Annual sessions? Fuhgeddaboudit | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Annual sessions? Fuhgeddaboudit

Posted By on Tue, Oct 21, 2008 at 3:01 PM

Proposed Amendment 2 is Sen. Shawn Womack's baby. Since Womack, an injudicious and intemperate Republican, is, believe it or not, busy running for a judgeship, nobody has stepped forward to push his amendment to have annual legislative sessions. It's nominally for sounder annual budgeting. In reality, it's about mischief-making. As drawn, we oppose it.

We are not alone. The lobby is even more concerned. A coalition of most of the heavy-hitting lobby groups has formed to be sure the word gets out that this is a bad idea. It would create a full-time legislature, they say. Nothing scares the average Arkie more than the thought of legislators spending full time in evil Little Rock. Plus, you can't imagine what that would do to lobbyists' bar tab.

Generally speaking you can set your political clock by the Farm Bureau. Find out the animal-cruelty lobby's position on an issue and take the opposite side. Invariably, you'll be correct. This is one where even the broken clock tells the correct time once.

LITTLE ROCK — A broad coalition of business, community and employee groups have formed Arkansans Against Amendment 2: Vote NO on Annual Sessions formally to oppose Amendment 2 on the November ballot.

The Arkansas State Chamber, the Associated Industries of Arkansas, the Arkansas State Employees Association Inc., the Arkansas Municipal League and Arkansas Farm Bureau have come together in opposition to Amendment 2. If passed, proposed Constitutional Amendment 2 would create annual legislative sessions.

Currently, the Legislature meets for a minimum of 60 days every other year, with special sessions as needed. Proposed Constitutional Amendment 2 would limit state appropriations to one year and establish a “fiscal session” every year. It would also allow the consideration of any issue by a two-thirds vote. The amendment would permit the General Assembly to change the meeting date and the year of the fiscal session and allow the Legislature to extend both sessions.

“This is the first step toward a full-time legislature and the death of a citizen legislature,” said Don Zimmerman, executive director of the Arkansas Municipal League. “A full-time legislature requires a lot of time and personal expense. Traditionally, Arkansans have supported a voluntary, citizen legislature and I believe it’s a system that has worked well for the state.

“This amendment will reduce the number of men and women in Arkansas who will be willing and able to serve, especially those who live farther from Little Rock.”

The five organizations forming Arkansans Against Amendment 2 are backed by membership and board policy to oppose the amendment. All five organizations cited a concern about the expense of the additional sessions, from extra days in the Capitol for legislators to extra staffing requirements to the added work of the Department of Finance and Administration to prepare annual budgets.

“The Legislature has demonstrated the ability to prepare the budget successfully without annual sessions,” said Randy Zook, executive director of the Arkansas State Chamber/Associated Industries of Arkansas. “Our state is one of the few in the nation that has a balanced budget requirement. Our Department of Finance and Administration and the state Legislature, through their predictions and conservative budgeting, have kept Arkansas in good financial shape. This amendment calls for an unnecessary growth of government to do, in essence, what we already do now.”
 “The state currently has a safety valve that allows the governor to call special sessions as needed,” said Stanley Reed, president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau. “If a critical situation arose with the budget or any other matter, the governor can call the General Assembly together. Amendment 2 simply assumes that the Legislature needs to meet every year for an extended length of time. That is just not the case.”
Arkansans Against Amendment 2’s main goal is to encourage other organizations and citizens to examine the issue more closely.

“We don’t want this amendment to get lost on the ballot without voters understanding the issue,” said Kay Durnett, executive director of the Arkansas State Employees Association, Inc. “Take a close look at this amendment and decide yourself. We don’t believe Arkansas needs annual sessions of the Legislature, and we believe most Arkansans will agree with us once they take a close look at the amendment.”


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