A bill reducing the number of state agencies from 42 to 15 passed a Senate committee meeting Tuesday (April 2) and heads to the full Senate.
House Bill 1763 by Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock, passed the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee on a voice vote with only Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, voting no.
Prior to advancing the more-than-2,000-page bill, senators approved a 14-page amendment that would maintain the independence of the Public Service Commission from the proposed Department of Energy and Environment. Davis told Talk Business & Politics after the vote that an argument could be made the commission is a legislative rather than an executive entity.
The amendment also would ensure the proposed secretary of agriculture could consult with the director of the State Plant Board, but the director and board could act without the secretary’s approval or consent.
The amendment also would grant the insurance commissioner, bank commissioner, and securities commissioner degrees of independence from the proposed secretary of commerce. Those commissioners would merely consult with the secretary and would have authority to hire employees and make employment contracts.
The amended version now goes to the full Senate but if passed would have to return to the House. It approved its version March 14, 82-0, with eight not voting and 10 voting present.
The bill, one of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s top priorities, would result in a sweeping reorganization of state government. The 42 state departments along with many boards and commissions would be folded into 15 departments, each headed by a secretary. Those departments are: health; veterans affairs; labor and licensing; education; public safety; agriculture; military; commerce; finance and administration; human services; parks, heritage and tourism; transformation and shared services; energy and environment; inspector general; and corrections. The Highway Commission, Game and Fish Commission, and a few other entities would remain constitutionally separate and independent.
Davis and his co-sponsors originally presented 16 bills to legislative committees for discussion purposes before combining them into one.
Despite its scale, it has survived the legislative process with relatively minor changes. Davis said afterwards that sponsors have opposed making substantive policy changes to the reorganizations. He said there had been “probably hundreds of requests for changes,” and “99% of that was turned away and referred to separate legislation.”
“It’s hard to argue that we don’t need to do this,” he said. “It’s hard to argue that state government isn’t very unorganized at this point and doesn’t need to be reorganized. So for any one entity to try to make that argument, they would really be a man on an island, so to speak. So I think that’s probably one of the reasons you haven’t seen a lot of pushback is because there’s really no good argument against this reorganization.”
The committee also advanced Senate Joint Resolution 15 by Sen. Alan Clark R-Lonsdale, which would present to voters a constitutional amendment to change the state’s legislative term limits.
The resolution would limit legislators elected on or after Jan. 1, 2021, to 12 years in the Legislature, with the ability to return after a four-year break. Two-year terms served as a result of apportionment would count in the total. Partial terms served after a special election would not be included.
Legislators first elected before that date would be limited to 16 years in the Legislature, with a four-year break. Two-year terms created by apportionment and partial terms because of special elections would not count in the total.
Legislators currently are limited to 16 years total followed by a lifetime ban, with some legislators serving longer because of apportionment.
The amendment now goes to the full Senate but then would have to return to the House because of a technical amendment approved by the committee Tuesday. The pre-amended version passed the Senate March 26, 27-3, with 3 not voting and 2 voting present.