Larry Teague

LITTLE ROCK – The legislature reconvened to draw new boundaries for

the four Congressional districts in Arkansas, and to consider

responses to federal vaccination mandates.

The Senate made very slow progress, because of 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 introduced. As lawmakers discussed and worked on

revisions, numerous other maps were proposed that reflect compromises.

Much of the discussion was about whether to split counties into two or

more separate Congressional districts, and which counties would be

split.

The map of the state’s Congressional districts will reflect how

Arkansas is represented in Washington, D.C. 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 require them to be vaccinated

against the Covid-19 virus.

Before the Senate began discussion of the merits of those bills, there

was lengthy and heated debate on whether it was even proper to

consider them. The dispute centered around language in House

Concurrent Resolution 1015, which the legislature adopted in March to

authorize an extension of the 2021 session.

An extension was needed because the legislature could not draw

Congressional district maps during the regular session, which took

place from January through April. That’s because the U.S. Census

Bureau hadn’t released population data yet.

Rather than adjourn last spring, we adopted HCR 1015 allowing us to

return to the Capitol this fall, after the census data was finally

ready, to draw new Congressional district maps.

HCR 1015 also allows the legislature to consider “legislation

related to the COVID-19 public health emergency and distribution of

COVID-19 relief funds.”

The Senate was almost evenly divided over the extent that HCR 1015

allowed the introduction of measures that address our response to the

pandemic, but are not specifically related to relief funds.

The lieutenant governor presides over the Senate, and he ruled that

HCR 1015 allowed the introduction of the Senate bills in question. The

lieutenant governor took into account a precedent set in a state

Supreme Court ruling from a similar dispute that occurred when the

legislature went into extended recess in 1979.

To novices the debate may have looked like a tempest in a teapot,

because so much was about procedure. However, senators took it very

seriously because the long-term implications are so important.

One outcome is that the legislature will decide the extent to which

Arkansas will resist federal vaccination mandates.

Another outcome of this session is that the legislature will decide

how much it intends to test the limits of its constitutional power, in

relation to the judicial and the executive branches of state

government.

After the legislature has adjourned the extended session, the governor

is expected to call a special session to consider reductions in the

state income tax.

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