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Arkansas Issue 1: Giving lawmakers the power to call special sessions

Arkansas is one of 14 states where only the governor has the power to call a special meeting of state lawmakers.

ARKANSAS, USA — On Election Day this year, Arkansans will have the choice to vote on four issues to amend the Arkansas Constitution. Issue 1 on the ballot will decide whether to give the state's legislature the power to bring themselves into a special session— a situation where only in "extraordinary circumstances" can lawmakers have the opportunity to discuss and decide specific issues.

What is Issue 1?

Issue 1 is an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution that if approved, would give the legislature the same authority as the governor in calling special sessions and allowing them to set the agenda for special sessions they call. 

The amendment would give lawmakers the power to vote on whether to consider additional topics that pop up when they are not in a regular session. Two-thirds of the Senate and House would have to vote in favor of allowing debate and discussion of additional bills. 

Although there is no definition in the proposal or in Arkansas's Constitution on what exactly an "extraordinary occasion" is, examples of when governors have called a special session have been to address income tax cuts, COVID-19 policy or school funding.

How did this get on the ballot?

Arkansas Senator Breanne Davis of Russellville and Representative Frances Cavenaugh of Walnut Ridge are the sponsors of this proposal.

To get the issue in front of voters, lawmakers voted to place Issue 1 on the 2022 General Election Ballot. The Arkansas Constitution grants the legislature the right to include up to three constitutional amendments on the general election ballot.

Constitutional amendments currently require the approval of a majority of voters in a statewide election. 

Election Day is Nov. 8, 2022. 

What does a vote "For" and "Against" mean?

According to research provided by the University of Arkansas (U of A):

A FOR vote means you are in favor of changing the Arkansas Constitution to allow state legislators to call themselves into special sessions and to set the agenda for those sessions.

A supporter of this amendment would point out that it would give the state's branches of government an equal playing field to make decisions and that currently, the governor has too much power in being the only entity to be able to call a special session. 

An AGAINST vote means you are not in favor of changing the Arkansas Constitution to allow state legislators to call themselves into special session and want the power to stay only with the governor.

Someone against the issue would agree that state lawmakers have enough power during the regular sessions, not to mention the committee hearings. How the law stands is just fine, especially if a state-elected governor doesn't see the need for a special session.

Issue 1 facts

While a special session would indeed cost Arkansas taxpayers money, a way to break down the cost of special sessions can be reflected in travel reimbursement. 

In October 2021, lawmakers decided meal, lodging and mileage costs would be given to members during sessions. These include: 

  • 58.5 cents per mile traveled 
  • $59 a day if they live within 50 miles of the Capitol or 
  • $154 a day if they live more than 50 miles from the Capitol

Special sessions cannot exceed 15 days. According to reports, the state paid about $3 million in meal, lodging and mileage costs in 2021.

Arkansas is one of 14 states where only the governor has the power to call a special meeting of state lawmakers, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. The other states are Alabama, California, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Vermont. 

In the remaining 36 states, both the governor and legislature can call a special session. 

RELATED: Arkansas voting guide for November 2022 election

RELATED: Issue 3 in Arkansas: What does this mean for religious freedom?

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