KEEPING DISTANCE: The Senate, with some members seated in galleries, recites the Pledge of Allegiance.

The special session of the General Assembly opened at 1 p.m., with House away from the Capitol and with the coronavinus case toll in Arkansas, the reason for the session, at 335 and rising.

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The Senate video was working when its session began. At 1 p.m. in the Capitol, the House video from the Jack Stephens Center at UA Little Rock was not up and running. Only members, staff and a few reporters are being allowed in the buildings.

The Senate adopted rules allowing proxy voting. Then it met as a committee of the whole to give committee endorsement and allow for passage Friday.


Senate President Pro Tem Jim Hendren explained that the use of surplus can only be used for previously approved appropriations and further allows spending on unanticipated needs created by the crisis.

The original bill allowed the governor and six legislative leaders — House and Senate leaders and the majority and minority leaders of each body — the power to shift money around. Sen. Jimmy Hickey (R-Texarkana) offered an amendment to require the approval of the shifts by the review committee of the Legislative Council, with its broader and more diverse membership, plus the House and Senate leaders.


Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock) supported the HIckey amendment. She said the legislature had ceded too much power to the executive over its fiscal session and the legislature should make funding decisions “to the fullest extent” possible. She urged members to consider the balance of power because things can erode in unprecedented ways. The U.S. Patriot Act is one example, she said, of actions taken in unprecedented circumstances. Sens. Alan Clark and Kim Hammer, too, endorsed the Hickey amendment. Clark said it would better maintain a balance between the legislature and the executive. Hammer said a PEER committee approval would extend the decision to all four corners of the state. Sen. Trent Garner also endorsed the Hickey amendment and, “for the first time,” agreed with Joyce Elliott. He said the original Hendren bill gives him “zero” voice in the process. He said he couldn’t help a constituent who’d call to protect funding of personal interest to him. He said he expected a months-long crisis and many decisions will be made.

Sen. Jonathan Dismang opposed the Hickey amendment. He said he preferred the original bill, comprised entirely of people elected to their positions, with their review committee is appointed by the committee chairs.

Hendren spoke for his amendment. He said the governor expected the legislature to do what leaders told him it would be able to do before he drew up the call of the special session. And he said the House was on board with the original legislation. as Sen. Jason Rapert had indicated potential opposition by giving approval to their version of the Hendren bill without amendment when it met as a committee of the whole.

On a roll call vote, the Hickey amendment was defeated with 13 for and 17 opposed and five not voting.


With that, the Senate endorsed the bill in committee for a vote tomorrow.

The House opened with remarks from Gov. Asa Hutchinson, surrounded by thousands of empty seats. He explained the need to respond to a “historic challenge.”

The House gave quick approval as a committee to the spending bill after little debate while the Senate debated changing those who’d approve moves of money by the governor. It adjourned until 3 p.m. Friday. The Senate later did the same.

THE HOUSE IN SESSION: Members are scattered in the seats.The Senate heard that, without the legislation to use surplus strategically, state agencies would face a calamity. A 5 percent cut is needed in spending but implemented in the last three months of the year, it would be something equivalent to a 25 percent cut in effect.

In the House, in response to a question, Speaker Matthew Shepherd said the full legislature was still required to convene for the fiscal session April 8. But he acknowledged circumstances could change.