How often should we meet?
That’s a question some state legislators are asking.
Fiscal sessions in Arkansas were created by a constitutional amendment passed by Arkansas voters in 2008. Under the 2008 amendment, the legislature convenes on even-numbered years to consider budget bills, and also convenes on odd-numbered years (like this one) to consider both budget bills and non-budget public policy bills.
Before the 2008 amendment’s passage, the legislature only met once every two years — and every budget it passed was for two years, not one year.
Legislators occasionally consider non-budget bills in fiscal sessions, but a supermajority is required for such legislation to be considered in a fiscal session.
There’s already been one proposed constitutional amendment filed to end fiscal sessions — it’s by State Sen. Jim Hendren. His proposal would roll back the clock, back to the days when the Arkansas legislature had biennial legislative sessions.
Hendren didn’t return a request for comment.
Another possibility being considered by Rep. Andy Davis would be to do away with fiscal sessions, but replace them with annual legislative sessions.
Davis hasn’t filed any legislation on this matter yet. Davis said in a texting conversation that it was an “80 percent probability” that he files such legislation “for discussion sake.” Davis also said “hard caps” to limit the length of the annual sessions would be included, and the total length of the two legislative sessions over a biennium would be the same as the current system.
His proposal would lead to “shorter sessions, more often,” according to Davis.
To be fair to Davis, annual sessions for state legislatures are now the norm in the United States with 46 states meeting annually, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
The four states that have legislatures that meet on a biennial basis are Nevada, Montana, North Dakota, and Texas. However, these four states aren’t bad states for Arkansas to emulate. Nevada and Texas both have no state income tax. All four states rank in the top twenty of the Tax Foundation’s study of the lowest overall state-and-local tax burdens.
Regarding this debate over how often the state legislature should meet, I always think of the Mark Twain quote about no man’s life, liberty, or property being safe while the legislature is in session.
It’s just common sense: the more a legislature meets, the more opportunities they’ll have to tax, spend, and regulate more.
Although our state is nicknamed the “Land Of Opportunity,” I think Arkansas would be best served by limiting the amount of opportunities legislators have to expand government. Advocates of smaller government are likely best served by Hendren’s proposal: namely, a return to meeting biennially.