Politics

Arkansas lawmakers split capitol county

The map approved by the Arkansas Legislature this week.
The map approved by the Arkansas Legislature this week. Screen shot: Arkansas Legislature

Arkansas lawmakers have redrawn the state's congressional districts. Critics say will result in less voting power for Black people living in Little Rock.

  • The new map splits Pulaski County, the state's largest by population, into three districts. It’s been in the 2nd congressional district since the 1960s.

What's happening: Two bills that define the map, HB 1982 and SB 743, will go to Gov. Asa Hutchinson to sign. If he does, the new boundaries will stand until the redistricting process takes place again following results of the 2030 Census.

Why it matters: The boundaries divide voters into blocs based on population, and each district elects state representatives to the U.S. House.

  • Congressional districts also determine federal funding for things like infrastructure, public health and education.

Details: Five counties have been divided into different districts since the current boundaries were set in 2011. In the new map, Sebastian County is the only other county that will be divided.

By the numbers: Current population estimates show 15.7% of Arkansans identified as Black or African American.

  • In Pulaski County, the number jumps to 37.9%.

What they're saying: "We're not supposed to pack these districts and not supposed to crack these districts when it comes to minority groups. This map does absolutely what it is not supposed to do," Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock) said, speaking in session.

  • She noted 11 of the 36 redistricting bills filed in recent weeks did not split any counties.
  • Sen. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) also said in session the map was "slicing and dicing the Black and brown population[s] in Pulaski County into three different congressional districts." It's not necessary to keep the 2nd congressional district majority-Republican, he noted.

The other side: In the same session, Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) said Pulaski County would benefit from having three congressmen instead of just one. "It's all about the way you look at things. ... This map is better.

"What to watch: If signed into law, the map may face litigation.

  • Tucker said he didn't know if it would be challenged in court or not. If so he said, "The fact we're splitting Pulaski County three ways is going to be exhibit one."
Worth Sparkman
Sep 28, 2021 - Politics

Arkansas AG's ad spending surpasses 2021 levels

A headshot of Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge
Leslie Rutledge. Photo courtesy of the Arkansas attorney general's office

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's office has spent $1.3 million on TV and radio advertising since the fiscal year began July 1.

  • The amount is already greater than what her office spent all of fiscal 2021.
  • The ads include public service announcements (PSAs) about the COVID-19 vaccine. These feature her face and voice. Other PSAs cover everything from price gouging to child abuse and opioid abuse. Those ads do not include her likeness.
Worth Sparkman
Sep 16, 2021 - Politics

Ending unemployment benefits had little impact on Arkansas job growth

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

States that ended supplemental unemployment benefits early had similar job growth compared to those that continued aid, according to a recent Wall Street Journal analysis.

Why it matters: It suggests the extra $300 a week was not a primary factor keeping unemployed Arkansans from returning to work this last year.

Worth Sparkman
Sep 15, 2021 - News

Arkansas set to redraw voting maps this month

Map: Axios Visuals

There's not much that's less sexy than redrawing congressional maps following the census, the process commonly called redistricting.

  • But it's a necessary and important part of our democratic process.

What's happening: State lawmakers will reconvene Sept. 29, which is an extension of their regular session. The plan is to redraw boundaries for Arkansas' four congressional districts.

Worth Sparkman
Aug 18, 2021 - News

Attorney general: Teaching critical race theory could violate law

Headshots of Arkansas' Attorney General, Leslie Rutledge, and Rep. Mark Lowery. Photos: courtesy
Arkansas' Attorney General, Leslie Rutledge, and state Rep. Mark Lowery (R-Maumelle). Photos courtesy of Rutledge and Lowery's offices.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge wrote in an opinion this week that under certain circumstances, critical race theory and anti-racism teachings could violate civil rights laws.

  • The circumstances outlined in the 10-page opinion pretty much align with those already accepted as violations of law: racial stereotyping, creating a hostile environment, providing separate benefits, and segregation, among others.
Worth Sparkman
Aug 6, 2021 - News

Arkansas sits on $190 million in pandemic rental aid

Illustration of a hundred-dollar bill masked by the shape of the state of Arkansas.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

An estimated $190 million in federal rental assistance remains unspent in the state, a Northwest Arkansas Axios analysis shows.

State and local authorities received more than $201 million in pandemic emergency rental assistance, but at the start of August, only $10.6 million — just more than 5% — had been distributed to help people stay in their homes, the analysis of U.S. treasury figures and data provided by counties shows.

  • Overwhelmed agencies, restrictive state policy and a lack of knowledge about the program are to blame, several people told us.
Alex Golden
Aug 5, 2021 - News

Legislature votes down mask mandates in schools

Illustration of a mask with a red x being drawn over it.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

It doesn't look like school districts will be allowed to require masks in schools if the legislature has anything to say about it.

What happened: A House committee voted down two bills Thursday that would have allowed school districts to require masks in some circumstances.

Alex Golden
Jul 29, 2021 - News

Governor asks legislature to reconsider ban on school mask mandates

Photo of Asa Hutchinson
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks during a community town hall to promote COVID-19 vaccinations at Arkansas State University-Mountain Home on July 16, 2021. Photo: Liz Sanders/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Gov. Asa Hutchinson reinstated Arkansas' public health emergency Thursday, and announced he is calling a special session of the legislature to amend the law banning mask mandates to allow more flexibility for schools.

What's happening: COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are out of control in the state. And Act 1002 prohibits school districts from requiring masks when classes start again in a few weeks.

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