The Arkansas General Assembly convened today at noon for the 2020 Fiscal Session with no fanfare or lobbyists in crowding the hallways of the State Capitol building. The socially distanced Senate met in their chamber and the House in the Jack Stephens Center on the UALR campus. Several members of both chambers were not present choosing to vote by proxy while three House members have tested positive for the COVID 19 virus.
Governor Hutchinson delivered his State of the State address in the Senate chamber for the first time. During the recently completed Special Session he addressed the House in the Stephens Center. He emphasized the need for thoughtfulness and efficiency in the face of the virus circumstances. The Exec had presented a balanced budget prior to the Special Session and asked the General Assembly to work with him to find the $205 million dollar cuts required to meet the economic stress of FY21. The Governor espoused the need to expand telemedicine and to review the needs for college student learning options. He praised the Department of Health, especially Dr. Nate Smith, for the extra effort they have put out to lead the state through the COVID 19 challenges.
Upon completion of the Governors remarks the Senate read the bills then adjourned until 10 AM, Wednesday, April 15. The House did the same leaving the Joint Budget Committee as the only committee to meet this week, possibly thru Saturday to prepare the appropriation bills for floor action next week. The idea is to come back, with the bills prepared for floor action along with the Revenue Stabilization Act, spending just three days voting on the bills and be out on Friday, April 17. There will be a few weeks recess to review the bills prior to sine die.
This Fiscal Session sets up to be a truncated version of previous Fiscal Sessions. There were two Senate Resolutions introduced that were aimed at consideration of non-appropriation bills. SR4 was asking consideration to forgo the income tax cuts scheduled for this year and SR 5 is aimed at abortion as an elective surgery during the COVID 19 crisis. SR$ was voted down 5-27, SR 5 had no action taken. Other than that, the normal course of appropriation bill procedure was handled judiciously.