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story.lead_photo.caption Governor Asa Hutchinson is shown in this photo. - Photo by Thomas Metthe

The three-day special session that ended Thursday was sought by legislative leaders to keep policy issues from diverting the attention of lawmakers in the fiscal session that immediately preceded it.

Fiscal sessions are held in even-numbered years to approve state government's budget. Regular sessions, held in odd-numbered years, can include budgets matters but deal with all other types of legislation as well. Special sessions are called by the governor for matters that can't wait for the next regular session.

At a news conference Thursday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson was asked if this year's experience will become routine for the Legislature.

"Fiscal sessions lead to special sessions, and the reason is that the legislators are convened together, and those that have problems in state government raise the issue during the fiscal session to [other] legislators and, if you don't want to resolve it in the budget session, then that leads to, 'Well, we got to solve it otherwise,'" Hutchinson said.

"Now, it doesn't mean we're always going to have a special session following a fiscal session. But I think there is a connection there," the Republican governor said. "I'm not wild about fiscal sessions. I like two-year budgeting cycles, but that's what the people voted in ... the constitution [in 2008], and that's what we have.

"As to the pattern for the future, I will certainly not plan on special sessions following fiscal sessions. I hope that doesn't happen. It doesn't have to be the case. But fiscal sessions do bring to the surface other challenges that need to be met," said Hutchinson, who has called five special sessions in his three years and three months as governor.

His first fiscal session was in 2016. It was preceded immediately by a special session. About six weeks after the fiscal session ended, the governor called another special session.

In fiscal sessions, a two-thirds vote is required in both the Senate and House to introduce non-appropriation legislation.

Asked if this year's back-to-back sessions set a precedent, Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, said, "I think we need to rethink fiscal sessions as a whole and their value or their lack of value.

"The policy issues seem to tag along with the fiscal session, and I think we need to have a debate and a discussion about that when we come back next session," said Dismang, who has served in the Legislature since 2009.

"In my opinion and when I talk to people back home, the fiscal session is to deal with budgetary matters and they are not interested in using [it to deal] with policy items and I think that's a pretty broad consensus of people," he said. "We are getting closer and closer to straying away from the intent, so we need to have a debate on how we're moving forward."

Asked the same question, House Speaker Jerry Gillam, R-Judsonia, said it was a matter "for the next General Assembly to look at and analyze and see if they want to make changes and also for the governor [to look] at. This might be a template. ... But I don't know that you always are going to have those pop up so that you need to have a special session in the same kind of time frame as a fiscal session."

A Section on 03/16/2018

Print Headline: Consecutive sessions not governor's plan

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