From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
It’s official. The legislature has been called back into session to draw new maps of the state’s four Congressional Districts.
The President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House issued a proclamation reconvening the legislature.
It limits our agenda to 1) Congressional redistricting, 2) legislation concerning the Covid-19 public health emergency, 3) distribution of emergency relief funds and 4) overriding vetoes by the governor, if necessary.
So far, there have been 10 Senate bills filed that would draw new maps of Congressional Districts.
There have been two bills filed dealing with the state’s response to the pandemic. One would allow employees to refuse to answer questions about vaccinations from their employers.
There is a group of lawmakers who want to prohibit the state’s leading poultry producers from requiring that their workers be vaccinated.
Not only in Arkansas but across the country, large meat producing plants are requiring vaccinations, in order to prevent supply chain disruptions. Last year, so many workers fell sick to the coronavirus that some grocery stores had shortages at the meat counter.
Personally, I believe a private business should have the right to impose safety regulations among its staff.
This is especially true in the food industry, because health and safety measures protect not only the company’s employees, but also its customers.
Another Senate bill would change regulations governing unemployment benefits. If someone is terminated for the sole reason that they refuse to be vaccinated, they could claim unemployment benefits.
In terms of claiming unemployment benefits, the bill would give the refusal to be vaccinated the same legal status as personal emergencies, pregnancies, illness and injury.
I expect a vigorous exchange of opinions about these two bills, because of the financial impact they would have on business.
In addition to the 10 Senate bills that draw new Congressional District boundaries, there are eight House bills.
The legislature’s duty is to choose one map, out of the 18 that have been proposed. Changes in population will be one of our criteria for choosing a new Congressional map.
Arkansas now has more than 3 million citizens. That means each of the four Congressional districts should have about 750,000 people.
As much as possible, we will try to avoid dividing counties. Ten years ago Sebastian County was divided between two Congressional Districts, and its civic and business leadership is pushing hard for the county to be made whole.
Arkansas is the only Southern state that has never elected an African-American to Congress.
With that in mind, some of my colleagues in the legislature have proposed a map that would combine Pulaski County, Jefferson County and the Delta of eastern Arkansas.
Although it would not be an absolute guarantee that an African-American candidate would get elected, it would certainly give African-Americans greater influence when Congress votes on matters of public policy.
We’ll also try to keep intact communities of interest such as counties where row crops are raised, counties where timber is the main product, and cities.
There may be political controversies, but overall, it will be a valuable lesson in representative democracy.
From the Capitol, it is always my great honor and sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.