Senate Committee Begins Talk on Government Reorganization

The Senate State Agencies committee met on Tuesday and had a special order of business to discuss legislation included in the Governor’s state government reorganization plan. State Rep. Andy Davis (R – Little Rock), Sen. Bart Hester (R – Bentonville), and Amy Fecher, Chief Transformation Officer, presented HB1070 and fielded questions from members of the committee.

Davis testified that this first bill  spells out the different departments of state government including the purpose, definitions, and transfer mechanisms. He said the bill focused on consistent naming throughout the 15 departments. Current boards and commissions would fall underneath each of the departments. Current agency heads will be directors of divisions with a secretary head over all the divisions.

Senator Will Bond (D – Little Rock) expressed support for savings and efficiency promised in the legislation. Ms. Fecher stated there was no estimate from sharing of business and administrative services, but pointed to the Governor’s estimate of $15 million in savings for the reorganization efforts. Fecher said the estimate came from the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA). Bond requested to see the calculations that led to the $15 million in estimated savings that the Governor has announced. Sen. Hester then responded that the Governor hopes that the Secretary heads will work out shared services within their departments and that the assumptions of savings were very conservative. None of the presenters seemed to have any calculations with them at the meeting.

Later in the meeting Chairman Sen. Ron Caldwell (R – Wynne) directed DFA Senior Counsel Joel DiPippa to provide Sen. Bond with the calculations/estimate of the $15 million in savings. Sen. Bill Sample (R – Hot Springs) expressed support to have fiscal impact statements for all the reorganization bills similar to how tax bills receive them. Bureau of Legislative Research Director Marty Garrity said something could be put together but was unsure of what that would look like.

Sen. Jimmy Hickey Jr. (R – Texarkana) had done his homework in preparation for the meeting. Sen. Hickey had a series of specific questions, referencing page numbers and lines for discussion. Hickey stated he was supportive of the transformation efforts but had some questions about the language proposed. Hickey asked a couple of questions about the legislature’s oversight on the process.

Rep. Andy Davis assured Hickey that “this bill will not change anyone’s funding mechanism or balance” and that was the intent. Davis also pointed out that they would be refining some language and would add his questions about specific language use to the list of potential changes.

Fecher reported that her office had met with the 42 current cabinet level positions regarding the changes.

Senator Bond pointed out that the legislation would allow the Secretary of the 15 reorganized departments to have hiring and firing authority over all employees within that department. Davis responded that they would have the ability, but they could delegate that authority down the line of supervisors and commented that is what the intent is and how it is done currently. Ultimately the authority would lie with the secretary of the department.

Senator Bond questioned about having Senate confirmation over the 15 cabinet level positions. It was unclear if other bills include language like that but some clarification later in the meeting indicated that if senate oversight or confirmation was currently required it would still be required under the new laws. Davis stated he did not believe the cabinet level positions were required to have senate confirmation currently so would not be required under the changed law. Fecher indicated it was something they might could add in though.

The proposed law would reorganize state government into 15 cabinet level departments. Here is a flow chart of the reorganization. These include:

Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Corrections, Department of Education, Department of Energy and Environment, Department of Finance and Administration, Department of Health, Department of Human Services, Department of the Inspector General, Department of Labor and Licensing, Department of Military, Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism, Department of Public Safety, Department of Transformation and Shared Services, and Department of Veteran Affairs.

All of these departments would be overseen by secretary heads that would be appointed by and report to the Governor. They would serve at the pleasure of the Governor.

HB1070 is one of several bills filed regarding government reorganization. It is expected that all the bills will eventually be filed together as an omnibus bill that could exceed 1,500 pages, according to Arkansas Democrat Gazette reporting. The Senate State Agencies committee will meet again Thursday to discuss two more reorganization bills. It is expected that full review of all the legislation could take up to four weeks.

Senate State Agencies is chaired by Sen. Ron Caldwell (R- Wynne) and the Vice Chair is Sen. Trent Garner (R- El Dorado).


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