Thursday, February 13, 2014

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Although the main purpose of fiscal sessions of the legislature is to approve budgets for state agencies, there is a mechanism for considering non-budget bills.
            The first step is for sponsors to introduce a resolution on the first day of the fiscal session to authorize the filing of a non-appropriation bill.  The resolution states the purpose of the non-budget bill.  It must be passed by a two-thirds majority in each chamber.
            On the first day of the 2014 Fiscal Session, the Majority Leader and Minority Leader of the Senate filed Senate Resolution 6, to allow them to co-sponsor a bill affecting election laws. The Senate adopted the resolution by the necessary two-thirds majority, and once the House of Representatives does the same, the co-sponsors may then file the actual bill.
            It would avoid the expense of a special election to fill the vacant office of lieutenant governor. Under the bill, if a vacancy occurs in the office within 10 months of a regularly scheduled general election for lieutenant governor, there shall not be a special election. 
Those criteria are currently in effect.  The Arkansas lieutenant governor resigned from office, effective February 1, and in the general election in November a new lieutenant governor will be elected. 
The bill authorized by SR 6, if approved by the legislature, would save more than $1 million for the expense of a statewide special election. The bill has bipartisan support and no organized opposition has surfaced.
In Arkansas’ first Fiscal Session, in 2010, the legislature considered and approved a non-budget bill to adjust the amounts of lottery scholarships, to ensure that recipients could count on getting a guaranteed amount throughout their years in college.
In every fiscal session legislators must authorize the filing of the Revenue Stabilization Act, which is our balanced budget law.
It seems a paradox, but the Revenue Stabilization Act technically is not a budget bill because it does not specifically appropriate tax dollars for a specific spending category.  It prioritizes funding, so that in the event of a slowdown in collecting tax revenue, state agencies must make spending cuts.
The first appropriation bill approved in regular sessions and fiscal sessions is known as the General Appropriation Bill.  A provision of the state Constitution mandates that it be passed by a three-fourths majority before any other appropriations are voted on, otherwise they will not be lawful.
In 1989 the legislature had to meet in an emergency special session called by then-Governor Bill Clinton, to hurriedly enact about 300 appropriations that had been ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.
During the regular session earlier in 1989 the General Appropriation Act had passed, but only by a vote of 65-to-22 in the House and 25-to-9 in the Senate.  The requirement for a three-fourths majority meant that it needed 75 votes in the House and 27 in the Senate. A lawsuit resulted in the Supreme Court striking all the budget measures.
Lawmakers met in a late June special session that year to first enact the General Appropriations Act by a three-fourths majority and then enact appropriations for all state government agencies.  The special session convened on June 22 and legislature had about a week to complete its work because the fiscal year began a week later, on July 1.

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