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The Arkansas Legislative Council (ALC) is arguably the most powerful committee of the Arkansas General Assembly. The ALC wields considerable power between legislative sessions, and seats on the council remain highly sought after. Accusations have sometimes been made that the council has taken too much power and that it is violating its charter.
Act 192 of 1947 created the Arkansas Legislative Council committee to collect data for the legislature to use during the regular biennial session of the General Assembly; modifications to the council were implemented the following session with Act 264 of 1949. The ALC oversees the Bureau of Legislative Research, which provides support services to all members of the legislature. The ALC consists of thirty-six regular members; the House of Representatives chooses twenty members, and the Senate chooses sixteen. Twenty-four ex-officio members serve alongside these regular members.
The role of the ALC has changed over time. Originally, the council served as a joint interim committee of the General Assembly that would operate between biennial sessions of the legislature. Its primary aim was to gather information. In the years prior to Amendment 86, approved by voters in 2008 to provide for annual legislative sessions, the council acted as a mini-legislature. The council regularly reviewed budget requests from state agencies before the governor submitted his budget to the legislature; as a result, agencies increasingly came under the control of the council and its members. These agencies had to seek advice or permission before taking certain actions. Some constitutional scholars have questioned this, claiming it crossed the line between the executive and legislative authority. By 1973, all agency requests were first submitted to the governor’s office prior to being submitted to the council.
An example from a 1981 ALC meeting demonstrates the power of the council. Arkansas Power and Light (AP&L), the state’s largest utility (now Entergy Arkansas), developed a plan to offer interest-free loans to homeowners for conservation improvements in compliance with Act 748 of 1977. This act required public utilities, under the supervision of the Public Service Commission, to invest in conservation. Despite the fact that both the Public Service Commission and AP&L were following an act already passed by the General Assembly, the ALC decided that it did not approve of Arkansas ratepayers paying for these low-interest loans and refused to accept the loan program.
Prior to term limits enacted in 1992 (limiting members of the state House of Representatives to three two-year terms and members of the state Senate to two four-year terms), only members who had the most seniority held positions on the council, allowing them to wield a greater degree of control over their pet projects and projects of their allies. Today, the ALC acts as an organizing committee and a door keeper to the General Assembly. Members still exert a greater degree of influence over the legislative process and outcome.
During the 2012 campaign, with pundits correctly predicting that Arkansas Republicans would hold majorities in both the state House and Senate following the election, Democrats on the council attempted to amend the rules to allow motions to be passed with a majority of members present, not a majority of the council. Republicans, alluding to the federal Affordable Care Act, claimed that the move was designed to allow a “lame duck” legislature to pass controversial measures before new legislators took their seats, but Democrats denied this. On September 28, 2012, this proposal failed, along a party-line vote, to get the two-thirds vote necessary to pass the full committee.
For additional information:Blair, Diane, and Jay Barth. Arkansas Politics and Government. 2nd ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.
Powers, Lonnie A. “Separation of Powers: The Unconstitutionality of the Arkansas Legislative Council.” Arkansas Law Review 36, no. 1 (1982–1983): 124–146.
Rodney Harris Fayetteville, Arkansas
Last Updated 3/12/2013
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