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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas Senate President Jim Hendren wipes down the lectern in the Senate chamber at the state Capitol in Little Rock on Friday, March 27, 2020. ( AP/Andrew DeMillo )

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas' governor signed legislation early Saturday creating a $173 million fund he can use to respond to the coronavirus outbreak and to avoid cutting some agencies' budgets because of the pandemic's economic fallout.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson's signature moves the state's surplus into a new covid-19 "Rainy Day Fund" that he can access with the approval of legislative leaders. Hutchinson signed identical bills creating the fund shortly after they were unanimously approved by the House and Senate in a midnight session.

"This is a historic moment in this rotunda in which the General Assembly, both House and Senate, has come together in quick fashion to meet the emergency needs of our state," Hutchinson said before signing the bills.

The votes cap a special session that began Thursday, called by Hutchinson in response to a $353 million shortfall he said the state faced because of the coronavirus.

Arkansas has had at least 386 cases of covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, and three deaths.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Concerns about the coronavirus moved the House from its chamber in the Capitol to a basketball arena, with representatives spaced at least 6 feet from one another in the stands. The Senate met at the Capitol, but restricted the number of members allowed on the floor.


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