From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our great nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
The legislative session of 2021 began Monday with traditional ceremonies that are almost 200 years old, combined with new technology designed to protect people from the Covid-19 virus.
The Senate has four new members, who were accompanied by their families as they were sworn in by the chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court.
The Secretary of State officially certified the results of the elections and the governor addressed a joint session of the legislature in his State of the State speech.
However, unlike past legislative sessions, the Senate did not walk to the other end of the Capitol building to hear the governor’s speech in person from the floor of the House of Representatives.
Instead, we watched from our seats in the Senate chamber. Each senator’s desk has been surrounded by plexiglass, and each senator wears a face mask when they are in meetings.
New television monitors have been set up throughout the Capitol, so that the public can maintain safe social distancing while they watch legislative activity from the hallways and from public gathering areas.
People who want to voice their opinions on proposed bills can still do so, but they must follow new protocols.
For example, when they enter the building they will have their temperature checked to make sure they are not running a fever.
Judging by the number of people who attended legislative hearings during the first few days of the session, the public will be able to participate as freely as they ever have.
One of the high-profile measures we’ll consider is the governor’s proposal to increase teacher salaries by $2,000 a year.
We’ll also address legislation to equalize teacher pay across Arkansas. Some areas, usually remote rural parts of the state, have had difficulty recruiting teachers because of a lack of funding.
We’ll address controversial measures, such as the proposal known as the “Stand Your Ground” bill.
It removes a provision currently in state law that obligates a person to retreat from a confrontation, if they can safely do so.
Another controversial bill is known as the Hate Crimes bill.
If enacted, it would allow prosecutors to seek enhanced sentences, but only if they could prove that the victim was targeted because of the color of their skin, their religion, their sexual orientation, or their ethnic heritage.
We’ll consider legislation that would restrict the governor’s power to declare a public health emergency.
Some lawmakers are frustrated because the Health Department didn’t seek their opinions before it issued orders restricted public gatherings during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Finally, we’ll continue to build on the progress we’ve made in bringing high-speed Internet to all parts of Arkansas.
It’s an effort that has been compared to the national program that brought electricity to rural America back in the 1930s and 1940s. In today’s world, access to the Internet is critical for schools, hospitals and businesses.
And as we do in every legislative session, we’ll approve budgets for all state agencies, public schools and institutions of higher education.
From the Capitol, it is always my greatest honor and most sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.