BY STATE SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE –
LITTLE ROCK – When the legislature meets in fiscal session in February, it is expected that several non-budget bills will be introduced.
The main purpose of a fiscal session is for lawmakers to approve budgets for state government for the following year. In the February fiscal session we will finalize spending requests for state agencies, public schools and state-supported institutions of higher education. Those requests will be approved in budgets for Fiscal Year 2015, which begins on July 1, 2014.
The constitutional amendment that established fiscal sessions authorizes the legislature to introduce non-budget bills. The sponsor must win adoption of a resolution in both chambers – the Senate and the House of Representatives – by a two-thirds majority. Under joint rules of the Senate and House, the resolution must be filed on the first day of the fiscal session in order to introduce a non-budget bill.
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week repeated his intention to file legislation during the fiscal session that would clarify laws under which schools can train staff to hold a concealed carry firearms permit.
The state board that licenses private security firms has voted to allow 13 Arkansas school districts to train and arm staff, under permits that expire in two years. However, under the current rules of the state Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies other school districts may not train and arm staff. Several lawmakers have expressed their intention to legislatively eliminate the discrepancy in how different school districts are treated under the current regulations.
Another issue that possibly will be considered during the fiscal session is a change to Arkansas’ death penalty procedures. Current law is for the state to use lethal injection to execute inmates convicted of capital murder. However, the state Correction Department no longer has supplies of the lethal drugs that are supposed to be used under state law. Also, the state is deeply involved in lawsuits filed by death row inmates.
The legislature may consider a change in laws governing parolees. There have been discussions among lawmakers and law enforcement authorities about making it a criminal offense for a parolee to avoid supervision for more than 180 days. Due to pressure from legislators, parole officers are acting under stricter rules and hundreds of parolees are back behind bars for rules violations that previously did not trigger a return to jail.
There may be an attempt during the fiscal session to change the new “private option” law that was enacted earlier this year to implement federal health care reform. Of all the states, Arkansas’s method of implementing the federal health care law is unique in how it relies on private sector insurance companies rather than on an expansion of existing government programs.
For many generations the Arkansas legislature met in regular session every other year, in odd numbered years. In a statewide election in 2008, Arkansas voters approved Amendment 86 to authorize yearly sessions, with the sessions in even numbered years devoted to budgets.
In 2010, during the first fiscal session in Arkansas history, the legislature enacted about 300 appropriations for state agency budgets. Only two non-budget bills were considered. One was the law requiring a balanced budget, which technically is not an appropriation. The other non-budget bill set the amounts of lottery scholarships for qualifying college students.