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Legislative Session Gets Off to a Quick Start

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LITTLE ROCK – The 92nd General Assembly began with the traditional combination of ceremonial activities and then immediately getting down to business.

Newly elected senators took the oath of office, administered by the chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The governor addressed a joint session of the Senate and the House, laying out his legislative agenda.

Legislators filed more than 300 bills and referred them to committee for debate and to get input from the public.

HB 1145 would raise minimum teacher salaries over the next four years, from $31,400 to $36,000 a year. For teachers with a master’s degree, the minimum salary would go from $36,050 to $40,650.

The bill also would raise minimum salaries for other teachers. For example, the minimum salary for a teacher with eight years’ experience would go from $35,000 to $36,400 a year in the 2019-2020 school year.

HB 1145 is sponsored by the chairman of the House Education Committee, to which it was referred for initial consideration.

Two other bills, HB 1165 and HB 1166, would implement a broad restructuring of state government, in order to reduce the number of cabinet level agencies from 42 to 15. They were referred to the House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs.

Senate Bill 17, to reduce by half the fees for permits to carry a concealed handgun, was referred to the Senate Committee on City, County and Local Affairs.

SB 4 would create a task force of legislators on issues affecting veterans, with a special focus on preventing suicides and improving access to mental health care. The bill was sent to the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Senate Joint Resolution 1, also referred to the Senate State Agencies Committee, would place on next year’s ballot a proposed amendment to repeal fiscal sessions of the legislature.

The first substantive bill approved by the legislature is the General Appropriation Act. Under Article 5 of the state Constitution, the legislature must enact the measure before it passes any other budget bill.

The Constitution mandates that it be passed by a three-fourths majority before any other appropriations are voted on, otherwise they will not be lawful.

In 1989 the legislature had to meet in emergency special session, called by then-Governor Bill Clinton, to hurriedly re-enact about 300 appropriations that had been ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.

That was necessary because during the regular session earlier in the year, the General Appropriation Act was passed but without a 75 percent supermajority. A lawsuit resulted in the Supreme Court striking all the budget measures.

Lawmakers met in a late June special session. They first enacted the General Appropriations Act by a three-fourths majority and then they enacted appropriations for all state agencies, higher education and public schools.

That special session convened on June 22, 1989, which gave the legislature only a week to complete its work on hundreds of bills by the end of the fiscal year, which was June 30.

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