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Amendment to allow special sessions without governor’s call advances

by Rachel Herzog | April 20, 2021 at 7:13 a.m.
Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, speaks during a press conference Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021 at the State Capitol in Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

A proposed amendment to the Arkansas Constitution that would allow the state Legislature to call itself into special session advanced from a Senate committee on Monday.

Under the constitution, only the governor can call a special session, and the governor sets the agenda for that session.

If Senate Joint Resolution 10 by Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, passes in both chambers of the Legislature and is approved by voters in 2022, then it will create two avenues by which the General Assembly could convene in an extraordinary session without the governor's initiation: by a joint written proclamation of the speaker of the House and the Senate president pro tempore, or by the submission of the signatures of two-thirds of the members of both chambers.

"I think just the last year has really shown us why this is so necessary and why so many people have signed on, just to be able to give ourselves an option to be what we are supposed to be, which is equal branch of government," Davis told the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs when presenting the proposal last month.

In 2020, executive actions taken by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in response to the covid-19 pandemic led to some Republican lawmakers expressing frustration that they didn't get a say on issues such as the statewide mask mandate.

The Senate committee had already advanced SJR10 earlier this month, but Davis re-referred it to the panel in order to amend it.

The committee has recommended two other proposed constitutional changes to the full Senate for consideration: Senate Joint Resolution 13 by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, which would add a provision to Article 2, the section of the Arkansas Constitution dealing with property rights, to include the right of residents of the state to bear arms; and Senate Joint Resolution 14, also by Rapert, which proposes to add an amendment to the state constitution that prohibits the government from burdening a person's freedom of religion unless the government can demonstrate that it furthers a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.

The next step is for Senate Majority Leader Scott Flippo, R-Mountain Home; Senate Minority Leader Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis; and Rapert, the committee's chairman, to decide the order in which the proposals the committee approved will be heard by the full Senate.

Rapert said last week that SJR10 would be the first amendment proposal to be considered by the full Senate.

Hutchinson, who has no role in approving proposed amendments from the Legislature, said he did not see any need for a constitutional change dealing with the General Assembly convening.

"In Arkansas our current constitution provides for a part time legislature that meets in General Session once every two years and in fiscal session in the alternating years. I see no need for a change," the Republican governor said in a written statement Monday.

Lawmakers may refer up to three proposed constitutional amendments to voters each legislative session.

Last week, the Arkansas House advanced House Joint Resolution 1005 by Rep. David Ray, R-Maumelle, which would raise the threshold for passing ballot measures to 60% from the simple majority currently required. HJR1005 now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Information for this article was contributed by Michael R. Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


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