LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas House and Senate took care of several items of presession business Wednesday, including the selection of Senate committee seats — with a rule change that ensured no Democratic majorities — and the swearing in of two House members who won special elections last week.
Senators approved several rule changes before choosing committee seats, including one, proposed by Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, limiting the minority party to no more than three seats on any standing committee. The rule change ensured Democrats could not secure majority on any of the panels.
Democrats will control nine of the 35 Senate seats in the session that begins in January.
Last week, House Democrats secured 11 seats on the 20-member House Revenue and Taxation Committee during the committee selection process, giving Democrats — who will control 26 of the House’s 100 seats — the power to block tax proposals from clearing that committee.
Several Democratic senators spoke Wednesday against the change to the Senate rules.
“I think it’s an egregious act,” said Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock.
Hendren told senators that limiting the minority party to three seats on a committee would “allow the Republican legislators that won a majority to have some ability … to implement the agenda that we were sent here to do.”
On the House side, Democrat LeAnne Burch of Monticello and Republican Jack Fortner of Yellville were sworn in by Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Howard Brill.
Both were unopposed in Nov. 8 special elections to complete two unexpired terms in the House. They also were unopposed candidates in the same day’s general election.
Burch, a former Department of Human Services attorney and retired brigadier general in the Army Reserve, was sworn in Wednesday by Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Howard Brill to fill the seat vacated by the July 23 death of Democrat Sheilla Lampkin of Monticello from ovarian cancer.
“I just want to recognize an incredible lady who is really the reason that I am here. Rep. Sheilla Lampkin has a legacy with this body, but also if you knew in my travels in the last several months how many she personally touched in southeast Arkansas, you would understand the weight of the legacy,” Burch said.
Fortner, a former Marion County justice of the peace who works for Goodyear Racing at several NASCAR races each year, was sworn in to fill the seat vacated by Republican Kelley Linck of Flippin, who resigned from the House to take a position at DHS.
“I am honored and I am humbled,” Fortner said.