From the eerily quiet hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
The legislature will meet in fiscal session, but we are taking extraordinary precautions to protect ourselves, our staff and our families from the coronavirus.
As lawmakers, we are very aware that public gatherings of more than 10 people have been prohibited. Schools are closed for the remainder of the year, and restaurants and casinos are closed until further notice.
However, it is absolutely essential that we meet in fiscal session, in order to approve state agency budgets. If we don’t, state government will not have the authority to spend any money after June 30.
That would be potentially catastrophic for our efforts to contain the coronavirus.
Physicians, nurses, medical technicians and health providers depend in large part on protective equipment acquired by the Arkansas Health Department and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
Each week, the Workforce Services Department is processing about 30,000 claims for unemployment insurance. Laid off workers need those benefits to continue beyond June 30.
Food stamp cards will still need to be loaded. Nursing homes will still have to be reimbursed by Medicaid.
State prisons will need revenue to operate. Purely from the standpoint of public safety, we cannot afford to stop paying state troopers and parole officers at the end of June.
So when we meet in fiscal session, we intend to set an example. We will undergo necessary inconveniences, such as wearing masks and staying at least six feet away from each other.
To tell you the truth, I wish we could get by without it. But it’s written in the Constitution that we must hold a fiscal session, in order for state government to pay for essential services.
Now more than ever, the citizens of Arkansas need those services.
From the Capitol, it is always my greatest honor and most sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.