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EXPLAINER: Arkansas lawmakers to redraw US House districts

September 29, 2021 GMT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas’ majority Republican Legislature is meeting this week to redraw the state’s four U.S. House districts, a task that has generated plenty of ideas but little consensus so far on how to do it.

There’s also uncertainty about whether there may be an effort to try and take up other issues, despite legislative leaders’ desire to keep the agenda limited to congressional redistricting.

Here’s a closer look at the discussion over redistricting:

WHY IS THE LEGISLATURE MEETING?

The House and Senate reconvene on Wednesday morning at the Capitol. The Legislature must redraw the boundaries of the state’s congressional districts every 10 years following the census.

Lawmakers wrapped up this year’s session in April, but with plans to reconvene in the fall once the latest census numbers were released.

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HOW COULD THE CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICTS CHANGE?

The biggest debate appears to be over whether to split up counties, especially the state’s most populous, into more than one congressional district. Republicans hold all four of the state’s U.S. House seats.

Arkansas’ current congressional map divides up five counties.

Some proposals have called for dividing up Pulaski County, which includes the Little Rock area and is currently located in the 2nd Congressional District. Democrats have unsuccessfully tried to flip the 2nd District in recent years.

Proponents of splitting up Pulaski have said it makes sense given the county’s location in the state’s center and that it could prevent dividing up even more counties around the state. But Democrats in Pulaski County oppose the move, saying it would divide the community.

Republican Sen. Jason Rapert, who chairs the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he sees support building on his panel for one proposal that would split Pulaski County along the Arkansas River and interstates between the 2nd and 4th districts. Republican Rep. Dwight Tosh, who chairs the House panel, said he doesn’t know if there’s a proposal that’s reached consensus on his committee.

At least three maps proposed by Democrats would create a new 2nd District that would include some or all of Pulaski County as well as southeastern Arkansas counties. But those proposals appear to have little support among Republicans.

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WHAT ELSE IS ON THE AGENDA?

Legislative leaders say they hope to keep the focus on congressional redistricting. The proclamation they issued calling lawmakers back to the Capitol said they could also address legislation “related to the COVID-19 public health emergency and distribution of COVID-19 relief funds.”

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Senate President Jimmy Hickey said that wording was included in case lawmakers needed to address matters related to federal virus relief funds, but said the Legislature only needs to work on redistricting. Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday also said he believed that lawmakers could only take up redistricting during the reconvened session.

But bills have been filed anyway related to employers requiring workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19. One proposal would prohibit businesses from requiring employees to disclose whether they’ve been vaccinated, and another would prohibit the state for denying unemployment benefits to someone fired for refusing to get vaccinated.

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WHAT ABOUT THE STATE LEGISLATURE’S DISTRICTS?

The Legislature won’t be redrawing its own districts. That job will be taken up later this fall by the Board of Apportionment, which is in charge of redistricting for the state’s 100 House and 35 Senate seats.

That panel is comprised of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state. All three are Republicans.