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Return of Arkansas lawmakers on tap for redistricting

Sept. 29 is start; remapping bills urged by Michael R. Wickline | September 8, 2021 at 6:58 a.m.
'I Voted' stickers are shown in this file photo. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo)

Legislative leaders said they expect to call the state House of Representatives and Senate back into the extended regular session, starting Sept. 29, to consider legislation to redraw the state's four congressional district boundaries based on the 2020 U.S. Census data.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, and House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, last week provided lawmakers with a timeline for considering the redistricting legislation.

Hickey said Tuesday that there is no consensus in the Senate on how to redraw the boundaries and he's hoping for a fairly concrete plan "before we come back into session."

He said he is anticipating and hoping that the extended session meets three days and then the Legislature adjourns its regular session.

State lawmakers met for 108 days earlier this year before going into an extended recess with plans to return this fall to approve new boundaries for the congressional districts. The session started Jan. 11 and it was slowed by precautions taken for the coronavirus pandemic and a week's break after a severe snowfall. The fall meeting was set because census data was delayed in its delivery to states.

"Leadership encourages congressional redistricting bills be filed no later than September, 24, 2021, for consideration during the extended session of the 93rd General Assembly," according to Hickey and Shepherd's two-page timeline.

The House and Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committees will meet jointly three times to consider any congressional redistricting bills that have been filed a few days before each meeting and accept testimony from the public on the bills, but take no action at that time, the legislative leaders said.

The meetings are:

• Sept. 20, to consider bills filed by Sept. 17.

• Sept. 23, for bills filed by Sept. 21.

• Sept. 27, for bills filed by Sept. 24.

Dwight Tosh, R-Jonesboro, chairman of the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee, said "we are going to look" at the bills and the committee might rank the top two bills and "then we'll send it to the leadership and see which one we go to the House floor with."

He said there is no consensus yet in the House on redrawing the boundaries. He said he hasn't looked at any proposed maps, but they are being drafted.

"At this time, the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate anticipate calling the House and Senate back into the extended session of the 93rd General Assembly on September 29, 2021 (subject to possible change)," Hickey and Shepherd said. The Senate and House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committees will meet then to vote on redistricting bills, which would then be voted on by both chambers.

"Upon completion of redistricting the House and Senate will adjourn sine die the regular session of the 93rd General Assembly."

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has repeatedly said he plans to call the Legislature into special session this fall to consider cuts to individual income-tax rates.

Hickey said Tuesday that there is no legislative consensus on proposed tax cuts and how much the state can afford.

While there is no consensus on the tax-cut package, House Revenue and Taxation Committee Chairman Joe Jett, R-Success, said lawmakers are weighing the possibility of combining the lower and middle income tax tables , reducing the top individual rate from 5.9% to 5.5%, and then phasing in a further reduction of the top individual rate to 4.9% over several years.

Asked when he plans to call the special session on income-tax cuts, Hutchinson said Tuesday in a written statement, "There is no specific time frame for a special session this fall.

"I have advocated for a reduction in the individual income tax rate down to 5.5%," the Republican governor said. "A number of ideas from members have been incorporated in the plan. I will not call the special session until there are more discussions with the members and a greater consensus is developed."

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