House approves steel mill legislation


LITTLE ROCK — Legislation authorizing a package of incentives to bring a $1.1 billion steel mill to Arkansas cleared the House on Monday.

House members approved House Bill 1870 in a 78-17 vote and a matching bill, Senate Bill 820, in a 71-11 vote. The House bill goes to the Senate and the Senate bill goes to the governor.

Big River Steel has said the plant it proposes to build in Mississippi County will employ more than 2,000 workers during construction, and more than 500 permanent workers with pay averaging $70,000 a year. The deal is contingent upon legislative approval of a $125 million bond issue.

The sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Monte Hodges, D-Blytheville, told House members that a vote for the bill was a vote for jobs in Arkansas.

“I think we have a rare opportunity and ought to be pretty thankful that an industry of this magnitude considered coming to Arkansas,” he said.

Speaking against the bill, Rep. Stephen Meeks, R-Greenbrier, said Big River Steel is a new company with no customer base and no financial backing and that China is currently producing “more steel than it can handle.”

“It could end up being a money pit for this state,” he said.

Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, urged members to vote for the bill. He said that if Arkansas says no to the project, other states will tell companies, “Don’t even bother with Arkansas.”

HB 1870 and SB 820 by Sen. David Burnett, D-Osceola, required a simple majority vote to pass. Appropriating money for the project will require separate legislation that will need a three-fourths majority vote in each chamber to pass.

House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, told reporters he expects the appropriation bill to come to the House floor Thursday or Friday.