The coronavirus special legislative session opens at 1 p.m. today and it will be historic in several obvious respects.
For one, the public will not be allowed to attend, except by watching video provided with the help of public television.
The Senate will meet at the Capitol. Proxy voting by some members is expected. Those in attendance will be spaced. No one will be admitted to the Capitol except legislators and staff. The special keycard access that had been provided legislators and insider lobbyists will not be allowed, a spokesman for the secretary of state said. The Senate has said some limited access to reporters will be allowed.
The House will meet at the Jack Stephens Center at UA Little Rock. Proxy voting is expected in that body as well. A House notice said:
Entrance will be limited to House Members, staff, and members of the press. Please have your media ID available and ready to show at the main entrance of the building.
All Members and press will be screened by medical professionals prior to entering the building. Any person that does not pass the screening will be denied admittance. We anticipate each screening to take two minutes. Please allow ample time to be screened and seated before session begins. Members of the media can be screened from 10am to 11am or after 12:30pm.
Designated seating for media will be provided. Seats will be marked indicating 6 feet of separation. Cameras will be allowed in the designated media sections only. Audio connections will be provided in a separate location. Please allow additional time for staff to assist with audio connections if needed.
We ask that at all times members and press adhere to recommended social distancing guidelines of 6 feet or more.
Streaming of the proceedings will be provided with the assistance of Arkansas Public Broadcasting. The link for the proceedings will be posted at www.arkansashouse.org and all Arkansas House social media Thursday morning.
Here’s an updated version of the bill filed to create a special fund into which $173 million in reserve will be funneled to shore up about half of the expected budget cuts required by a delay in income tax filing and the expected sharp drop in tax revenue on account of the sudden economic slowdown. As written, it gives the governor control, with approval from a handful of legislative leaders, to move money around as needed.
Questions about specifics remain, particularly in budget cuts for such critical areas as public schools and UAMS.
The public school fund will take a $122 million hit. The Hutchinson administration has said that it will be recouped from a surplus in the fund to which a sales tax is dedicated to education “adequacy.” It might interest you to know that the fund ran up a $286 million balance at the end of fiscal 2019. I’m still trying to find out how much was spent in education, which has lagged in state support this year and was slated for essentially flat support next year, even before coronavirus.
The governor has noted this money shifting will continue until and unless a court finds fault with it. interesting point. The Arkansas Supreme Court jurisprudence has long been that the Constitution means precisely what it says and no more. Among the things it spells out is appropriation authority for the legislature, not the governor and not the governor and a group of hand-picked legislators.
These are difficult times. Emergency orders at the city, county, state and national levels are all testing the normal order of governance. To date, there’s been some griping about this or that ordinance, but people are largely pulling together behind what’s been directed. But what if a lawyer in the mold of “originalists” like Gorsuch, Alito, Thomas, Scalia and their ilk on the Arkansas Supreme Court sued over some of the specifics of these orders? I think we’d get a test of the sincerity of the originalists faced with the alternative of interpretations tailored to changing times.
But, down this path of an ultrapowerful executive lies some historic examples of gruesome consequences.