No on number 1

It has been an honor and a privilege to have served on the General Assembly for the past 10 years. It was an experience I wish all Arkansans could have if they wanted to.

Unfortunately, I believe that if number 1 were to pass, it would severely limit the number of citizens of Arkansas who could actually find time to serve.

Question 1 is a proposed constitutional amendment referred to the vote by the General Assembly. This would allow the Legislative Assembly to call itself into extraordinary session at any time, with either a joint proclamation of the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate pro tempore, or the written approval of two-thirds of the full General Assembly. (The governor could still call a special session of the Legislative Assembly, as the Constitution currently allows.)

Not only would the Legislative Assembly be called into session to deal with a special matter, but once that matter was settled, we would be able to stay in session with that same two-thirds approval.

There are several problems with this proposal. It threatens our representative “citizen legislature,” upsets the important balance of power between the branches of government, and could lead to a system where the legislature sits more often than not.

For over 200 years, since Arkansas was a territory, ours has been a part-time “citizen legislature”, where representatives are elected from all walks of life, from teachers to bankers, doctors, home builders and all intermediate jobs. Most would agree that voters benefit from representation that brings a wide range of experiences to the table, rather than a full-time legislative body made up of “professional politicians,” as we have in Washington, D.C.

It has been a privilege to serve my constituents at the General Assembly, and I have willingly given the time and energy it takes to be an active and engaged member. However, not everyone is able to do this while maintaining a job from home.

Already, the General Assembly meets for a regular session of at least 60 days every odd-numbered year (usually extended to more than 100 days). On even-numbered years, lawmakers meet for a 30-day session to consider budget issues. Outside of these two windows, the governor can convene a special session. In addition, committees meet regularly in between.

Combined with sessions also convened by legislators, the General Assembly could literally find itself in session year-round. How many people in your community would be able to commit the time needed to serve on Capitol Hill?

Arkansas has held 30 special sessions over the past 35 years. (That number is nearly 60% higher in Florida, where legislative leaders can call a session.) Already, the National Conference of State Legislatures, a group that tracks the operations of state legislatures across the country, lists the Arkansas as one of the states whose lawmakers say they devote more than “two-thirds of a full-time job” to legislative work.

Number 1 would make Arkansas an outlier among the states. While 36 states allow the governor or legislature to call a special session, only five states allow a session to be called simply by proclamation of the Speaker of the House and the Speaker of the Senate pro tempore.

It may look like distrust of these presidents; it’s not. These leaders are righteous and proven members, respected by their colleagues and constituents, and I consider them both personal friends. However, we do not know who will occupy these positions, or any legislative position, in 10 years or in 50 years.

Like any constitutional amendment, this departure from precedent would impact our state for years to come and should not be taken lightly.

Issue 1 would also create a shift in the balance of power between our branches of government. In Arkansas, the governor’s veto on a bill can be overridden by a simple majority vote of the Legislative Assembly. Reserving the power to call a special session to the governor somewhat balances this weak veto. (None of the other five states that allow legislative leaders to call a special session also allow the legislature to override a veto so easily.)

A healthy balance between the branches is the cornerstone of good government, and we should not take it lightly.

The burden of near-constant sessions would no doubt be costly to taxpayers, but the highest price is what we would give up by limiting legislative service to those who can afford to spend the majority of their time in Little Rock. We will limit legislative duties to those who are retired, who don’t have to work, or those who make law a full-time job, while making it nearly impossible for teachers, nurses, small business owners companies – the average Arkansan – to serve.

Please protect our Citizen Legislature by voting against Question 1.

State Representative Joe Jett of Success, chairman of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, is retiring after 10 years in the Legislative Assembly.

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