The Arkansas General Assembly has proposed an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution to allow the General Assembly to call itself into special session. Currently only the Governor can call a special session.
The amendment was proposed by SJR10 of 2021 and will be on the ballot in November 2022.
The General Assembly meets every year, with the regular session being in odd numbered years and the shorter fiscal session in even numbered years. And, currently only a governor may call a special session to address specific issues listed in the governor’s call for the special session.
THOSE FOR AND AGAINST
Giving the General Assembly power to call itself into special session will probably be hard to sell. There is a built-in opposition to the legislature staying around in legislative session. When the legislature goes into session you may hear something like, “Brace yourself the legislature is meeting!” And, when they go home you may hear people say, “It is about time!” A meme paraphrasing Mark Twain says, “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”
It is not just in Arkansas where people say such things about their legislature. It seems to be everywhere and from people on the left and right.
The proposed amendment will likely be opposed by liberal opinion writers who dislike our legislature, which is more conservative than our liberal leaning (but Republican) Governor.
On the other hand, if there was ever a time Arkansans might look favorably on allowing the legislature to call itself into special session it would be now. We have just been through a year of the Covid-19 pandemic, which means we have been through a year of Governor Asa Hutchinson’s unilateral emergency orders restricting business operations and restricting social gatherings. Whether you liked or disliked his orders, some orders were arbitrary and harmful to small business. The Arkansas legislature was powerless to make any adjustments to the Governor’s orders. Why? Because they could not call themselves into special session to make changes. The Governor was certainly not going to call them into special session to challenge his own orders.
Earlier this year the legislature passed some laws to curb the Governor’s emergency powers, but frustration still remains over seeing the legislature’s inability to respond when people disagree with what the governor is doing.
THE INDIFFERENT – DOES IT MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE?
Whether you are for or against giving the legislature the power to call a special session, the reality is the option to call itself into special session is unlikely to ever be used. Even if the legislature had that power last year it is unlikely the legislators would have called themselves into session.
The proposed amendment to the Constitution provides two ways for the legislature to call itself into special session –
- A proclamation by both the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate; or
- A petition by two-thirds of both the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Proclamation. Last year it would have been impossible to get the President Pro Tempore of the Senate to issue a proclamation for a special session challenging the Governor’s orders. The Pro Tempore was Senator Jim Hendren (RINO and now independent). Hendren is the Governor’s nephew and he spent four years as Pro Tempore steering the Senate away from conservative positions and toward Uncle’s more liberal stance.
Another clear example is that of Davy Carter who became Speaker of the House in 2013. There was no way Carter would have bucked former Governor Mike Beebe (D) by calling a special session. Carter, who was a RINO and now an independent or perhaps Democrat, became Speaker with only six Republican votes. Carter won the office because Beebe got the Democrats to support Carter for Speaker. After Beebe gave Carter the win there was no way he would have gone against Beebe in this way.
It would take extreme circumstances for House and Senate leaders to buck a governor by calling a special session when the governor refuses to call one. They would know the full wrath of the governor would be directed at them and their districts for the remainder of a governor’s term. Knowing that, the leaders would be more likely to insist on any special session being called by a petition of the members of the House and Senate.
Petition. Getting two-thirds of the members of the House and Senate to buck the governor by calling a special session, is a big hurdle and very unlikely to happen.
By comparison, let’s look at the legislature’s attempt to buck the Governor this year to override his veto of SB301 which would have required state agencies to return fines collected in enforcing the Governor’s emergency orders on Covid-19. The override only needed a majority vote but it failed in the House because twenty-eight Representatives who had originally voted to pass the bill, flipped and didn’t vote to override the veto.
The legislature already has some powers to address its own agenda by a two-thirds vote.
- The legislature may by a two-thirds vote take up its own agenda at the end of a special session called by the governor. It doesn’t happen.
- During a fiscal session, which occurs in even numbered years, the legislature has the power to address non-budget items by approving the introduction of the bill by a two-thirds vote. It doesn’t happen.
With the legislature being extremely reluctant to consider its own agenda at the end of a Governor’s special session or during a fiscal session, why would you think two-thirds of the Senate and House would go against a governor and call its own special session? The rift between the legislature and a governor would have to be extreme.
GOOD, BAD, INDIFFERENT?
Allowing the legislature to call itself into special session is probably not a bad idea, but is unlikely to ever be used.