House to keep rule on com­mit­tee seats

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - ARKANSAS - JOHN MORITZ

House Speaker Matthew Shep­herd told a newly elected cham­ber Fri­day that there is “no con­sen­sus” on do­ing away with a 2017 rule grant­ing the speaker the power to draw up the ros­ters for House com­mit­tees.

He said he will an­nounce those as­sign­ments in Jan­uary.

The 100-mem­ber House elected Tues­day con­vened for the first time Fri­day. Though new mem­bers weren’t sworn in, they de­ter­mined se­nior­ity ranks and picked their seat as­sign­ments. They will be sworn in at the start of the next reg­u­lar leg­isla­tive ses­sion in Jan­uary.

The House has 10 stand­ing com­mit­tees — such as Ed­u­ca­tion, Ju­di­ciary, and Rev­enue and Tax­a­tion — on which mem­bers serve and vote on leg­is­la­tion be­fore it reaches the full House. Be­fore 2017, the rules had al­lowed mem­bers to choose their own com­mit­tee as­sign­ments based on se­nior­ity.

The Repub­li­can-ma­jor­ity House voted to toss the old sys­tem dur­ing the last reg­u­lar ses­sion, un­der the lead­er­ship of then-Speaker Jeremy Gil­lam, R-Jud­so­nia. The change came af­ter Democrats used the process in place at the time to se­cure an 11-mem­ber ma­jor­ity on the Rev­enue and Tax­a­tion Com­mit­tee. At the time, Democrats con­trolled only 26 seats.

While the ef­fort was short­lived — one Demo­crat on the 20-mem­ber com­mit­tee switched par­ties, re­sult­ing in an even split — Gil­lam led an ef­fort to change the rules un­der fu­ture lead­er­ship.

Af­ter about two hours of de­bate in Jan­uary 2017, the House voted 75-23 to give fu­ture speak­ers con­trol over com­mit­tee as­sign­ments. Democrats were mostly op­posed to the change.

On Fri­day, House Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles Blake, D-Lit­tle Rock, said the Demo­cratic cau­cus was “dis­ap­pointed” by the de­ci­sion not to re­vert to the old rules.

“We feel our con­sen­sus go­ing for­ward was we want to make sure our voices are be­ing heard,” Blake said.

Blake added that he had dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity of a rule change with Shep­herd be­fore the speaker ad­dressed the House on Fri­day. Blake said he would con­tinue to push for some con­ces­sions, such as a plan that would al­low House cau­cuses from the four con­gres­sional dis­tricts to have ad­di­tional in­put af­ter the speaker has made his se­lec­tions.

Shep­herd was elected speaker by se­cret bal­lot in March. Be­fore that vote, both Shep­herd and his op­po­nent in the speaker’s race, Rep. Andy Davis, R-Lit­tle Rock, had left open the pos­si­bil­ity of rolling back the com­mit­tee se­lec­tion rule.

Af­ter about 80 meet­ings with re­turn­ing House mem­bers, how­ever, Shep­herd said there was no con­sen­sus on whether a change was needed, or as to what kind of se­lec­tions sys­tem would re­place the cur­rent meth­ods.

In a floor speech, Shep­herd promised to be fair in the process.

“No one here has a stronger de­sire to put you, the mem­bers, on the com­mit­tees that you de­sire to go on,” Shep­herd said.

The speaker said he would an­nounce his com­mit­tee se­lec­tions on the first day of the 92nd Gen­eral Ses­sion, which is sched­uled to be­gin Jan. 14.

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