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State Capitol Week in Review

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January 14, 2013 by Steve Winkler

State Capitol Week in Review
From Senator Bryan King
January 11, 2013
LITTLE ROCK – On the first day of the 2013 regular session of the
legislature, the chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court is
scheduled to administer the oath of office to 15 freshmen senators and
20 returning senators.
Of the 35-member Senate, 26 have previous legislative experience as
members of the House of Representative.
The state Constitution mandates that regular sessions last a minimum of
60 days, and if necessary they can be extended by a vote of the
legislature. Over the past couple of decades sessions have lasted
around 80 to 90 days. The previous two regular sessions lasted until
mid-April.
The Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor is scheduled to
hit the ground running. In an indication that the committee intends to
get off to a quick start, the chairman has scheduled a meeting on the
first day of the session.
In the early days of the session the majority of activity will take
place in committees, where proposed bills are discussed and the public
is given an opportunity to comment on them. Almost every bill of
substance is amended to contributions of the various interests it
affects. Those amendments are typically presented, discussed and
adopted in committee. Usually by the time a bill has been given a “do
pass” recommendation by the committee and sent to the entire Senate for
a vote, it has been amended to satisfy the concerns of everyone it
affects.
A casual observer sitting in the Senate gallery could easily leave with
the impression that senators do not thoroughly debate bills of
importance.
That is because political differences of opinion are most often ironed
out in committee, where amendments to bills reflect the compromises that
opposing factions have agreed to.
As ordered in the Constitution, the 2011 session began on the second
Monday of the year, which was January 10, 2011. During the regular
session 1,004 bills were introduced in the Senate and 1,231 were
introduced in the House. Of those, 1,242 became law.
The final act was signed by the governor on April 14, 2011. The
legislature went into a two-week recess to allow staff sufficient time
to review all legislation for typographical errors. The regular session
officially ended on April 27 when a small group of lawmakers came back
from the two-week recess and adjourned sine die. After the legislature
adjourned sine die, it cannot reconvene until the next regular or fiscal
session, or unless the governor calls a special session.
The most important and time-consuming duty of the legislature is to
approve budgets for all agencies of state government. That means
setting priorities for spending about $4.8 billion in the state general
revenue fund. The bulk of that revenue comes from state sales taxes,
and individual and corporate income taxes.
In total, the legislature will appropriate almost $20 billion. In
addition to the $4.8 billion in the general revenue fund, the state also
gets matching funds from the federal government. Also, the state
collects special revenues for specific purposes, such as motor fuels
taxes that drivers pay at the gas pump and that are spent to maintain
highway and bridges.
Another source of revenue are “cash funds” generated by specific fees
collected from specific categories of people, such as licensing fees
paid by architects, engineers, attorneys and other professionals.
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Steve Winkler

Steve Winkler is the publisher and editor of the Observer. Email him at steve@wcobserver.com

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