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STATE CAPITOL BRIEFS: Legislative-session timeline approved | Panel supports billon employer relief | Fort Smith's Pitsch to lead committee

by Michael R. Wickline | February 23, 2021 at 3:01 a.m.
FILE — The state Capitol is shown in this file photo.

Legislative-session timeline approved

The regular session of the 93rd General Assembly will recess April 9 and end at noon May 3, under House Concurrent Resolution 1008 that was adopted by the House on Feb. 4 and Monday by the Senate.

When the Legislature is in recess, Gov. Asa Hutchinson will have five days to act on bills. Being in recess means lawmakers can return to the Capitol if necessary to correct errors in legislation, override vetoes and work on proposed constitutional amendments.

The dates of the recess and the end of the session can be adjusted as necessary.

Panel supports billon employer relief

An Arkansas Senate committee Monday endorsed a bill that would allow the director of the Division of Workforce Services to not charge employers for paid unemployment benefits claimed, starting the week ending April 4, 2020, under certain circumstances.

Under House Bill 1212 by Rep. Jack Ladyman, R-Jonesboro, the division's director would not charge employers for the payment of benefits resulting from the governor declaring a disaster emergency under the Arkansas Emergency Services Act of 1974 or from a disaster resulting in a state or federal disaster declaration.

In exercising discretion to not charge employer accounts, the Workforce Services director "shall act in a uniform manner with respect to all charges to employers for benefits" resulting from the aforementioned situations. An amended version of the bill cleared the Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor.

Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, who is the Senate sponsor of HB1212, said the bill is a response to concerns raised by small businesses, such as barbers, hair salons and restaurants, that were ordered by government to shut down and "their unemployment ... skyrocketed during that second quarter of 2020."

"Clearly, that second quarter impacted what they will be paying [in unemployment insurance rates] in 2021 and the only way that we can adjust that is by passing this legislation, so that those small businesses that the government ordered to close, that those second quarter unemployment numbers would not be counted against them for their 2021 rates for this year," she said.

-- Michael R. Wickline

Fort Smith's Pitsch to lead committee

Senate President Pro Tempore Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, appointed Sen. Mat Pitsch, R-Fort Smith, as the new chairman of the Senate Insurance and Commerce Committee on Monday.

The committee's former chairman, Sen. Jim Hendren of Sulphur Springs, announced Thursday his departure from the Republican Party to serve as an independent not affiliated with any political party. He cited the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as the "final straw."

Hendren surrendered the committee chairmanship because the Senate's rules require the chairmen to be members of the majority party, Hickey said. The committee had four Republicans, three Democrats and Hendren.

Hickey said the Senate's rules require at least five members of each eight-member committee to be members of the majority party, so Hendren also left the Insurance and Commerce Committee. Hendren will be replaced by Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton.

Hendren will take Hammer's former seat on the Senate City, County and Local Affairs Committee.

Hendren said he knew there would be consequences for leaving the majority party and he has experience serving in the minority party. The Senate is now comprised of 27 Republicans, seven Democrats and an independent.

-- Michael R. Wickline

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