and Senate Bill 103.
HB1026, the appropriation for the state Department of Public Safety for fiscal 2023, requires the Division of Arkansas State Police to implement a salary administration grid that would make all certified law enforcement officer classifications eligible for pay increases if additional general revenue funds become available. The increase would be in addition to any cost-of-living or performance-based increases provided in fiscal 2023.
The state's proposed budget for fiscal 2023 increases funding for the Arkansas State Police by $7.4 million, to $78 million.
Hutchinson said the legislation increases the starting salary for state troopers from $42,357 to $54,000, making Arkansas' law enforcement salaries more regionally competitive.
Hutchinson referenced a salary assessment and comparison study conducted by the state Department of Public Safety that ranked Arkansas seventh among 10 Southern states for entry-level state trooper salaries. HB1026 increases Arkansas' position to second among those states, Hutchinson said.
HB1026 also grants spending authority for a public safety equipment grant program as well as for increasing the state's reimbursement to county jails for holding state inmates from $32 to $40 per day.
At the start of the fiscal session, Hutchinson called on lawmakers to transfer $10 million in state surplus funds to the equipment grant program. The governor's spokeswoman said previously that the funding for the grants will come from the $150 million restricted reserve set aside.
The state's budget for fiscal 2023, with both chambers of the General Assembly have approved, transfers $150 million from the general revenue allotment reserve fund to the various improvements and projects set aside in the restricted reserve fund, though the bills don't list any projects.
Legislative leaders say the $150 million in the restricted reserve fund could pay for the grants along with other projects.
Additionally, HB1026 allows the state Crime Laboratory to hire an additional five forensic scientists to increase testing of sexual assault kits and meet the legal turnaround time of 60 days required by Act 839 of 2019.
Under SB103, which was sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, full-time certified city and county law enforcement officers and full-time certified state Department of Corrections probation and parole officers are set to receive a one-time stipend of $5,000. Full-time certified state troopers will receive a one-time stipend of $2,000 in fiscal 2023.
"It's more than just being a stipend. What this is saying is how much we appreciate you all that are in law enforcement, how much we realize that we need you and we thank you for the security you provide," Hickey said.
The funding would come from a $50 million transfer from the general revenue allotment reserve fund, with any leftover funds to be transferred back. The state Department of Finance and Administration has projected the cost of the stipends at $40.46 million in fiscal 2023 based on 7,300 officers receiving $5,000 stipends and 542 eligible officers receiving $20,000 stipends.
Eligible full-time law enforcement officers employed as of July 1, 2022, and officers hired after July 1, 2022, but on or before Jan. 31, 2023, who meet the eligibility requirements are entitled to the one-time stipends, according to the finance department's legislative impact statement on the law.
"That means it's not only a reward for our law enforcement officers, but it is a recruiting tool for our counties and cities in attracting top law enforcement," Hutchinson said.
Arkansas State Police Director Bill Bryant called Tuesday historic and a great day for law enforcement.
"Our greatest problem we face today is recruitment and retention of law enforcement officers, but this legislation here, it will help us solve those problems, not only in Arkansas but nationwide, we face the problem of recruitment and retention," Bryant said.
The two measures emerged from recommendations from Hutchinson's Task Force to Advance the State of Law Enforcement, which formed in 2020 amid protests against police brutality in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. They passed easily in the GOP-controlled Legislature; no member of either chamber voted against either bill.
House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, said the bills' passage "reflects a strong consensus among the House and the Senate across party lines that this was something that was important for our law enforcement officers here."
"There are a number of legislators here from all corners of the state, and we don't pass legislation like this without developing a strong consensus. While Senator Hickey and I are the ones standing right here, we really just carry the message that so many senators and House members have been really demanding over the past couple of months," Shepherd said.
In December 2020, the task force reported that an analysis it had conducted with the state Department of Commerce found that the average wage for law enforcement officers was $40,750 a year, with the average pay for entry-level officers at $28,610 annually. Those fell below the average statewide wage of $42,690 a year in Arkansas, according to the analysis.