Arkansas General Assembly

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The Arkansas General Assembly is the legislative branch of state government in Arkansas.

It, like every legislature except Nebraska, is bi-cameral, and consists of a 100-seat House of Representatives and a 35-seat Senate. Under the Arkansas Constitution, representatives are term limited to a total of 12 consecutive years (in either or both chambers) after which the member must sit out for four years before serving again.

The Constitution also includes highly restrictive provisions regarding appropriations:

  • Section 30 requires that the "general appropriations bill" be limited to the "ordinary expenses of the executive, legislative, and judicial departments of the State". All other appropriations must be passed by special appropriations bills. However, each bill can embrace only one subject; thus, hundreds of bills must be passed to fund other State agencies.
  • Section 38 requires, in order to raise "property, excise, privilege or personal taxes ... now levied", either 1) approval of the voters or 2) a three-fourths majority of the legislature. However, since Arkansas' sales tax was added after passage of the Section (which was added by Amendment), it does not fall under the "now levied" provision, and thus can be increased by a simple majority.
  • Section 39 places restrictions on funding. Except for "educational purposes, highway purposes, to pay Confederate pensions and the just debts of the State", no appropriations exceeding $2.5 million can be passed without a three-fourths majority. In recent years, this means that nearly every appropriation bill (including the general bill) requires such.
  • Section 40 further requires that the general appropriations bill must be passed before any special appropriations bill can be passed. Otherwise, no appropriations are valid.

This resulted in a nightmare during the 1989 session when the general appropriations bill failed to pass by the 3/4 majority, but was "deemed passed" by the "just debts of the State" clause of the state constitution, after which numerous special bills were passed, only to have the Arkansas Supreme Court declare the Assembly's actions unconstitutional, thus requiring the Assembly to meet in special session to do things right.

After the November 3, 2020 elections, the Republican Party holds a supermajority in both chambers.

Political Party House Senate
Republicans 76 27
Democrats 35 7
Independents 0 1
Total 100 35

References