The Arkansas General Assembly convenes for their regular session for the 89th time on Monday, January 14.
With Republicans in the majority in the state House and Senate for the first time since the 1870s it has generated lots of speculation on what changes or types of legislation the new majority will implement now that they have control. With 51 seats in the House (out of 100) and 21 seats in the Senate (out of 35), Republicans will be able to pass all but budget bills without getting any support from Democrats. Budget bills require 3/4th approval so whatever budget is finally approved will be bipartisan.
The General Assembly utilizes a committee structure to review and approve bills for votes on the floor of the House and Senate. So to become law a bill must be approved by a committee first before it can be voted on by the entire House or Senate (with, I think, one rarely used procedural exception). Therefore if Democrats oppose a non-budget related bill they will either need Republican support or they will need to stop it at the committee level.
In the 2011 legislative session the Republicans appeared to be a very organized and mostly unified group on legislative issues. So normally I would find it unlikely that many Republicans would cross over to support Democrats in opposition to their party on major issues. However, the recent race for Speaker of the House highlighted that the Republicans aren't necessarily unified on big issues. The Speaker's race saw a coalition of very conservative Republicans and presumably all the Democrats in the House to elect Davy Carter (R, Cabot) over the presumptive Republican candidate, Terry Rice (R, Waldron). If a coalition that diverse can come together on an issue as important as the election of the Speaker of the House, anything is possible.
The second option for Democrats is to stop bills at the committee level. Republicans control all of the key committees in the Senate. They also control Revenue and Tax, Education and State Agencies in the House. So if it is related to schools, tax cuts, elections or constitutional amendments Republican have a clear path to enact their agenda if they are unified.
Democrats share control of Insurance and Commerce and Public Health committees, which are the two most likely to deal hot button issues like insurance exchanges and healthcare. So any legislation related to these issues will require bipartisan support for it to become law.
You can view a list of House Committee assignments HERE. You can view a list of Senate Committee Assignments HERE.
Like every legislative session, it is going to be an interesting one so please visit www.rogerslowellvotes.com to find information on important issues and stay informed in 2013!