BY STATE REPRESENTATIVE NATE BELL –
When Arkansas became the 25th state in 1836, government officials moved into a new Greek Revival style building in downtown Little Rock. This was despite the fact the building was not yet completed. Historical accounts say legislators became agitated when construction noise began drowning out testimony and questions from the House floor. It was another 6 years before the Old State House was complete.
The House chamber in the current Arkansas Capitol is under construction as part of a significant restoration project, so when Governor Beebe called for the House to convene for a special session, we find ourselves returning to the birthplace of our state government. House members have agreed to convene for the special session at the Old State House Museum, which is the oldest standing State Capitol building west of the Mississippi River.
The legislature moved to the existing State Capitol in 1911. The legislature met in the Old State House again in 1951, to commemorate the building’s new role as a museum of Arkansas history from statehood to the present. The legislature met there again in 1983 for commemorative purposes. However, this week is the first time substantial legislation has passed inside the Old State House in over a century.
Governor Mike Beebe recently called for an Extraordinary Session to enact legislation addressing the rising costs of teacher’s insurance premiums. In the Governor’s official proclamation he has also called for funds to increase the number of prison beds available to State inmates.
The proposed legislation directed at teacher’s health insurance includes a bill to eliminate part-time employees from eligibility. Proposed legislation also includes requiring certain individuals to participate in health savings accounts, modifying coverage for bariatric surgeries, and redefining dependents who are eligible for coverage. The session is expected to last 3 days.
We hope this historic event serves as an opportunity to remind Arkansans on the importance of preserving our heritage. Although not every event that took place in the Old State House is one we are proud of, it is a testament to our past and our progress.
In May 1861, the second session of the Secession Convention met in the original House of Representatives chamber and all but one delegate voted for the state to secede from the Union. The building was home to the Confederate government until Union forces captured Little Rock in September 1863.
In 1837, House Speaker John Wilson fatally stabbed Representative Joseph J. Anthony after a knife fight between the two started on the House floor.
The last session at the Old State House was in 1909, and much of the discussion centered around the prohibition of alcohol. The legislature passed laws that session that, among other things, provided prosthetic limbs to Confederate veterans, banned toy guns, and introduced legislation to curb night riding and Klan activities. At that time, there were no female legislators and women did not have the right to vote. Today, there are 17 women in the House of Representatives and several more are running for election this year. I’m proud of the progress Arkansas has made in electing women to public office but as the Dad of two daughters and the husband of a strong female leader I believe we need to have more proportionate representation. I hope more ladies will choose to run for office.
Although we will be working in an historic environment, the House will continue to use modern day technology to ensure Arkansans can be part of the process. We will stream the session events live on our website at arkansashouse.org.
We encourage everyone to watch and while you are at it, take this opportunity to learn more about our state’s history by visiting oldstatehouse.com