The Senate approved a bill Wednesday night that would change the state’s primary election from May to March in 2016.
Senators voted 28-6 to approve Senate Bill 8, sponsored by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, capping a long day at the Capitol.
The bill tied 4-4 in the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee Tuesday on a straight party-line vote.
On Wednesday, Stubblefield, along with Senate President Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, moved to send the bill to the full Senate which is allowed under Senate rules.
A motion to extract the bill from the committee passed by a 21-10 margin. However, a bill to move Senate Bill 8 to the Senate calendar failed by a 22-10 margin – two votes short of suspending the rules.
That vote was expunged about noon Wednesday, allowing the Senate to vote again. The measure was amended to only move the primary season for the 2016 election cycle, which means the debate is likely to occur again before the 2018 cycle.
Stubblefield has said the bill would help the state play a bigger role in deciding who wins the White House.
However, Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, said during debate that the calendar vote “poisons the atmosphere and sets a bad precedent” in going to the full Senate.
Both the House and Senate bills would set a March 1, 2016 primary date for federal, state and county offices including President of the United States.
If no candidate received 50.1% of the vote, the two top finishers in U.S. House, U.S. Senate, state and county races would advance to a March 22, 2016 runoff election.
Candidates would also file from noon Nov. 2 until noon on Nov. 9, under the bill.
The bills were also amended Wednesday night to include protections for independent candidates to file for the 2016 campaign.
“To ensure that independent candidates are provided the maximum number of days allowed by law to circulate petitions to qualify as an independent candidate, the provisions of this act are retroactive to August 1, 2015,” the amended bill noted. “Signatures on a petition to have the name of a person placed upon the ballot as an independent candidate under § 7-7-103 collected between August 11, 2015, and the effective date of this act shall be counted if the signatures are not otherwise collected in violation of Arkansas law; the signatures otherwise comply with applicable Arkansas law; and the petition is lawfully filed.”
“It is found and determined by the General Assembly of the State of Arkansas that independent candidates may circulate petitions for candidacy for ninety (90) days before the deadline for filing as a candidate for office; and that without an emergency clause, the effective date of this act will cause confusion regarding the rights and interests of independent candidates and the time period for circulating petitions for candidacy.”
The amendments were approved by the Senate by voice vote.
The House voted 56-32 to approve House Bill 1006, sponsored by Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock.
Davis said the change would help the state be at the forefront of the 2016 campaign. Davis told the House about a talk he had with someone Tuesday night at his child’s baseball game.
The man told Davis “he had no idea” when the state’s party primary was.
“I asked him and he said he had no clue,” Davis said of the conversation.
Davis said the change may help educate people about voting and the importance of it.
While saying he supported the concept, Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, said he could not support the change.
“It is about the Almighty dollar,” Bell said of the change.
Bell said he opposed the idea for several reasons, including adding to the cost of campaigns, that the bill was not thought out and the toll that a campaign has on families.
The bill passed the House while the Emergency Clause – needing a two-thirds vote – failed the first time by a 61-27 vote.
A motion by Rep. Jana Della Rosa, R-Rogers to reconsider the vote passed by a 68-12 margin.
However, the second attempt failed 66-13 – one vote short of passage – as Bell asked the House clerk to “sound the vote” or verbally do a roll call vote.
The House bill now heads to the Senate.
The legislature also approved a plan to issue $87 million in general obligation bonds to help bring nearly 600 jobs to south Arkansas.
The House approved House Bill 1003, sponsored by Rep. Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, by a 96-0 margin, while the Senate voted 31-3 to pass Senate Bill 6, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Pierce, D-Sheridan. Both bills involve Lockheed Martin in Camden.
The defense contractor is one of three companies – Oshkosh and AM General being the other two – that are trying to land a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle contract with the U.S. Department of Defense.
A decision on the project is expected to be known by July, officials have said.
With the primary election cycle changed, the House approved a bill to move the state’s fiscal session from February to next spring.
The 69-15 vote on House Bill 1008, sponsored by Rep. Charlotte Vining Douglas, R-Alma, would set an April 13, 2016 start for the session in Little Rock. The 30-day session is currently scheduled to start on Feb. 8.
Under the bill, the state’s education study would be due by March 1 while lawmakers could pre-file bills as early as March 14.
Officials with the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration would have a Feb. 1 deadline to turn in financial numbers to help lawmakers plan for the 2017 fiscal year budget.
The House bill now heads to the Senate.
Both the House and Senate bills include an amendment that the April move will be only for 2016.
The Senate also voted 33-0 Wednesday night to approve a similar bill, Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale.
A pair of bills that would seek to streamline state and federal law involving the travel of agricultural vehicles on a stretch of highway in Northeast Arkansas was approved Wednesday.
The House voted 96-0 to approve House Bill 1005, sponsored by Rep. Brandt Smith, R-Jonesboro, and the Senate voted 33-0 to pass Senate Bill 3, sponsored by Sen. John Cooper, R-Jonesboro.
The upgrade of the highway – the current U.S. 63 from Lake David to Jonesboro – to Interstate 555 has been a key issue in Northeast Arkansas for nearly two decades.
The House bill now goes to the Senate, while the Senate bill moves to the House.
The House and Senate also approved a pair of bills that will attempt to transfer several state agencies into larger departments.
The House voted 95-0 to approve House Bill 1001, while the Senate voted 33-0 to approve Senate Bill 1.
Both bills – sponsored by Rep. David Branscum, R-Marshall in the House and Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs – would transfer the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority and the Department of Rural Services to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
The bills would also move the Arkansas Building Authority to the Department of Finance and Administration and the Division of Land Surveys in the Department of Agriculture to the Arkansas Geographic Information Office.
The House bill heads to the Senate, while the Senate bill moves to the House.
The Senate voted 25-6 Wednesday to approve a DWI-related bill.
The bill, Senate Bill 4, was sponsored by Sen. David Johnson, D-Little Rock. Johnson told the Senate that the bill would restore the strict liability standard to DWI and other alcohol-related offenses in the state.
Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, also told the Senate that the bill was needed due to a recent ruling by the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Justices ruled that state law requires criminal intent for a DWI conviction. The state also faces a potential loss of about $50 million in federal highway funding if the law is not updated, officials have said.
The following is the schedule for Thursday’s meetings, which should lead to a conclusion of the special legislative session.
The House will convene at 9 a.m., while the Senate will convene at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
10 a.m. – Health Reform Legislative Task Force, Room A, MAC.
1:30 p.m. – Behavioral Health Treatment Access Legislative Task Force, Room B, MAC.