By John R. Schirmer
Sen. Larry Teague of Nashville will have a different role when the Arkansas Legislature convenes Tuesday, Jan. 12, at the state Capitol in Little Rock.
Teague will be vice chairman of the Insurance and Commerce Committee. In recent sessions, he had been vice chair of Revenue and Taxation, where he will continue to serve as a member.
Legislators have been pre-filing bills in preparation for the session, according to Teague. He hasn’t looked at the number of filings so far and hasn’t pre-filed.
Teague said Tuesday’s session will largely be devoted to “pomp and circumstance” before lawmakers get down to business the next day.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, there will be changes in the way committees and the legislature itself functions during the session.
Perhaps the biggest change will be “new rules on committees,” Teague said. “There will be a waiting room” before a speaker meets with the committee. After the presentation, the room will be cleared before anyone else enters.
With Covid-19 numbers setting records across the state, Teague considers it likely that some legislators will contract the virus. He says the House and Senate will meet for a while, recess for two or three weeks, then go back.
Members who are sick will be allowed to attend virtually, Teague said. All others are expected to be there in person.
One issue Teague expects to be brought up is limiting Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s power to extend the current virus-related health emergency in the state. Some legislators say the governor “shouldn’t have this much authority over emergencies. He should call us to deal with it,” Teague said. “I’m not going to be in on it,” he said of possible calls for restrictions.
Legislators may be asked to consider hate-crime bills, according to Teague. Senate leader Jim Hickey “doesn’t think a hate-crime bill can pass. Most of our offenders are getting the maximum sentence already.”
Education usually is a major topic for the General Assembly. So far, however, “I haven’t heard much from school administrators” about possible legislation. Most are focused more on dealing with Covid-19, he said.
Legislators may see “a longer session than usual. It’s going to be harder to get stuff out” because of delays brought on by the pandemic. “Some committees have lot to do anyway” without possible recesses and other interruptions.