LITTLE ROCK — The Legislative Council on Friday rejected amending its rules to allow subcommittees to pass motions with fewer members present.
The measure, proposed by the Council’s executive committee, would have changed the rule to allow subcommittees to approve measures with a majority vote of members present rather than with a majority of the committee members.
Republicans suggested the proposed change was designed to make it easier to implement controversial measures, including pieces of the federal health reform care law such as a state health insurance exchange.
With a two-thirds vote necessary to pass the full committee, the measure failed in a vote along party lines.
Sen. Jim Luker, D-Wynne, said the rule change was needed so major policy — he did not mention any policy in particular — does not get held up in a subcommittee when members fail to attend.
"We’ve gone through a succession of items in recent months where, for lack of a quorum, we’ve taken no action on some of these things," Luker said. "Many of these things are somewhat time sensitive and they are to keep the state in the game, so to speak, on an issue that’s now the law, so far as the laws of this country are concerned, and will remain the law until Congress changes them, not the Legislature."
Arkansas is in the process of setting up health insurance exchange in partnership with the federal government, which is required under the federal Affordable Care Act.
"Are we serving the best interest of the people of Arkansas … making this late change at this hour in the session?" Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, asked during debate over the rule change.
Rice, who is expected to be House Speaker next session if Republicans gain control of the House, said in a later interview that he has heard some fellow Republicans express concerns that changing the vote requirement may be an attempt to make it easier to get elements of the health care exchange passed.
"There are a lot of things that can be done in the three months left this session. I think there’s a lot of concern that way," he said.
Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison, said later the rule change was unnecessary with so little time left for the current Legislature. The 88th General Assembly convenes in January.
"It’s just not good policy, that’s the bottom line," Burris said. "You shouldn’t change the rules to fit around what you want to accomplish. The rules should be the rules and this just didn’t seem like a good rules change."