Old State House hosts special session of Arkansas General Assembly 

Representatives to meet there for the first time since 1909.

click to enlarge Old State House image
  • Brian Chilson

Gov. Mike Beebe announced Monday he would call the General Assembly into special session on Monday, June 30, to act on bills to avoid catastrophic increases in health insurance for school employees and to increase prison funding.

Because the House chamber in the State Capitol is undergoing renovation, the House will meet at the Old State House, the oldest state capitol building west of the Mississippi. In anticipation of the decision to meet in the museum's historic chamber, Old State House public information officer Matt Rowe did a little research on the last time the General Assembly met in regular session there, in 1909. (It met at the Old State House ceremonially in 1951, to dedicate the building as a museum.) [CORRECTION: The General Assembly also held a day-long session at the Old State House in 1983, the state's sesquicentennial, to appropriate funds for the Natural and Cultural Heritage Commission (now the Department of Arkansas Heritage), including $500,000 for the Commemorative Commission to operate the Old State House.]

Construction on the Old State House began in 1833, when Andrew Jackson was president and three years before Arkansas gained statehood in 1836. Legislators moved in in 1836 though the building would not be complete until 1842.

The General Assembly of 1909 also took up legislation concerning education. At the urging of Gov. George Donaghey, legislators passed a bill to create four agricultural high schools, appropriating $40,000 to each.

The 1909 legislature also sought to stem violence against the state's African-American population. It passed a bill to "Prevent Mob Violence or Lynching": "That whenever the crime of rape, attempt to commit rape, murder or any other crime, calculated to arouse the passions of the people to an extent that the sheriff of the county apprehends and believes that mob violence will be committed within the state of Arkansas, it shall be the duty of the sheriff of the county in which the crime of rape, murder or any other crime herein described shall have been committed to notify the judge of the circuit or district including such county of the facts of the case, and to request such judge to call a special term of court in order that the person or persons charged with such crime or crimes may be brought to an immediate trial." The last lynching in Little Rock took place 18 years later, in 1927.

It also enacted Act 112 of 1909 "suppress and punish nightriding and other riotous conspiracies." It stated "If two or more persons shall unite, confederate or band themselves together for the purpose of doing an unlawful act while wearing any mask, white caps or robes, or being otherwise disguised, or for the purpose of going forth armed or disguised for the purpose of intimidating or alarming any person or to do any felonious act, or if any person shall knowingly meet or act clandestinely with any such band or order, be such organization known as nightriders, black hand, white caps or by any other name, they shall each be guilty of a felony and upon conviction shall be punished by imprisonment for a term not to exceed five years."

Passed in the same year, Act 44 got tough on public drunkenness, a misdemeanor, authorizing conductors to act as "peace officers" and arrest intoxicated persons traveling by train. The General Assembly also outlawed the sale or manufacture of any "toy pistol, firecracker — commonly known as cannon crackers — or gun that shoots a blank cartridge," and passed an act to "prevent the running at large of hogs, sheep and goats in Clark County."

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