The second-ever fiscal session kicks off on Monday and one of the key questions is if the legislature will take up any non-budgetary bills. This is allowed but has a very high bar. For a non-budgetary bill to even be considered, it has to get a thumbs-up vote by two-thirds of both chambers, meaning there is broad support for taking up the measure.
To my knowledge, three such measures could be proposed. I list each with my view of their priority for consideration.
1. Parole Bill Regarding Sex Offenders – This bill is sponsored by Sen. Jonathan Dismang in the Senate with Rep. David Sanders sponsoring a companion bill in the House. It targets a very specific loophole in the law that allows sex offenders to get out on parole much sooner than they should. The new law would give more authority to the Arkansas Parole Board — who right now say their hands are tied — to deny parole to felony sex offenders.
A very specific situation — one which I am personally connected — highlighted the need for this law. It is necessary; it is timely; and the legislature would be derelict in their duties if they ignored it. Perhaps my own State Rep. Kim Hammer (R-Benton) summed it up best in this Arkansas News Bureau article on the bill.
“I would not want to be the one that would have to explain to somebody’s parents that their child was molested because we didn’t take it up as a matter of importance during the fiscal session. I would make an exception to the rule given the sensitivity of the issue,” said Hammer.
2. Repealing a Tax Break for Truckers – This issue is one of those fairness deals. The trucking industry was given a sales tax break as part of deal for their support of a nickel tax increase on diesel fuel. The tax break passed, then they changed their minds on the tax increase.
I actually agree with them on the tax increase,, which stands very little chance of passing in the current economy and anti-tax environment, but they really should not be able to have their cake and eat it too. Gov. Beebe has said he will support taking up this issue, so if Republicans also jump on board, it stands a good chance of getting brought up and passing.
3. National Debt Relief Amendment – This is a new proposed resolution that just came up today at the Conservative Caucus; however, potential Republican gubernatorial candidate Curtis Coleman has been talking about this one for a while. The proposed resolution would call for a U.S. Constitutional Convention to consider a new amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This Amendment would require a majority (26) of state legislatures to approve any increase in the federal debt limit.
It is a noble idea, but to call a constitutional convention, 34 states (two-thirds) have to pass the resolution. So far, only Nebraska and Louisiana have done so, although others are considering it. For that reason, I personally don’t see the imperative need to take this one up during the fiscal session so that Arkansas can be the third state out of thirty-four.
I asked the lead sponsor of the measure, Sen. Jason Rapert, about the need to pass this during the fiscal session. “I think that you can see we are in a crisis,” said Rapert, explaining that since it was a resolution and not a bill it only needed a simple majority to pass.
The issue can be taken up in the regular session next year and not have an overture of being simply an election year issue. In addition, next year we will have a much better idea of how many other states have signed on to the cause.
Unless there is overwhelming bipartisan support to take it up now, I don’t see how it is worth it to bring it up in the fiscal session. However, the sponsors might be able to pull it off. At least one Democrat — State Sen. Gene Jeffress, who is running for Congress in the Fourth District — has signed on. The real challenge will be getting it out of committee.