Vacant lieutenant governor’s office addressed by committees

LITTLE ROCK — Two measures concerning the now-vacant lieutenant governor’s office were endorsed by legislative committees Wednesday.

The Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee recommended Senate Bill 139 by Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, which would keep the office vacant until the November election.

The special language committee approved an amendment to SB 53, the budget for the lieutenant governor’s office for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, which would essentially reduce the number of employees from four to one from July 1 until the next lieutenant governor is sworn in in January.

Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Darr resigned Feb. 1 after being fined $11,000 by the state Ethics Commission for misuse of campaign funds and taxpayer money.

SB 139 says a special election would not be held to fill a vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office if 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.

The bill, which is supported by the governor, is expected to be considered by the Senate on Thursday.

The amendment to SB 53 would appropriate no more than $52,000 to the office from July 1 to Jan. 1, 2015. Of that $52,000, $40,000 would be for salaries and $12,000 for personal services.

Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, said the proposal was not partisan and praised the four employees now working in the office.

“There have been (some) who have said maybe we should leave that one person in that office that could handle phone calls and if there are issues at least refer them to the proper person,” Maloch said.

“What this would do is allow for at least one staff person … to remain there,” he said. “This at least would allow some expenditure and at least one person to remain in the office” for the second half of 2014.

The amendment was endorsed on a voice vote.

A previous amendment by Maloch, which would have not funded the office from July 1 to Jan.1, 2015, was rejected by the committee on a voice vote.

SB 53 is expected to be considered by the Joint Budget Committee on Thursday.