Special COVID-19 legislative session kicks off

Bill to create COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund; session continues Friday

Special COVID-19 legislative session kicks off
Arkansas state House members spent Thursday at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock as part of a special session dealing with COVID-19. (Source: KARK-TV)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KAIT) - Lawmakers headed to Little Rock Thursday for a special session to deal with a $353.1 million shortfall in the state budget in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak. Debate continues Friday on the issue.

According to content partner KARK, the state House met at Jack Stephens Center at the UA-Little Rock campus while state Senators met at the Capitol.

In discussing the session, House Speaker Matthew Shepherd (R-El Dorado) told lawmakers that the special session would provide key needs of Arkansans.

“I think you’ve all seen that in the world that we’re in right now and the needs that we have at the state level does need to change, if not day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, so that’s one of the reasons why the structure is proposed again I’d like to think of it,” Shepherd said.

The two locations were selected due to social distancing concerns, officials said in announcing the special session. The lawmakers took up House Bill 1001 and Senate Bill 2 Thursday.

The identical bills would put $173.6 million from the state’s General Revenue Allotment Revenue Fund to the COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund to cover revenue reductions and “to address needs created by the COVID-19 crises”.

According to the bills, any funding that is left over as of June 30, 2020 would be transferred back to the General Revenue Allotment Revenue Fund.

Also, any release of funding from the COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund shall require prior approval of six legislative leaders - Shepherd, House Majority Leader Marcus Richmond (R-Harvey), House Minority Leader Fred Love (D-Little Rock, Senate President Pro Tempore Jim Hendren (R-Gravette), Senate Majority Leader Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) and Senate Minority Leader Keith Ingram (D-West Memphis).

Both House and Senate members will meet at 3 p.m. Friday in Little Rock to vote on the bills.

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