Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – Most of the 35 members of the Arkansas Senate have experience running their own business.

Arkansas has a citizen legislature. That means lawmakers have full time jobs in their hometowns, if they are not retired, and they come to the state Capitol on a part time basis.

Five senators are active in farming or ranching. One is a pharmacist, one is a funeral director, one operates a pest control business, one is an accountant, one is a financial advisor,

one has an equipment rental business, one has a car dealership and two senators are in insurance.

Several senators have interests in real estate, either in developing land, managing real estate or as a broker.

Seven of the senators are attorneys, including one who is a retired judge and a former prosecutor. Seven other senators have experience in teaching, another has been a school

superintendent and another has a child care center. The senators who are retired or former teachers have worked in K-12 and in higher education. They worked in small, rural schools as

well as in the largest urban school districts in Arkansas.

One senator is a retired land surveyor. One senator owns a radio station. Another is an engineer for a railroad company. One senator recently retired after 44 years in the State Police,

where he had risen to the rank of captain.

One of the senators is an executive for a community foundation, which awards grants and offers financial services to local charities. Another senator's career has been in organizations

that serve people with developmental disabilities. One senator used to manage a surgical clinic.

Of the 35 senators, eight are women and four are African-American. Twenty are Democrats and 15 are Republicans.

The oldest member of the Senate is 74 and the youngest is 31.

In odd numbered years, during regular sessions of the legislature, they spend about three consecutive months working at the Capitol in Little Rock. In even-numbered years they spend

a month in Little Rock for fiscal sessions, which are mainly limited to appropriation bills that authorize spending by state agencies.

Regular sessions generally last from early January to late March or early April. There is no set schedule and the state Constitution only mandates that a regular session last for a minimum

of 60 days. The legislature may extend a regular session beyond 60 days.

Fiscal sessions begin in early February and last a minimum of 30 days. Under the Constitution they may not be extended to more than 45 days.

The rest of the year legislators only come to Little Rock occasionally for committee meetings. The frequency depends on which committees they serve on, for example, the Legislative

Joint Auditing Committee and the Legislative Council meet once a month. Other interims committees, such as Insurance and Commerce and Judiciary, don't meet as often.

In the interim between sessions the legislature cannot officially vote to enact a law or approve a budget. The value of interim meetings is that they allow lawmakers to stay current on

state government issues. In the fall before regular sessions the frequency of interim meetings picks up noticeably when the legislature schedules budget hearings.

A legislator, whether a senator or a member of the House of Representatives, receives a salary from the state of $15,869 a year. That amount is set in the state Constitution.

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