Arkansas legislators reconvened to start their second week of the 88th General Assembly tackling the thorny issues of redrawing political boundaries and opening up their committees for Internet viewing.
Lawmakers learned that in leveling the state’s four Congressional districts, Arkansas could be looking to split counties for the first time in order to meet legal requirements.
"If we do one-person, one-vote, then we’re going to have to split counties," Sen. Gilbert Baker, R-Conway, said in reference to a federal court mandate to draw Congressional lines as evenly as possible.
Arkansas, Iowa and West Virginia are the only three states that don’t have split counties in their Congressional boundaries.
Legislative districts could have a 10% variance, which means that population requirements could be within 5% of an average. Congressional districts must be more exact, at least within 1% of an average and maybe even more precise.
Sen. Robert Thompson, D-Paragould, described the redistricting process as a moving target, "This isn’t math. This is as much art and science."
A.J. Kelly and Tim Humphries, represenatives of the Secretary of State’s office, outlined criteria that will be involved in the months-long redistricting process.
Kelly said that more detailed county-level and precinct-level U.S. Census data will be provided by a "target date" of February 22nd.
The Arkansas General Assembly will vote to redraw Congressional boundaries, while the State Board of Apportionment will reassemble the state’s 135 House and Senate districts. The apportionment board is a three-member panel made up of the Governor, Attorney General and Secretary of State.
Lawmakers and the Apportionment Board will have to follow several population guidelines.
The State Agencies Committee learned that ideal Congressional District sizes would entail 731,557 residents; State Senate Districts would encompass 83,607 constituents; and State House Districts would represent 29,262 citizens.
"My guestimate is that it may be more difficult to move counties around and stay within the one percent criteria," Kelly told the panel regarding Congressional districts.
In other news, two House committees agreed to live-stream their hearings. The House Revenue and Tax Committee and House Public Health Committee voted to allow for streaming. The House Judiciary Committee didn’t consider the matter in its morning meeting.