The Arkansas Senate in a voice vote on Tuesday (Jan. 22) approved a resolution to adopt rules to suspend the bill filing deadline for the 92nd General Assembly that began on Jan. 14.
Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, sponsor of Senate Concurrent Resolution 1, told his fellow lawmakers that his resolution will prevent a backlog of shell bills that stack up in the House and Senate. Under his proposal, members approved eliminating a bill filing deadline in early April for non-appropriation bills.
In previous sessions, a large swath of bills were filed on the deadline, which is 55 days after the beginning of the session. After the deadline no other bill or proposals may be introduced in the House or Senate unless it is a sine die or adjournment resolution. If there is a resolution requesting permission to introduce a new bill by any member, it must get a two-thirds vote from each chamber.
“This is much more efficient, it will save staff time, and we can file a bill later in the session, it is just up to the individual member to make certain they get (bills) filed in time before we get through – but if they don’t then it is their tough luck,” said Maloch.
In response to questions by Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, on why SCR1 was necessary and if it would affect when the legislature adjourns, Maloch said his resolution would only affect “sustentative” bills, not appropriation legislation that authorize expenditure of state funds.
“The reason behind it is the staff overload when we have 300 or 400 bills filed on the last day of bill filing, and most of those are shell bills,” said the longtime South Arkansas senator. “The (deadline) really served no purpose,” he said.
Similarly, HR1001 received a “do pass” vote in House Rules, allowing the lower chamber to also eliminate the bill filing deadline for non-appropriation bills. After the House convened in the afternoon session, lawmakers easily approved the measure sponsored by House Speaker Rep. Matthew Shepherd, R- El Dorado, by a vote of 87 yeas, 8 nays.
VETERAN TASK FORCE PROPOSAL, SENATE ACCESS FOR FORMER LAWMAKERS-TURNED-LOBBYISTS
In other activity on the first day of the shortened week that recessed for the Martin Luther King Holiday on Monday, the Senate’s State Agencies & Government Affairs committee gave a do pass recommendation for Senate Bill 4 by Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado. SB4 would allow the legislature to create a legislative task force on veteran affairs.
Garner said the task force would be similar in make-up to recent bicameral and bipartisan legislative panels that led to Medicaid reform and efforts to overhaul the state’s tax code, which are part of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s $193 million tax cut package this session.
Later during the brief session in the upper chamber, Senate President Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, warned senators that plans were in the works to tighten up access to the Senate floor. Besides senators and their guests, official staff and House members, Hendren said admittance to others would be limited.
“Unfortunately, in these days, we have to be more and more concerned about security and everything else,” said Hendren. “In regard to access to the floor when we are not in session, former members are allowed on the floor before and after. But one of the things that I am going to ask is, because some former members are lobbyists, is that (they) will not be doing lobbying on the floor. That’s somewhat of a conflict.”
Hendren continued: “Outside of those people that I just listed, people should not be on the floor — lobbyist, strangers or whatever … unless they are escorted by one of you.”
Although Hendren did not mention the indictment of former Sen. Gilbert Baker, R-Conway, on charges of conspiracy, bribery and honest services wire fraud before the session started, the Senate president has publicly stated that lawmakers must work hard to restore public trust amid a federal corruption probe that has now entrapped eight former House and Senate members.