LITTLE ROCK -- In an extension of this year's regular session the legislature drew new boundaries for the four Congressional districts in Arkansas, and approved exemptions for workers at companies that require staff to be vaccinated against the covid-19 virus.
The legislature was prepared to convene again, in the event that the governor vetoes any of the bills and lawmakers want to override the veto.
The new map of Congressional districts will divide two counties. Sebastian County will be divided between the Third District of northwest Arkansas and the Fourth District of southern Arkansas.
Pulaski County will be divided three ways. The western half of the county will be in the Second District. Traditionally, an undivided Pulaski County has been the centerpiece of the Second District of central Arkansas.
The new map will put southeastern Pulaski County in the First Congressional District, which covers much of eastern Arkansas. The First District includes the counties along the Mississippi River and a band of counties along the northern border with Missouri.
A sliver of southern Pulaski County, in Little Rock, will be in the Fourth District, which is a geographically large district that covers southwest Arkansas.
The Second District will include northwest Pulaski County, as well as Saline, Perry, Faulkner, Conway, Van Buren, Cleburne and White Counties.
Boone, Marion, Baxter, Stone and Searcy Counties will in the First District, which covers northeast Arkansas.
Carroll, Crawford and Madison Counties will be in the Third District, along with the major population centers of Washington and Benton counties and northern Sebastian County.
The counties along the Louisiana border and the Texas border will be in the Fourth District, except for Chicot County in the southeastern corner of the state. It will be in the First District, along with other Delta counties where row crop agriculture is prevalent.
The Fourth District will extend from Texarkana northward to include southern Sebastian County. The Fourth District will extend north across the Arkansas River to take in Franklin, Johnson, Pope and Newton Counties. It also will include Jefferson County, Grant County, Hot Spring County and Garland County.
Ashley and Drew Counties will be in the Fourth District; Lincoln County will be in the First District.
Under legislation passed by the Senate and House, companies that require their workers to be vaccinated against the covid-19 virus would have to provide exemptions for employees who are tested weekly.
Also, they would be exempt if they could show that they have antibodies, which the body produces after a person contracts the virus. Tests for antibodies could not exceed twice a year.
The cost of testing would be paid by any state or federal funding available. If no government funding is available, the cost would be paid by the employee.
Employees who comply with the testing requirements shall not be terminated, and if they are terminated in violation of the law, they may be eligible for unemployment benefits.
The exemption process will expire July 31, 2023, unless the legislature extends it. There is no emergency clause on the legislation, so it takes effect 90 days after the official adjournment of the extended session.
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Editor's note: Arkansas Sen. Cecile Bledsoe represents the third district. From Rogers, Sen. Bledsoe is chair of the Senate Health Committee.