House to keep rule on committee seats
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.