From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our great nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
From a legislative standpoint, the new year will definitely bring more good news than we got in 2020.
In 2020 the legislature had to convene in special session to address revenue shortfalls caused by the economic disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Unemployment claims had been averaging about 1,500 per week before the pandemic hit. During a two-week period in late March, so many businesses had closed that more than 18,000 people applied for unemployment.
Immediately following the special session, the legislature convened for its regular fiscal session. We adopted a budget for the current fiscal year that is extremely conservative.
During the fiscal session, legislators tackled extremely difficult financial decisions. For example, state revenue officials had reduced their official forecast by $353 million. For perspective, that spending cut came out of a total general revenue budget of $5.5 billion.
Arkansas has managed to recover slightly from the economic impact of the pandemic, so we won’t have to focus all of our attention on budget matters when the legislature convenes in regular session on January 11.
So far, legislators have pre-filed 85 bills. Judging by the bills that have been introduced already, it should be a very interesting session.
A hate crime bill has been filed by one of the conservative leaders of the Senate. If enacted, it would allow prosecutors to ask juries for enhanced sentences if it could be proven that the crime was committed because of the victim’s race, religion or sexual orientation.
At a press conference in the Capitol rotunda last summer, the governor announced his support for the hate crimes bill. Remember, he was first elected to the governor’s office in 2014 because he was the most conservative candidate in the race.
However, several lawmakers have posted on social media that they will oppose any hate crimes bill.
Arkansas is one of four states without a hate crime bill. It’s a debate we need to have, and I sincerely hope that everyone is civil, respectful and thoughtful when the bill comes up for a vote.
Another Senate bill that has been pre-filed would lower taxes for low-income families, by raising the standard deduction and creating an earned income tax credit.
The bill would raise taxes on vaping products and e-cigarettes to make up for the loss of revenue entailed by a tax cut. It’s Senate Bill 2.
A stand your ground bill has been pre-filed. Police and prosecutors oppose it, because they feel it is unnecessary, since people already have the right to defend themselves.
A stand your ground bill allows someone to use deadly force in situations in which they feel threatened by someone else. It is Senate Bill 24.
Under current law, if you’re able to retreat safely from threatening situations, you’re obligated to do so.
A House bill has been pre-filed that would make Arkansas one of the few states where Daylight Savings Time is permanent. In other words, in spring and fall we could not change the clock.
However, for the bill to take effect Congress would have to pass a law allowing states to set their own policies on daylight savings.
From the Capitol, it is always my greatest honor and most sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.