From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our great nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
Legislators have already begun pre-filing bills in preparation for the regular session that begins in January.
So far, nine Senate bills and 22 House bills have been filed.
That is a drop in the bucket, compared to the hundreds of bills that traditionally get introduced in a regular legislative session.
For example, in 2019 senators filed 684 separate bills, and members of the House of Representatives filed 986. About two-thirds of those proposed bills were enacted and became law.
The coronavirus pandemic will change how the legislature conducts meetings, but we will make sure the public is able to keep track of bills and participate in the process.
Television monitors are being installed in committee rooms and the Senate chamber. They’re all inter-connected with computer and video links, so that lawmakers and the public can discuss legislation in real time, while maintaining safe social distances.
It will be a completely different session from any that we have experienced. Democracy is based on groups of people getting together and discussing policy ideas.
Because of Covid, we can no longer take it for granted that it’s safe to gather in a room and plan strategy, or hash out our different opinions.
For that reason, legislative leadership is encouraging lawmakers to pre-file as many bills as possible. This will allow the public more time than usual to read bills and voice their opinions, before they come up for a final vote.
E-mails, letters and the telephone are still effective ways to contact your representatives. Nowadays, you don’t even have to visit the Capitol to keep up with legislative activity.
You can live stream all the committee meetings and watch on your computer or your smart phone. That goes for the proceedings of the full Senate and House, as well.
Finding the legislature’s web page is simple. Go to Google, or any other search engine, and type in arkleg.
The Arkansas legislature is the first page that pops up. On that page are tabs you can click to live stream committee hearings.
There are also links to the House and Senate, which have tabs you can click that allow you to live stream the proceedings in both of those chambers.
The upcoming legislative session will be historic because of the changes we’ve implemented in response to the pandemic.
Years from now, after a vaccination is easily available and Covid-19 is under control, the citizens of Arkansas will benefit from the changes we’re making this year.
The public will continue to have access to legislators, and will find it easier than ever to keep up with legislative business. You don’t have to drive to Little Rock, you can watch the session from anywhere that has phone service or the Internet.
I believe young people will welcome the changes, since they do everything on their cell phones anyway.
One of the advantages of live streaming is that you don’t have to watch in real time.
Just as people can set their DVRs to record their favorite TV shows, you can also watch past legislative meetings from previous days and weeks.
In every session we take up a lot of interesting topics – in recent years we’ve worked on gun laws, speed limits, highway construction, teacher pay raises, the death penalty and who is allowed to perform eye surgery.
I’ll keep you informed every step of the way.
From the Capitol, it is always my great honor and sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.