State Capitol Week in Review – September 25, 2021

LITTLE ROCK – The Senate and House Committees on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs are reviewing bills to draw new geographic boundaries for the four Congressional Districts in Arkansas, in preparation for a session of the entire legislature at the end of the month.


At its first meeting the joint committee reviewed three proposed House bills. All three would move Pope County to the Fourth Congressional District, which encompasses most of southern Arkansas.


Pope County has been part of the Third Congressional District of northwest Arkansas.


The population of Northwest Arkansas has grown tremendously since 2011, when the current Congressional Districts were drawn. South Arkansas lost population during the same decade.


Moving Pope County from the Third to the Fourth District is an effort to make the two more equal in population.


At the second meeting of the State Agencies Committees, legislators scheduled a review of three Senate proposals and a fourth House proposal.


The three Senate bills would also move Pope County. They also would divide Pulaski County between two or three separate Congressional Districts. Pulaski County has traditionally been the largest population hub of the Second District of central Arkansas.


Another issue to be decided by state legislators is whether to place Chicot and Desha Counties in the First or the Fourth District. The counties are in the southeast corner of the state, where the White River and the Arkansas River join the Mississippi River.


Farmers in both counties raise row crops such as soybeans, corn, rice, wheat and cotton.


The First District of eastern Arkansas is known for its row crop agriculture. The Fourth District is known for its forests and timber production.


Since 2011 Chicot and Desha Counties have been in the First Congressional District.


The State Agencies Committees will meet a third time before the entire legislature is scheduled to convene on September 29 to approve new maps.


Statewide Broadband Consultant

The state is close to hiring a consultant that will develop a master plan for broadband expansion.


Three state departments will choose from private firms that are bidding on the $4 million contract. They are the Commerce Department, the Finance and Administration Department and the Parks, Heritage and Tourism Department.


Department directors told the Legislative Council that a selection should be ready for lawmakers to review within about a week.


When the question arose about the involvement of Parks and Tourism, one senator noted that the department has land across Arkansas “where there is zero broadband coverage.”


Arkansas has approved $279 million for 132 broadband projects, and the governor announced that he would try to invest an additional $250 million in grants this year for Internet expansion.


The legislature facilitated the process of getting broadband grants when it created the Rural Broadband ID program last year.


Rural Broadband ID grants help local governments pay for data such as due-diligence studies, surveys and maps of available service. That information usually costs more than a small town has available in its annual budget.