State Capitol Week in Review – March 26, 2021

LITTLE ROCK – The legislature voted to extend the 2021 session until April 30, and then to recess for an extended period rather than to adjourn.


There are several reasons the legislature chose to go into extended recess, rather than adjourn sine die.

The legislature has a duty to redraw the boundaries of the state’s four Congressional districts every 10 years. That will require new population data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau. However, the Covid-19 pandemic caused delays in counting and canvassing. Those delays pushed back until September 30 the expected date when census information becomes available.


Another reason the legislature extended its recess is that Arkansas is going to receive federal relief funds under the new American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress. Initial estimates are that $2.8 billion will be allocated to Arkansas schools, cities, counties and state agencies.


The U.S. Treasury Department will set rules on how those funds may be spent, and those rules are not expected to be finalized before April 30.


When the legislature is in recess, the Senate and House can re-convene at the call of their leadership. If the legislature adjourns sine die it cannot. After adjournment the legislature could only re-convene if the governor called a special session, and in that event the governor also would have the power to limit the issues that could be considered.


During the extended recess, the President Pro Tem of the Senate and the House Speaker may call the legislature back into session for the purpose of completing Congressional redistricting and for distribution of federal Covid relief funds. Another allowed purpose is to consider legislation related to the Covid-19 public health emergency.


Typically, new laws take effect on the 91st day after sine die. This year is far from typical, and under a resolution passed by the legislature new laws will take effect on the 91st day after the April 30 recess.

Some bills have emergency clauses and as always they will take effect as soon as they are signed by the governor.


Fairness in Sports

Both chambers have approved and the governor signed Senate Bill 354, which prevents transgender students from participating in women’s sports. Specifically, it allows students to seek injunctive relief and monetary damages if they are deprived of the opportunity to participate in activities because their school allowed transgender students to compete on the female team.


Postponed tax deadlines

The governor announced that May 17 will be the new deadline for filing individual state income tax returns. The IRS has also made the deadline for filing federal returns May 17.


Traditionally the tax filing deadline is April 15. This year the date was postponed to help people whose medical and financial situations got worse during the pandemic.


Universities Go Back to Classroom

The Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas passed a resolution directing its campuses to prepare for in-person classes and activities in the fall. The system oversees five universities, seven colleges and the state’s major medical school in Little Rock, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.


Arkansas State University at Jonesboro has also decided to return to normal classes in the fall, as has Arkansas Tech University in Russellville.