IF YOU SUPPORT TERM LIMITS, you will find these rules of the Arkansas legislature disturbing. What will your legislator and legislative candidates say about the legislature’s anti-term limits rules?
As I write, the 2014 General Election is less than a week away. Issue #3 proposed by the Arkansas legislature is attempting to weaken voter initiated term limits. I think Issue #3 will lose and lose big! It is so unpopular that legislators who voted for it are trying to distance themselves from it. Representative James Ratliff who voted for the proposal tried to explain that he has always been against it despite voting for it. He said, “Sometimes you just need to put it on the ballot and let the people make their own decision.”[i] Did Ratliff’s answer make you laugh or cringe or both?
What you probably don’t know about term limits is — the legislature successfully implemented rules to minimize the effects of term limits and maximize the influence of lame duck legislators! The legislature also retained some rules that make no sense under term limits other than to extend the influence of lame duck legislators.
The voters adopted term limits in 1992 and legislative service began to count against the limit in 1993. The full effects were not seen in the House of Representatives until the 1998 election and later for the Senate. 1997 was especially a big year for the legislature to limit the effects of term limits on themselves though adoption of rule changes.
LEGISLATIVE RULES MAXIMIZING THE POWER OF LAME DUCKS AND MINIMIZING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF NEW LEGISLATORS.
- After term limits, the legislature lifted the ban on lame ducks being on the Arkansas Legislative Council and making decision about budget recommendations for the next legislature.
- After term limits, the House of Representative gave the previous legislature say-so over whether certain bills can be filed for the next session.
- The legislature retained a system of letting the previous legislature pick the designated leader of the next House and Senate. This does not make sense now that term limits brings turnover in the legislature. This anti term limits system gives designated future leaders many months to consolidate their power. The designee system essentially disenfranchises over a 1/3 of the House members because they weren’t in office when the designee was chosen.
- After term limits, the House gave the Speaker massive appointment power which also greatly helps the Speaker-Designee secure his or her position before the new legislature is elected.
- The timing of the House and Senate organizational meetings give new legislators little or no opportunity question organizational matters.
Don’t expect returning House and Senate members to rebel against this anti term limits system. Many returning legislators have something to lose in 2015 because they are expecting the anti-term limits system to help them get plum committee assignments.
- LAME DUCKS NOW DECIDE BUDGET ISSUES
Arkansas law used to say a legislator could no longer serve on the Arkansas Legislative Council, if after the November election it was known that he or she would not be a legislator in the next session in January. The purpose of the rule was to keep lame ducks from making important decisions such as budget matters.
Once term limits went into place it was obvious that a number of legislators could not come back because of term limits. It would have made perfect sense to remove these lame ducks before the budget hearings begin in October. Instead the legislature did the opposite. Act 1354 of 1997 lifted the ban, so that lame ducks could serve and make budget decision until the bitter end. The budget recommendations being made for the 2015 session will be based on the votes and motions of many lame ducks. There isn’t a good reason for these legislators to remain on the committee, since the law also provides for a 1st and 2nd alternate member to serve if there is a vacancy or if the committee member is absent from the meeting.
- HOUSE IMPOSES RULE GIVING THE PREVIOUS LEGISLATURE A SAY OVER THE INTRODUCTION OF CERTAIN BILLS.
House Resolution 1001 of 1997 sponsored by Representative Pat Flanagin imposed a new rule meant to give special protection to health care providers from legislation that could change their scope of practice or provide for a new category of health care provider.
The effect of the House Rule is that the previous legislature must start a study on your draft bill before you can even introduce the bill. The only other way is to get two-thirds approval by the House Public Health, Welfare & Labor Committee to let introduce your bill. Not only does the provision give the previous legislature say-so over introduction of a bill, it is impossible for a freshman to comply with because they can’t introduce a study to the old House of Representatives.
- CONTINUATION OF THE SPEAKER-DESIGNATE SYSTEM AND ADOPTION OF THE SENATE PRESIDENT PRO TEMPORE-DESIGNEE SYSTEM.
Before term limits, there was almost no turn over in the legislature. As a convenience, the House of Representative adopted a system where they would elect a Speaker-Designate months before the next session so that Speaker candidates wouldn’t be bugging them for months about support for the position.
Once term limits was adopted by the people, the Speaker-Designate system made no sense anymore because at least 1/3rd of the House selecting the Speaker-Designate cannot serve in the next legislature. This gives the old legislature a huge say in who will be the leaders of the next legislature. Plus, with so many not being able to come back it is possible for a Speaker-Designate to be elected by a minority of returning House members.
The old Senate also selects a President Pro Tempore-Designee. The Senate followed the House’s lead but does not have specific rules on the selection.
It may be pointed out that in 2012 the House and Senate rejected the designees, but this was only because the House and Senate went from Democrat to Republican majorities.
How long ago were the designees chosen?
- The old House of Representatives chose Jeremy Gillam (R) as Speaker-Designee on March 19, 2014. That is nearly 10 months before the 2015 session!
- The old Senate chose Jonathan Dismang (R) as President Pro Tempore-Designate on April 22, 2013. That is 20 months before the 2015 session!
Because the old legislature gave them a huge advantage, both designees are confident in their position.
- Jeremy Gillam (R) is so confident in his position that he refused to campaign for candidates of this own party who are challenging incumbent Democrats. Legislators line up to get chairmanship and plum committee assignments and stay silent about this system.
- Jonathan Dismang (R) is so confident that he has openly stated that he hopes Democrat Senator Larry Teague will be chair of the Joint Budget Committee.[ii] Joint Budget is one of the most important committees.
- POWERS OF THE SPEAKER.
After the passage of term limits, the House of Representatives gave the Speaker of the House new broad powers to appoint committee chairs and vice chairs. HR1001 of 1995 gave the Speaker the power to appoint the chairs and vice chairs of the House standing committees. Later the Speaker was given even more power by appointing chairs and vice chairs of subcommittees of standing committees. With these and other appointments the Speaker has over 100 legislative appointment.
Not only have they given the Speaker huge power, it also serves to help consolidate the power of the Speaker-Designee and creates a feudal loyalty system to the Speaker-Designee who was chosen by the previous legislature.
- TIMING OF THE ORGANIZATIONAL MEETINGS
It is nearly impossible to undo organizational decisions made by the previous legislature. New legislators are given basically no time to consider organizational issues. They are herded in to the organizational meeting and expected to go along with the system of the previous legislature. The House organizational meeting is November 7, 2014 (only three days after the election) and the Senate meeting is November 14, 2014. So here’s the catch – after the House and Senate organizational meetings there is little that can be done about anti term limits rules for another two years.
LEGISLATURE VERSUS THE PEOPLE
The people may be able to defeat Issue #3. But, so far the legislature has won its battle to minimize the impact of term limits by maximizing the previous legislatures’ influence over the next legislature.
[i] Villager Journal, Oct 29, 2014