TO: Freshmen Members of the Arkansas House
The House of Representatives does not have a good track record when it comes to the treatment of its large freshmen class. Earlier articles in this series show that–1) the House chooses a Speaker-Designate without the input of freshmen, and 2) freshmen are herded though the House organizational meeting without an opportunity to have a real voice. In practice, both of these rules support a power structure that is unfavorable to freshmen. Sadly, I have other examples to bring to you.
House Rule 72[i] says:
72.(a) Except as provided in subsection (b), no action may be taken in the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor or on the Floor of the House of Representatives on any bill that provides for licensure of any profession, occupation or class of health care providers not currently licensed or expands the scope of practice of any profession, occupation, or class of health care providers unless the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor has initiated a study of the feasibility of such legislation at least thirty (30) days prior to convening the next legislative session.
72.(b) A bill providing for the licensure of any profession, occupation, or class of health care providers not currently licensed or expanding the scope of any practice of any profession, occupation, or class of health care providers may be acted upon without the initiation of a feasibility study required in subsection (a) upon a two-thirds (2/3) vote of the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee membership.
Unlike upper classmen, freshmen effectively can only file a bill on these subjects by seeking approval to file the bill by 2/3rds of the House Committee on Public Health Welfare, and Labor members. In practice, to avoid having to meet the 2/3rds vote requirement the freshmen would have had to get the committee of the previous legislature to initiate a study on the bill at least thirty (30) days before the freshman was sworn in as a legislator (which happens at the beginning of Session–second Monday in January.)[ii] This requirement is impossible for freshmen.
- The freshman does not have the right to file a study proposal with committee, which is a a committee of the previous legislature. The study must be started at least 30 days before the freshman is sworn in.
- Even if the freshman could initiate a study, the timeline is extremely short. The study would have to be initiated around the second week of December, and the freshman would have only been a member-elect for about a month.
- Even if the freshman could file a study, he or she would be dependent on a committee of the previous legislature to agree to initiate the study. This gives a committee of the previous legislature veto power.
- There is no guarantee that the committee would even meet during this short timeframe.
- With this timeframe, the study would be of no value. Even if the committee agreed to initiate a study, the time is so short that it would be near impossible to have study results of ANY value.
This leaves the freshman with trying to get 2/3rds of the Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee to allow a bill to be filed. Under voter initiated term limits over one-third of the House are freshmen. This Rule disenfranchises all of them.
Reasons behind the rules – protectionism
Filing deadlines are normally intended to help in scheduling the drafting and filing of bills. For example, budget bills must be filed by the 50th calendar day. And the last filing day for general bills is the 55th calendar day (actually the 57th calendar day because the deadline always falls on a weekend). There are so many bills filed on or just before these two deadlines that is would be extremely difficult for legislative staff to handle both kinds of bills on the same day. Therefore, having two different deadlines obviously helps in the flow.
Do the special rules for bills on licensing new medical professions or expanding the scope of practice help with the flow of bills? The answer is, “No.” There is often less than a handful of such bills filed on the subject during an entire legislative session. It appears that the rule is actually about protecting the status quo among health professions. This rule gives the health care lobbyists early warning in order to defend their territory. (I don’t care whether health care professionals get special treatment, but I think freshmen deserve an assessment of what is going on in practice.)
House Rule conflicts with the Joint Rules of the Senate and House.
This House Rule conflicts with the Joint Rules of the House and Senate. The Joint Rules are also very stringent, but the Joint Rules do not make it impossible for freshmen to file a bill. The Joint Rules require such bills be filed within the first fifteen calendar days of the Session.
Since the House Rule conflicts with the Joint Rules there are two possibilities as to why:
- Over a number of years, nobody at the House bothered to check for conflicts with the Joint Rules; or
- The House is aware of the conflict but wants to impose the House Rule to deter bill filing. (I think the latter is the much more likely option, especially if the purpose of the Rule is protectionism.)
Which rule controls? It appears the House Rule controls for House members. A House Rule that only affects House members would normally overrule the Joint Rule because uniformity is not necessary for joint operation of the House and Senate. Although the rule is unfair to freshmen, it does not cause a problem with how the Senate does business on this issue.
The track record in the House has been to ignore Joint Rules even when uniformity is needed. A few years ago the House decided to change the procedure on how a non-appropriation bill may be filed without consulting the Senate and without amending the Joint Rules. Not only did the House Rule conflict with the Joint Rule, but the procedure was incompatible with the Senate procedure under the Joint Rules. The House dictated a new procedure and the Senate had to follow suit in order to make the system work.
So, Freshmen–when House members tell you that selecting a Speaker-Designate without your participation is for your good, and when they tell you everything is fine as they rush you through your organizational meeting and binding you to old rules, then go ahead and thank them for also excluding you from the burden of filing certain health care bills.
[i] The House Rules of the previous legislature was last adopted in HR1001 of the 2014 Fiscal Session