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State Capitol Week in Review by Senator Larry Teague
October 1, 2021
LITTLE ROCK – The legislature has reconvened to draw new boundaries for Arkansas’ four congressional districts and to consider responses to federal immunization mandates.
The Senate moved very slowly, due to the long-term importance of the measures and their controversial nature.
When the session began, at least 18 proposed maps of congressional districts had been presented. As lawmakers discussed and worked on the revisions, many more maps were offered that reflect tradeoffs. Much of the discussion revolved around whether or not to divide the counties into two or more separate congressional districts, and which counties would be divided.
The map of the state’s congressional districts will reflect how Arkansas is represented in Washington, DC for the next 10 years.
The Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor had on its agenda a series of bills affecting the rights of individuals when the federal government or their employers demand that they be vaccinated against the Covid virus. 19.
Before the Senate began to discuss the merits of these bills, there was a long and heated debate as to whether it was even appropriate to consider them. The dispute centered on the wording of House Resolution 1015, which the legislature passed in March to allow an extension of the 2021 session.
An extension was needed because the legislature could not draw congressional district maps during the regular session, which ran from January through April. This is because the US Census Bureau had not yet released demographic data.
Rather than adjourn last spring, we passed UNHCR 1015 allowing us to return to Capitol Hill this fall, once the census data is finally ready, to draw new maps of congressional districts.
UNHCR 1015 also allows lawmakers to review “legislation relating to the COVID-19 public health emergency and distribution of COVID-19 relief funds”.
The Senate was almost equally divided over the extent to which UNHCR 1015 allowed the introduction of measures that address our response to the pandemic, but not specifically related to relief funds.
The Lieutenant Governor presides over the Senate, and he ruled that UNHCR 1015 allowed the introduction of the Senate bills in question. The lieutenant governor took into account a precedent set in a state Supreme Court decision in a similar dispute that arose when the legislature went on extended recess in 1979.
To novices, the debate may have resembled a storm in a teapot, so procedural was it. However, senators took it very seriously because the long-term implications are so important.
One of the outcomes is that the legislature will decide how well Arkansas resists federal immunization mandates.
Another outcome of this session is that the legislature will decide to what extent it intends to test the limits of its constitutional power, in relation to the judicial and executive branches of state government.
After the legislature adjourns the extended session, the governor should convene a special session to consider cuts to state income tax.
10-1-21 5:07 p.m. KAWX.ORG