Proposal to avoid special election for lieutenant governor advances


LITTLE ROCK — A resolution that would allow consideration of legislation to let the governor forgo calling a special election for lieutenant governor was approved by the Senate and a House committee on Tuesday, the second day of the Legislature’s fiscal session.

Senate Resolution 6 by Senate Majority Leader Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, was approved 32-0. The House version, House Bill 1009 by House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, received a “do pass” recommendation from the House Rules Committee in a voice vote in which no “no” votes were heard.

The resolution advances to the full House, where a two-thirds majority vote will be required to consider the non-budget proposal in a fiscal session.

Mark Darr resigned as lieutenant governor Feb. 1 after being fined $11,000 by the state Ethics Commission for misuse of campaign contributions and taxpayer money. Current state law requires the governor to call a special election within 150 days of declaring a vacancy in the office, but legislative leaders have said they want to avoid the cost of a special election since the office is up for election anyway in November.

Under the matching proposals, a special election would not be held to fill a vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office when the vacancy occurs within 10 months of a general election in which the office would be filled, if the governor determines that holding a special election is impractical because of the timing of the vacancy.

Gov. Mike Beebe has said he will sign the legislation if it reaches his desk.

Also Tuesday, the Senate rejected SR 9 by Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, which asked the Senate to consider a bill to allow the director of the Arkansas State Police to issue security guard licenses to school employees and allow them to serve as armed security for their schools. The licenses could not be issued to classroom teachers.

The resolution needed 27 votes and the Senate vote was 19 to 2 with 14 not voting.

The Senate approved SR 12 by Rep. John Woods, R-Springdale, which approved of the way the secretary of state’s office and the attorney general’s office handled confusion over Act 1413 of 2013. The measure requires paid canvassers to be registered with the state and to undergo state-prescribed training and includes a short section that takes the authority of writing popular names for ballot measures referred by the Legislature away from the attorney general’s office but does not specify who is to write them.

In the end, the secretary of state’s office agreed to use popular-name suggestions provided by the attorney general’s office.

Woods told senators that the resolution was needed to help if any lawsuit is filed challenging the popular names.

“This makes sure we’re all on the same page,” Woods said.

A resolution asking the Senate to consider the proposal was approved with the necessary two-thirds support before Woods presented SR 12, which passed 25-8.

In the House, members voted 74-7 to approve an amendment to HB 1002, an appropriation for the executive and judicial branches. The amendment, which required a simple majority vote, would give a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment to the salaries of constitutional officers, prosecuting attorneys and judges.

The House also voted 93-0 to approve HB 1001, a $1.1 million appropriation bill to cover the House’s expenses for the fiscal session.

The House Rules Committee also gave its endorsement Tuesday to House Concurrent Resolution 1001 by Rep. Andrea Lea, R-Russellville, which proposes a streamlined process for referring constitutional amendments to voters during regular sessions. Lea acknowledged that the change would not be binding on the next General Assembly but said it would serve as a suggestion for improving the current process, which she described as “convoluted and difficult.”

The House Rules Committee tabled several other non-budget resolutions, which effectively kills them because the panel has no more scheduled meetings during the session.

Among the measures that did not get out of the committee were separate resolutions by Reps. Westerman and Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, that would ask the House to consider an alternative to the Revenue Stabilization Act that will come out of the Joint Budget Committee. The RSA is the process by which the Legislature sets spending priorities for the coming fiscal year.

Both resolutions were filed as shells, leaving the details to be filled in later.

Westerman told reporters he filed his resolution because he believes the so-called private option for expanding health care coverage will not receive renewed funding during the session, so the budget may need to be rewritten.

House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, told reporters Tuesday that his polling of members shows that three-fourths continue to support the private option.

“It fluctuates daily, but it’s always over 75,” he said.