By John R. Schirmer
“It’s been an interesting session.” That’s how Sen. Larry Teague of Nashville describes the current meeting of the Arkansas Legislature.
The often-contentious session began Jan. 11 and will continue indefinitely. Teague said legislators will stay in Little Rock until April 30 but will not adjourn sine die on that date.
Instead, they will recess until September, when the state’s census numbers will come in.
Then, the Legislature will work on redistricting and apparently will adjourn when that task is completed.
In the current session, “We have members mad at the governor. This has led to factions,” Teague said. In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic has “messed up the process” for committee meetings and other aspects of the General Assembly.
“Normally, a committee will meet in the morning every other day. Now, some meet in the mornings, and the rest meet in the afternoon,” Teague said. “It frustrates me. I’m a creature of habit.”
Committee meetings require the eight members to sit six feet apart, and there is plexiglass between desks, Teague said.
There are “several dynamics in the Senate. Some are mad at the governor. Some are thinking about running for other positions. Everybody is positioning. You can tell by
their votes,” according to Teague.
“There’s an effort to reduce the governor’s money for emergencies. A lot of my colleagues don’t love the governor,” Teague said.
Despite the lack of civility among some legislators, “We’re getting some work done. It’s a little slower. Issue-wise, We got my lottery bill out of the House and will run it in the Senate.”
Under Teague’s bill, the name of anyone who wins $500,000 or more in the lottery would not be released for up to three years.
Teague said he and Rep. Justin Gonzales of Okolona helped the waste management district “with tire issues. We’ve come up with money to get rid of extra tires” at the landfill. There are about 41,000 tires at the facility, Teague said.
Earlier this month, the Legislature passed a bill banning most abortions in Arkansas. “Abortion has run as far as it can go until any court cases,” Teague said.
“Several transgender bills are out there,” Teague said.
When legislators turn their attention to redistricting after the census numbers are released, Teague is concerned about what could happen. “I worry about rural Arkansas when we move into redistricting. When you have a term-limited legislator, the district sometimes gets absorbed.”
Northwest Arkansas likely will gain senators, Teague said.
Teague said he met with Secretary of State John Thurston “and told him what I thought should happen” with redistricting.
Legislation to change the state’s election process could appear in Arkansas as it has in other states,” Teague said. “There’s some voting stuff out there. I don’t know if it will get out of committee.”
Teague recalled the days when legislators would debate policy issues but remained friends and worked for the good of Arkansans. Now, “Everybody is mad at everybody. State government works better when we’re all friends. I’ve said that today’s enemy is tomorrow’s friend.”