LITTLE ROCK — The House on Wednesday vote to allow the House speaker to appoint members of standing House committees and joint House and Senate committees, expanding the speaker’s current power to appoint only committee chairmen and members of certain select committees.
The House voted 75-23 to approve House Resolution 1001 by House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, which sets the chamber’s rules.
The change regarding committee selection will not affect current committee makeups but will allow future speakers to appoint members to committees. Currently, House members choose committee memberships based on seniority.
Gillam told House members the current system often results in members being unable to serve on committees that align with their skills and interests.
“I believe strongly that we as a body should function based on the merits, the skill sets and experiences and passions that each of you possess and bring into this body,” he said.
Gillam said 44 states have similar systems.
“It’s not reinvention of the wheel. It’s just bringing the wheel to Arkansas,” he said.
Some members questioned whether the speaker should be in a position to decide who serves on which committee.
“We’re sent here to represent our districts, and it’s not the speaker’s job to tell us where to go and how to best do that,” said Rep. Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna.
Gillam said his proposal would be preferable to the political “games” that are played with the committee selection process under the current system.
Late last year, Democrats secured a majority of seats on the House Revenue and Taxation Committee despite being the minority party. Chairman Joe Jett of Success later switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican, eliminating the Democratic majority on the 20-member panel.
HR 1001 also would eliminate the House’s self-imposed ban against members accepting campaign contributions during fiscal sessions, which are held in even-numbered years. The Senate currently allows its members to accept campaign contributions during even-numbered years.
No one spoke against that provision in the measure.