CONTRIBUTED BY STATE SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE –
LITTLE ROCK – The legislature will convene in fiscal session on April 13 to approve budgets for state agencies.
Traditionally, the Arkansas legislature holds its fiscal sessions in February of even-numbered years. However, in 2015 the legislature moved the 2016 fiscal session to the second Wednesday in April. It also moved the date of the Arkansas primary elections to March 1 of 2016.
The sponsors of the measure that moved the primary election hope it will make Arkansas more relevant in the choosing of presidential candidates. In past presidential election years, by the time Arkansas held primaries in May, both major national parties had already decided on their nominees because so many other states had earlier primaries.
Besides moving the date of the primary to March, the legislature also rescheduled the 2016 fiscal session to April so it would not conflict with election activities.
Arkansas voters will choose not only their candidates for president when they go to the polls on March 1, but also their preferences for numerous legislative and local races.
Historically, regular sessions of the legislature were held every two years, in odd-numbered years. In 2008 Arkansas voters approved a constitutional amendment that authorized annual sessions, with fiscal sessions in even-numbered years being dedicated only to budget bills. The first fiscal session was in 2010.
Regular sessions in odd-numbered years are lengthier and more controversial than fiscal sessions because lawmakers tackle policy issues as well as writing budgets.
There is a parliamentary mechanism for introducing and considering non-budget bills during fiscal sessions, but the process is very difficult and it requires the approval of super majorities of each chamber of the legislature.
Fiscal sessions last 30 days and extending them requires the approval of 75 percent of each chamber. They may not be extended more than 15 days, so a fiscal session can last no longer than 45 days.
Rather than in the fiscal session, it’s more likely that the major policy issues facing legislators in 2016 probably will be considered in a special session, or perhaps in multiple special sessions.
The governor has received the final reports from working groups that spent 2015 working on how to stabilize spending in the Medicaid program, and how to finance highway construction and maintenance. He is expected to announce his plans for highways and health care early in 2016.
Another difficult issue facing lawmakers is how to treat and securely house prison inmates with mental illness. Act 895 of 2015, a comprehensive new law that reforms sentencing procedures and addresses overcrowding, created three separate task forces to work on perennial problems faced by prison officials.
The act created a nine-member group specifically charged with making sure that inmates with mental illnesses received treatment. Its report was released in early December.
The governor has the power to limit the issues that will be voted on during a special session. The legislature may only consider bills that are germane to the issues listed in the governor’s call for a special session. The governor also has the power to schedule the date when a special session convenes.