Legislature itches for more control over 'independent' agencies | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Legislature itches for more control over 'independent' agencies

Posted By on Wed, Sep 20, 2017 at 7:01 AM

click to enlarge SHOW US YOUR RULES: Legislature to Game and Fish.
  • SHOW US YOUR RULES: Legislature to Game and Fish.
Michael Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports this morning on growing tension over the legislature's effort to exert more control over the state's constitutionally independent agencies.

Today, the target is the Game and Fish Commission, long jealous of its prerogatives for operating outside legislative control thanks to status given it by Amendment 35 in the Arkansas Constitution. A relatively new constitutional amendment, engineered by Senate President Jonathan Dismang, semingly opened the door to legislative review and approval of independent agency rules, however.

Significantly, this includes not only Game and Fish, but also the Department of Transportation (highways) and the University of Arkansas, both of which enjoy constitutional independence. Dismang has insisted control of these agencies was not his aim and that, to date, the legislature had only wanted an opportunity to "review" and talk about agency rules. But review can amount to approval, as Gov. Asa Hutchinson learned to his displeasure when it came to some Department of Human Services business. This, of course, was always the point. The legislature wants to be the singular controller of government. Another legislative initiative on the ballot next year will give the legislature similar control over rules of the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Voters chose not to heed my warning about the damage the legislature intended to balance of powers in approving the review amendment. Game and Fish decided to fight back. It has refused to submit its rules for review. So now the Legislative Council is talking about not just review, but requiring the approval of Game and Fish rules.

Talk of a lawsuit over the issue is in the air. The current Arkansas Supreme Court's deference to the legislature is a factor Game and Fish must consider should that talk become action. It might be better just to go along with review — even if that is often understood to amount, in practice, to approval.

Far more than a squirrel bag limit is at issue in this brewing conflict. The legislature is capable of a heap of meddling when it comes to building highways, operating universities and setting rules for hunting and fishing. I happen to think they gave themselves the tool to do it with Amendment 92.

A court resolution of the limits of legislative powers could be salubrious, of course. What if the court said the latest amendment had NOT undone the independence earlier granted Game and Fish, the Highway Department and universities? Maybe the colleges could refuse, for example, to bow to the dictates of the legislature on campus safety rules, such as allowing guns on campus.

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