From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
The legislature is close to ending the extended session, after drawing new boundaries for the four Congressional districts in Arkansas. It appears that we’ll formally finish our business on Friday, unless something unexpected comes up.
In addition, the legislature has created exemptions for workers who refuse vaccinations against Covid-19, even if they work at a company where the policy is for all personnel to be vaccinated.
Both the redistricting and vaccination bills were highly controversial.
The new map for Congressional Districts will keep eastern Arkansas in the First Congressional District. Also, the counties in the Delta will remain intact.
But Pulaski County and Sebastian County will be divided among separate Congressional Districts.
In Pulaski County, African-American neighborhoods in Little Rock and North Little Rock are being split among three separate districts.
That diminishes their voting rights, and it virtually guarantees a legal challenge in federal court.
The vaccination exemptions were opposed by the business community, because they are a government intrusion into private enterprise.
For one thing, it applies to every business in Arkansas, no matter how small.
That means, if you operate a small mom-and-pop business you could not require your employees to get vaccinated, even if you have a chronic health condition such as emphysema or COPD that makes it critically important that you protect yourself from the Covid virus.
Employees who are exempted still would have to undergo regular testing for Covid. However, it is expensive and cumbersome to test employees every week, and it is not clear who will end up footing the bill.
People who have contracted the virus have those antibodies in their bloodstream. They can be tested twice a year to get an exemption from workplace vaccination requirements.
One of the reasons I opposed the bill is that it will increase the cost of doing business, because it makes workers eligible for unemployment benefits if they are terminated for refusing to be vaccinated.
Premiums for unemployment insurance are paid by employers, and they go up when workers file claims for benefits.
The bill takes effect in 90 days, because attempts to pass an emergency clause failed.
On Friday, the House probably will consider a Senate bill to create a right of privacy that prohibits employers, even hospitals and health clinics, from asking about an employee’s vaccination status.
Hopefully, it will be the final bill to be considered during this extended session.
I’ll be sure to keep you updated.
From the Capitol, it is always my great honor and sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.