Special Session Highlights Arkansas' Old Capitol

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Thursday, Jun. 26, 2014 3:05 pm  

The Arkansas Legislature will convene next week for a special session at the Old State House, which served as the state Capitol until 1911.

LITTLE ROCK — The last time Arkansas lawmakers took up any substantial legislation in the Old State House building, wireless was something that had just been invented by Guglielmo Marconi and a tweet was something you heard from the birds outdoors.

But with the House under renovation, members of the chamber are conducting next week's special session in the historic building that served as Arkansas' state Capitol until 1911. Even for a session that's expected to last three days, it's a big change for a chamber that prides itself on being the more technologically advanced of the Legislature.

The House and Senate plan to convene Monday afternoon for a special legislative session to address rising teacher insurance premiums and an influx of state inmates at county jails. House officials began looking weeks ago at the possibility of meeting in either a building adjacent to the state Capitol or the Old State House — located a mile away and currently serving as a state history museum. The Senate will meet at its chamber in the state Capitol.

The Legislature first met at the Old State House in 1836 — the year Arkansas became a state. Its last session was held there in 1909, the same year Marconi won the Nobel Prize in physics for his work on developing radio communications.

House leaders are touting the idea as a way to promote one of the state's tourist attractions, and educate the public on Arkansas' political history.

"We hope that by the House holding the special session there this will result in a renewed interest in the Old State House for all Arkansans," House Chief of Staff Gabe Holmstrom said.

Period Pieces, Sort of

For the session, the House will be using its former chamber and officials are mimicking the same layout of the chamber at the current state Capitol. The 1885 House chamber had been housing "On the Stump," an exhibit on 19th century politics in Arkansas, which was moved to make way for the special session.

Nearly half of the 100 House members will use 1800s replica desks from the museum, while the other half will be seated at metal folding tables and chairs.

House Speaker Davy Carter will be seated at a replica of the desk former President Bill Clinton used in the Oval Office.

Tame By Comparison

Any fights over teacher insurance premiums and prison beds will be tame by comparison to past debates in the Old State House. The most famous incident occurred in 1837, when House Speaker John Wilson fatally stabbed state Rep. Joseph J. Anthony after a fight the two started on the House floor.



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