Week 2 Of Arkansas House Sees Increase In Bills Considered, More COVID Cases

Jan 21, 2021

Rep. Carol Dalby, R-Texarkana, presented her bill that amends the current Arkansas Specialty Courts Programs to allow intrastate transfers to the House. The bill now heads to the Senate.
Credit Arkansas House

As week two of the Arkansas General Assembly Session wraps up, the rate of bills being considered will begin to increase, according to House leadership. 

Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, said House members have filed 220 pieces of legislation so far, while the state’s senators have filed 168 bills.

This past week, with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and the inauguration of President Joe Biden, the House only met twice, while the Senate met Tuesday through Thursday.

One bill the House is slated to tackle soon is Senate Bill 24, which would establish "Stand Your Ground" legislation in the state. Speaking to reporters Thursday, Shepherd said he has heard "strong support" from some House members for the bill, but there is some concern about the wording of the legislation.

"Members are really looking into those questions that had been raised," Shepherd said, and "trying to satisfy themselves with the answers they’ve received of the language that’s there."

Another responsibility the House will eventually work on this session is redistricting. Shepherd said needed information from the U.S. Census Bureau may not be available until March.

"Reparations are already underway with BLR [Bureau of Legislative Research] as far as, even with I guess GIS [Geographic Information Office], in terms of the software and the other things that we need logistically. But we ultimately are going to need the information from the Census Bureau, and that’s what the latest I was told was it was going to be later in the year before we get that,” Shepherd said.

On Thursday, the House passed several bills on the floor, including one that allows for participants of Arkansas specialty court programs to transfer to a different intrastate program.

COVID-19 IN THE CAPITOL

Despite a few recently diagnosed coronavirus cases in the Arkansas House, Shepherd says there are no plans to adjust how the chamber conducts business, though leadership is continuing to monitor the situation.

Since session began on January 11, three House members have tested positive for COVID-19. Shepherd said they are continuing to speak with public health experts about the situation.

"We don’t want to have any positive cases. I think, unfortunately, in a group of 100 members plus staff, just with what’s going on we recognize that there was the likelihood that there would be some positives, particularly when you consider you’re pulling members from across the state of Arkansas," Shepherd said.

Additionally, Shepherd said he has not been informed of any House members violating the COVID-19 protocols passed late last week.

"From what I’ve been able to observe, I feel like the membership is doing their best to try and comply, to try and wear the mask, maintain social distance as best we can under the circumstances," Shepherd said.

So far, no Arkansas senators have been diagnosed with the virus since session began.