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Committee Hears Possible Constitutional Amendments On Arkansas Legislative Power

Arkansas Senate

The Senate State Agencies and Public Affairs committee spent nearly an hour Tuesday hearing about and discussing two possible amendments to the Arkansas Constitution. Both deal with the power of the legislature itself. 

Under Senate Joint Resolution 10, the legislature would be able to convene in an extraordinary session without needing the governor to call them in. A joint proclamation of the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate would be enough to bring lawmakers together. 

Rep. Francis Cavenaugh, R-Walnut Ridge, presented the resolution to the committee. 

"I’ve had people ask me why would you run something like this? And for me, it’s a way to try to equalize the power between the two branches, between the legislative branch and the executive branch, and that’s really what we’re trying to do," Cavenaugh said. 

No one from the public spoke for or against the resolution.

The committee spent the majority of its meeting discussing and hearing testimony over Senate Joint Resolution 9, which would grant the legislative branch the ability to "prescribe rules of pleading, practice, procedure and evidence for all courts." Currently the Arkansas Supreme Court has that authority.

Sen. Bob Ballinger, R- Ozark, presented the bill to the committee.

"I actually believe strongly that the court should have the ability to set rules and manage itself. However, I also feel, even probably more passionately that the legislature should have the ability to legislate policy," Ballinger said. "Now, they don’t see a lot of those things as policy. They see it as rule making, that it violates rules of practice and procedure, and of course, from my standpoint, I would disagree." 

Five people spoke against the legislation, including Paul Keith, president of the Arkansas Bar Association. In his testimony, Keith said the power to set those rules should remain with the court. 

"The current procedure for adoption of ratification and modification of court rules takes full advantage of the accumulated expertise of the lawyers and judges who sit on the rules committees that are appointed by the Arkansas Supreme Court. They understand and appreciate these rules because they work under them every day," Keith said. 

He also expressed concern that this resolution would unbalance the separation of power between the branches of government by "giving one branch of government supervisory authority over another."

The committee did not take action on either resolution. According to state law, the legislature can approve of up to three resolutions proposing constitutional amendments. Any resolutions passed during this legislative session would go before voters in the 2022 General Election.

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