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By David Ferguson

Rule changes in the legislature are rarely of much interest to the public but the rule change in HR1023 is an important one for you. It takes some of the power lost to House leadership and gives it back to your Representative. The rule change means your Representative is a little less beholden to the agenda of leadership. And, that is good news for you and the people living in your district.

Before 2019 your Representative selected his or her standing committee assignments based on seniority within a caucus district (basically your congressional district). For 2019 the rules were changed and your Representative lost that right; instead the Speaker of the House made the committee assignments.

The system substituted the judgement of the Speaker for your Representative’s judgement on where to best serve. It likely made your Representative more beholden to the Speaker and the Speaker’s agenda, which might not be the same agenda as that of the people living in your district. In addition, the system had the potential danger of a Speaker stacking committee memberships to favor special interests or to make sure certain legislation would never make it to the House floor for a vote.

The rule change was not an attack on the Speaker of the House. The Speaker is still very powerful and still has over one hundred appointments to make. For example, the Speaker appoints the chairs and vice chairs of committees and subcommittees of all standing committees and most other committees. The Speaker still appoints all members of some House committees, such as the powerful House Rules Committee.

Before passage of the original term limits amendment, the House of Representatives used to select chairmanships by seniority. The Senate still uses seniority for selection of chairmanships.

HR1023 includes a couple of important changes over the pre-2019 process.  First, Representatives may trade committee assignments, if done the same day as the selection process.  Second, if the minority party (now Democrats) manage to stack a committee to get a majority, the Speaker is authorized to change some committee assignments to ensure the majority party has a bare majority on each committee.

When you give up a right it is hard to get it back. So, congratulations to the members of the Arkansas House of Representatives for regaining the right to select most of their committee assignments.

 


 

David Ferguson is a former Director of Arkansas’ Bureau of Legislative Research, having a thirty-two-year career as an attorney for the Arkansas legislature.  After retirement from state service his primary focus has been beef cattle farming. He is also a former officer of Conduit for Action.

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