Let There Be Light!

More transparency is good for taxpayers.

More transparency is good for taxpayers.

Perhaps the biggest achievement of the 89th General Assembly so far is the passage of a new rule that will shine more sunlight into legislative proceedings. After 4 years of trying, Rep. Andrea Lea has finally pushed the rule through — it passed the full House without an opposing vote on Wednesday. The new guideline requires all bills to be public 2 days or, more technically, “two midnights” before they can be voted on by the full House. Bills will be posted online at the legislature’s website and citizens will have an extra day to review bills before they can be voted on. Previous rules only provided 24 hours for review.

Here’s the rule, which was passed as part of HR1001 (section 41):

“No regular bill or resolution may be brought up for a third reading and final passage on the Floor of the House until it has been on the calendar of the House for at least two (2) days.”

Rep. Lea said she does not anticipate that the rule will extend the length of the legislative session because it will be waived in the final weeks. However, the bill provides much needed transparency in the early weeks and allows for a learning curve for new legislators:

“In an era of term limits, we need as much time as possible to consider bills. Going from one day to two days helps,” Lea said.

The passage of the new rule was widely reported by the mainstream media in the state, but the reports were void of one key observation: the fight for this freedom-friendly rules change has been squashed by Democratic leadership for years. Rep. Lea proposed this same rules change in 2009 and in 2011. Both times, her motion was not even given a “second” in committee. When a group of legislators tried to propose it from the floor it 2009, it failed to pass. In 2011, Speaker Robert Moore would not allow the issue to be considered from the floor. Now, one week into a new conservative majority, House procedures are already beginning to change for the better. Arkansans can hope this is just one in a plethora of new transparency reforms to come through the legislature.