From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our great nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
A resolution approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives calls for the legislative session to end on April 30.
However, we are not officially adjourning on April 30. Instead, we will go into an extended recess.
That allows us to re-convene later in the year, in order to redraw new boundaries for Congressional districts.
Ordinarily, redistricting is done during the legislative session. Every 10 years, we take population data from the U.S. Census Bureau and draw new maps of the four Congressional districts in Arkansas.
However, the Census Bureau is way behind schedule this year. We don’t expect to receive any population data until September 30.
Once we get that information, it will take a few weeks to draw up new geographic boundaries. The important thing is that all four Congressional districts must have the same number of people as we can make them.
We follow the guiding principle of “one man one vote,” a legal precedent that has been reaffirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. If you live in a district with half a million people, you have comparatively more influence than someone who lives in a district with a million people.
Another tradition that we try to maintain is that no counties should be split between two Congressional districts.
When the Census data is ready, the boundaries of state legislative districts will also be redrawn.
However, legislators don’t do that. The Board of Apportionment, which consists of the governor, the attorney general and the secretary of state, will draw new legislative boundaries.
Currently, I represent the Senate district that includes parts of Lee and St. Francis Counties. Senator Ronald Caldwell represents the western portions of those counties.
I also represent a section of northern Phillips County, and Senator Stephanie Flowers represents the southern and western portions of the county.
The boundaries of all our Senate districts are going to change, but we have no way of knowing how they’ll be drawn until we get up-to-date Census data later this year.
The extended recess also gives legislators time to allocate federal emergency funding the state is to receive under the American Rescue Plan.
Arkansas is expecting an estimated $2.8 billion from the federal stimulus package known as the American Rescue Plan.
Some of those emergency funds will go to schools and some to cities and counties. The state will get about $1.65 billion.
Those funds can be spent in various ways, such as to help businesses that have suffered because of the pandemic.
The money can be used to expand access to child care and to supplement unemployment insurance. It will be used to safely re-open schools and to eliminate disparities in access to medical care.
And of course it can be spent on vaccination campaigns, and other health-related programs designed to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
Last year we learned how important it is to target emergency funds, and now we’re seeing the benefits. Health officials are reporting fewer cases and fewer deaths.
We’ve proven that when we work together we can defeat the coronavirus. Now is not the time to let down our guard.
From the Capitol, it is always my greatest honor and most sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.