News & Events
What Can We Talk About?
Lawmakers came back to the capital city this week after a long recess. But what topics are they allowed to discuss in this unusual session?
The Arkansas Legislature reconvened on Wednesday, September 29 to tackle redistricting, but a lot more has been placed on the agenda. Are topics of discussion limited? Will there be litigation if COVID-19 related bills are passed? What is germane to the resolution? These are the questions that have popped up continuously over the last few days of session. In this blog, we’ll take a quick look at the resolution that set up the extended recess and the legal precedent defining “unfinished business” allowed to be addressed by lawmakers.
House Concurrent Resolution 1015, which established the extended recess, allows the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore to reconvene the General Assembly at any time for the purpose of:
Correcting errors and oversights;
Completing its work on congressional redistricting;
Considering legislation related to the COVID-19 public health emergency and distribution of COVID-19 relief funds;
and considering the need for further extension of the Regular Session of the Ninety-Third General Assembly
The question currently under debate is what falls under the scope of Section D? Some lawmakers argue the resolution was intended to focus only on the unfinished work of distribution of American Care Act funds, while others believe it allows consideration of anything related to the ongoing public health emergency. According to testimony by Marty Garrity, the Director of Bureau of Legislative Research, the bills related to COVID-19 vaccine mandate prohibitions, if passed, may face legal challenges. But, as lawmakers in support of hearing these bills stated, it is unknown how a Court would rule on the matter.
A 1980 Arkansas Supreme Court opinion has been referenced repeatedly in these debates. Wells v. Riviere, a 4-3 opinion, held that constitutional amendments proposed after an extended recess were not valid. The Court concluded that because the amendments were not considered or proposed during the initial session, they were not unfinished business to be taken up after lawmakers reconvened. Instead, they were new business and therefore not appropriate for the purposes of reconvening to complete pending matters. The dissent called the majority opinion an “encroachment into the legislative process.”
As of this morning, 15 bills related to COVID-19 have been filed and both Chambers have moved forward with consideration. Many of the bills appear to have strong legislative support. Accordingly, we may see the Arkansas Supreme Court revisit the Wells opinion in the near future.