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Issue 1 could change how the Arkansas legislature works

We are about 3 weeks away from the midterm election, and now we're taking a look at Issue 1 and what it would mean for Arkansans if it were to pass.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Midterm elections are getting closer, and the first issue you'll see on your ballot this year is about who has the authority to call the state legislatures to a special session.

Though it may seem like a dry mechanical function of state government, it gets at fundamental questions of power, checks, and balances— and how we think about the neighbors that we send to the Capitol in Little Rock to make our laws.

In Arkansas, state senators and representatives meet every other year in the General Assembly. A lawmaking session typically lasts for two to three months but can be extended by a vote of the members.

Special sessions are called on an as-needed basis.

RELATED: What are the Arkansas amendments on the 2022 ballot?

Most recently, lawmakers gathered in a special session to accelerate tax cuts when the state developed a $1.6-billion surplus.

Arkansas is one of 14 states where only the governor can call the legislature to a special session. In fact, voters in Kentucky will also decide on a similar question this November.

If Issue 1 is passed, state senators and representatives could vote to convene themselves. 

The proposal would require a two-thirds majority of the legislators in each chamber to vote to choose to meet or if the leaders in both chambers— the House speaker and the Senate president pro tempore - issue a joint proclamation calling for the session.

Not surprisingly, the idea has been popular with members of the current legislature. The bill that put it on the ballot passed easily in 2021 with a 30-2 vote from the Senate, and an 82-9 vote in the House.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson is against the bill and told us in a written statement that he will vote "no" on Issue 1.

"The General Assembly is not designed to be a full-time legislature under our Constitution," the term-limited Republican said. "There would be insufficient checks on the legislative body when it has the ability to stay in session for any reason that the members support."

As for the three people that have been vying to replace the governor, Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders expressed her hesitancy about giving the legislature the power. 

Though she has not indicated how she would actually vote on it.

Democrat Chris Jones and Libertarian Ricky Dale Harrington Jr. are against Issue 1 and they both expressed that they believe the legislature does not need more power.

A  vote of "yes" for Issue 1 on the ballot would give the state legislature the power to convene for a special session through a supermajority vote, or by a proclamation from the heads of the House and Senate.

A vote of "no" would keep that power vested with only the governor.

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