Preview of New Legislative Session

JANUARY 7, 2007 -- POSTED AT 8:00 P.M. CST

REGION 8 -- This week, Arkansas Lawmakers will begin a new legislative session with things such as education, taxes and road improvements as hot topics.

State Senator Jim Luker of Wynne says throughout the state the need for highway improvements are tremendous, but he says he doesn't foresee anything passing.

"To address it, you're talking about more money and in the current atmosphere of high gasoline prices, I don't see a stomach for any kind of fuel tax increase to support a highway program," says Senator Luker.

Another hot item Senator Luker says he hopes to address is our state corrections department. Luker says he wants to see more educational and rehab programs available for inmates while they are serving time.

"If you don't deal with the underlying problems of that nature, you're just housing people for a period of time, turning them out and then just guaranteeing to get them back," says Senator Luker.

This in turn, he feels is part of the reason for our jail overcrowding problem in the state.

Another issue slated with Arkansas Lawmakers is what to do with the $843 million dollar surplus. Incoming State Representative Jerry Brown also from Wynne says as you might imagine, there isn't a shortage of views on how to spend it.

"All the different agencies want to see more people hired, they want to see higher teacher salaries, which I'm really for, but this is going to have to be spent on one time money," says Brown.

Both Senator Luker and Mr. Brown said they predict the surplus being used for improved facilities within the public schools, but once again, they said that's still up for debate. Along with the six-cent grocery tax, something Governor-Elect Mike Beebe based his campaign on. Both legislators said they foresee the tax being changed, but there are still things to discuss.

"I'm a true believer that if we lower the grocery tax, it's got to come out of general revenue. It cannot come out of this extra money that we supposedly have," says Brown.

Lawmakers will meet at the state capitol Monday for swearing in ceremonies. They will begin regular session on Wednesday.