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Legislative session set to pick up momentum

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Senator Larry Teague

By John R. Schirmer

News-Leader staff

After a week of “pomp and circumstance” at the state Capitol, members of the Arkansas Legislature will settle in to something resembling their routine this week, according to Sen. Larry Teague of Nashville.

“The first week is hurry up and wait,” Teague said Monday afternoon. Legislators were sworn in, heard from Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and began some of their committee work before going home Jan. 14.

They passed the General Appropriation Bill, a prerequisite for the remainder of the session.

Lawmakers were off for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday of this week.

Teague returned to Little Rock for a committee meeting Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. He said part of the week will be devoted to working on the state’s budget for the new biennium.

Following the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6 and threats against state capitols leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration today (Jan. 20), lawmakers “are a little uptight about security,” Teague said. 

“It will be interesting to see how it plays out. So far, it’s not a big problem in Arkansas,” Teague said.

Gov. Hutchinson told a national TV audience Sunday that security has been stepped up at the Capitol, as it has across the United States.

Teague says one of the first bills to run this week will be the Stand Your Ground legislation proposed by Sen. Bob Ballinger of Berryville. “I think it will pass by a huge margin,” Teague said.

More committee work is likely this week, according to Teague. “We’ll have some organizational meetings.”

Committee hearings will pick up as the session moves along, with different rules in place because of the coronavirus pandemic. Individuals planning to speak at hearings will be asked to stay in waiting rooms until their turn comes up, Teague said. “It will be awkward” at first.”

More legislation will come before the Senate and House in coming days and weeks. “There are quite a few bills in the hopper,” Teague said. Teague is working on a bill dealing with retirement, and he has an insurance bill to introduce.

“We’ll have enough bills,” he said of the legislators.

With the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Teague and others expect interruptions in the session because of illness among lawmakers. Several members had already tested positive before the Legislature convened; others have had positive tests since opening day.

Teague expects legislators to be home this Thursday and return to Little Rock to resume their work Jan. 25.