2021 Arkansas Legislative Session

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.

Arkansas Senate

  

A bill that would require an Arkansas suicide prevention hotline to employ people who have experience working with veterans was passed by a state Senate committee Wednesday.

Under Senate Bill 27, the hotline, which is maintained by the Arkansas Department of Health, "shall ensure that the Suicide Prevention Hotline employs individuals who have experience working with veterans or are veterans." 

Rep. Lanny Fite, seen here in May 2009 when he was Saline County Judge, has become the latest state legislator to test positive for the coronavirus.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Another Arkansas lawmaker has tested positive for the coronavirus. That's the third member of the Legislature to be infected since lawmakers convened this year's session last week.

Rep. Lanny Fite said Wednesday that he tested positive but has not had any symptoms. Fite said he is isolating at home and had already been quarantining since Rep. Milton Nicks tested positive last week. Fite sits next to Nicks in the House chamber.

At least 24 Arkansas lawmakers have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began.

Arkansas Senate

Editor's Note: An earlier version of the story stated that all 27 votes for the bill came from Republicans, when one Democrat did vote for the bill. The story has been edited to reflect that vote. 

A bill that would establish a “Stand Your Ground” law in Arkansas was approved Tuesday by the state Senate and now advances to a House committee.

Senators voted 27-7 to pass the bill, with Republicans and one Democrat making up the 27 yes votes, while one Republican joined Democrats in voting no.

Arkansas House

On a unanimous vote, the House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill that allows participants of an Arkansas county’s specialty court program to transfer to an intrastate program in a different county.

Specialty Courts, also called drug or treatment courts, allow those who are charged with a criminal offense, but also have a history of substance abuse to enter programs that, according to the Arkansas Judiciary’s website, "integrate alcohol and other drug treatment services within justice system case processing," as opposed to entering the criminal justice system.

Arkansas Senate

An effort to establish a "Stand Your Ground'' law in Arkansas passed its first hurdle on Wednesday.

By a vote of 5-2, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance Senate Bill 24, which would add Arkansas to a list of states that already have such statutes. 

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, would remove the "duty to retreat" for someone who is under threat of being harmed. 

Speaking to Arkansas' lawmakers, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the first responsibility should be measures and bills concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.
Governor's Office

 

In his second-to-last State of the State address, and final one in front of a general session, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson outlined his legislative goals which include addressing the current healthcare crisis, hate crimes legislation, teacher pay and supporting state police. 

 

Speaking to members in the House on Tuesday, while the Senate joined digitally, Hutchinson said the legislature’s “first responsibility” should be addressing the current public health emergency brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.  

 

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

On the first day of the 93rd Arkansas General Assembly, the House of Representatives voted to seat all 100 of its members and re-elect its speaker. The Senate formally voted for a new president pro tempore, but amid a worsening coronavirus pandemic, the chamber saw heated debate about whether members should be punished for not wearing face masks.

Sarah Kellogg

Ahead of his final session as the head of Arkansas’ executive branch, Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he believes his office is in a good position to achieve many of his goals for the legislature.

Speaking to reporters on Friday along with Arkansas House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, and incoming Senate President Pro Tempore Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, Hutchinson brought up COVID-19 funding and vaccinations, income tax cuts and raising teacher pay as agenda items he expects would be considered by the legislature in the session set to begin on Monday.

Asa Hutchinson governor
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

An effort to enact a hate crimes law in Arkansas is in jeopardy, despite a push by the state's popular Republican governor and major corporations.

The leader of the state Senate has predicted the measure proposed for the session that begins Monday won't pass, and conservatives are working hard in the majority-GOP Legislature to defeat the bill.

The obstacles threaten what supporters calls Arkansas' best chance in years to end its distinction as one of a handful of states without a hate crimes law.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

While legislators prepare to debate the issues in the 93rd Arkansas General Assembly, a more critical debate is already underway: How to conduct a COVID-19 legislative session at the state capitol?

Unlike the fiscal session earlier this year, legislative leaders are already instituting changes that will keep the session accessible to the public, safe for participants, and within the boundaries of their constitutional duties.

Andrew DeMillo
Sarah Kellogg / KUAR News

With the Arkansas 2021 Legislative Session set to begin in just over a month, state lawmakers have already begun to file bills, effectively giving a preview of some of the issues that will be debated and voted on. 

KUAR News spoke with Andrew DeMillo, Capitol Correspondent for the Little Rock bureau of the Associated Press to discuss the upcoming session and what topics that have already emerged as ones to pay attention to.

KUAR: What do you think are the major topics that the upcoming session is going to address this year?