LITTLE ROCK — The state Legislature passed one non-budget bill issue in this fiscal session, and some lawmakers say they didn’t quite get it right.

LITTLE ROCK — The state Legislature passed one non-budget bill issue in this fiscal session, and some lawmakers say they didn’t quite get it right.

"I think we are going to have to address this when we come back in January," Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, said of Act 210 of 2014, which lawmakers approved and Gov. Mike Beebe signed into law with the stated intention of avoiding the need for a special election to fill a vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office.

Critics of the new law say it will achieve its short-term goal of a avoiding a special election to fill the seat vacated Feb. 1 by Republican Mark Darr, but it gives the governor powers that go beyond what the Legislature intended — powers that could be abused for political reasons.

The law’s sponsor and Beebe say the powers it gives to the governor are limited and say they do not see a potential for abuse.

Darr resigned after the state Ethics Commission fined him $11,000 for misuse of campaign contributions and taxpayer money. Because the office was up for election in November anyway, Beebe and legislators agreed that holding a special election to fill the office for just a few months would result in an unnecessary expense for the state, yet a state law required the governor to call a special election within 150 days of declaring a vacancy in the office.

The solution that lawmakers crafted, Act 210, sates that a special election for a vacancy in the office of lieutenant governor shall not be held if the vacancy occurs less than 10 months before the next scheduled general election; the office would be filled in the next general election; and the governor determines that the cost of holding a special election to fill the vacancy is impractical because of the timing of the election.

Critics say that part of the law seems clear, but the legislation also contains language that is not so clear. That language states that except as provided in the provision described above, a special election to fill a "vacancy in office" shall be held no more than 150 days after the vacancy occurs.

It goes on to state, "If the governor determines that it is impracticable or unduly burdensome to hold the special election within 150 days after the occurrence of the vacancy, the special election shall be held as soon as practicable after the 150th day following the occurrence of the vacancy."

Sabin noted that this language does not state that it applies only to the lieutenant governor’s office, says nothing about nearness to an upcoming general election and does not define "impracticable or unduly burdensome."

"The worst-case scenario would be if a member of Congress or a member of the Legislature vacated a position early in their term and the governor found it advantageous to leave the seat open, and the seat remained open for the remainder of that term, thereby affecting the balance of power in either the United States Congress or the Arkansas Legislature," Sabin said.

Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, did not agree with Sabin that the law could be applied to a vacancy in the Legislature, but said he did think it could be applied to a vacancy in the state’s congressional delegation.

"What it looks like is they tried to fix the problem twice," he said. "One section referenced directly to the lieutenant governor’s seat. The other section, which was intended to just affect the lieutenant governor’s seat, would also affect the congressional seats."

But the law’s sponsor, Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, said the section in question was not intended to affect only the lieutenant governor’s seat.

Williams said the section contains "cleanup language" that addresses the fact that it may not always be possible to carry out all the preliminary activities involved with a special election for any office — activities such as holding primaries and sending out absentee ballots — and hold the election itself all within the prescribed time period.

"There are times that you can’t call the election within 150 days of a vacancy. It’s just not possible," he said.

Asked if he was concerned that a governor might someday use the excuse of a special election being "unduly burdensome" to leave a seat vacant for political reasons, Williams said he was not.

"It does say that he has to call it as quickly as possible or when practicable. He still has to call it," he said. "So I don’t know what people are concerned about or what the issue is."

Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said that over the years a number of election laws have been passed that have added to the timetable needed to hold elections, such as laws concerning voting by members of the military serving overseas, so language was needed allowing the 150-day limit to be waived when necessary.

"Sen. Williams is right: That portion of the law does not give the governor the discretion to not call a special election for other offices besides lieutenant governor. The governor still has to call it," DeCample said. "It just makes the window a little wider."

Sabin said if a governor were to attempt to abuse the authority granted by Act 210, it is possible that the courts would compel that governor to call a special election.

"That seems to me a very complicated and uncertain way of dealing with the issue. We’d be better served having a law that was written more clearly," he said.