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story.lead_photo.caption Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, is shown in this file photo. ( Democrat-Gazette file photo / Staton Breidenthal)

State Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, is the first state senator in Arkansas to test positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic hit the state in March.

In the spring, three state representatives announced that they had tested positive for covid-19.

Rapert, also diagnosed with pneumonia, is in the hospital and is responding well to treatment, the state Senate information office said Thursday in a news release.

"This is a difficult time for my family, but we know that God is with us always," Rapert said in the news release. "We're sincerely grateful for the many prayers of love and support that have been expressed on our behalf.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

"We have all been doing our best to wear a mask, social distance and be careful like everyone else," he said. "This virus is serious and can attack anyone regardless of age or general health."

Rapert, 48, is a self-described fiscal and social conservative who has served in the Senate since 2011 and is the only announced candidate for lieutenant governor in 2022. He chairs the Senate Insurance and Commerce Committee and is a co-chairman of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee.

He is chairman and chief executive officer of American Association of Health Share Ministries Inc.; president of Providence Financial Group Inc.; and founder and president of Holy Ghost Ministries, according to his Facebook page. He has formed the nonprofit National Association of Christian Lawmakers. That group is scheduled to hold its charter meeting Aug. 4-5 in Florida.

Rapert said he looks forward "to a full recovery because my caregivers and the medical staff have been taking very good care of me.

"Please join me in prayer for all those afflicted with this illness, their families and all those caring for them," he said in the news release.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, said Rapert informed him Thursday morning of his medical situation.

"I have asked and continue to ask all the members to let me know because it is important for all of us to know if any of our colleagues are infected, so that we can begin the contact tracing," he said in an interview. "This morning, as soon as I found out, we notified the rest of the Senate and the staff to let them know, so they could support Jason through this, but also to let them know if they've had close contact with him they might want to consider quarantine and/or testing.

"Fortunately, it doesn't seem like that many have because Senator Rapert hasn't been down to the Capitol in a couple of weeks," Hendren said.

He said Rapert is the first senator to test positive for covid-19.

"I've had a couple members have to be on quarantine for different reasons, but he's the first positive test," Hendren said. "It just highlights the importance of trying to conduct our business safely because you just never know when we are in the midst of somebody who isn't aware they have it and could be spreading it, so I'm glad to see masks and all the measures that we are taking here and hopefully will continue to follow and keep each other safe."

He said Rapert is doing well.

"There's no question that it hit him hard but he's getting great treatment, and we're hopeful he will recover soon," Hendren said.

Senate Democratic leader Keith Ingram of West Memphis said "even though I am sure that Senator Rapert took every precaution he could, we are all vulnerable."

Three representatives -- Pine Bluff Democrat Vivian Flowers, Marianna Democrat Reginald Murdock and Hot Springs Republican Les Warren -- announced that they tested positive for the coronavirus before the fiscal legislative session started on April 8. They have recovered.

The Arkansas Legislature consists of 35 senators and 99 representatives at the moment. The House has a vacancy because of the June 30 resignation of Rep. Chris Richey, D-Helena-West Helena, who moved out of his district to become chief executive officer of the Saline County Boys and Girls Clubs.

Asked if he was surprised that it took more than four months for the first state senator to test positive for covid-19 since the first positive test in Arkansas, Ingram said, "you look around and Mississippi had almost a quarter of their Legislature that was infected after their session.

"I think this really goes to show that we are going to have to really begin to think and plan for the regular session in January because that's going to be so different than the fiscal session," he said.

"We are going to have to look at things very different in how committees meet and how we can get public input. We are dealing with policy instead of fiscal numbers, [and] policy .... receives so much more comment, so I think this really points out we are really going to have to look hard at how we are going to handle things in January because this is not going away, and we will be dealing with it next year."

House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, said everything changes day to day.

He said he has asked the House staff to begin preliminary planning and lay out possible options for the 2021 regular legislative session.

In this year's fiscal session in April amid the covid-19 pandemic, the Legislature met for 17 days in the shortest fiscal session since the state started holding fiscal sessions in 2010. The Legislature also met in a three-day special session in late March to create the covid-19 rainy-day fund.

The state House of Representatives convened in the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Jack Stephens Center in the special session and fiscal session, while the Senate convened in its chambers. Lawmakers in both places practiced social distancing.

Information for this article was contributed by John Moritz of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Print Headline: State senator battles covid-19

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