LITTLE ROCK — The balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of Arkansas’ state government could undergo some adjustments in the coming months.

LITTLE ROCK — The balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of Arkansas’ state government could undergo some adjustments in the coming months.


A proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot and a bill currently being drafted would increase the General Assembly’s powers relative to state agencies, which are part of the executive branch.


Another proposed constitutional amendment would allow legislators to serve longer terms — arguably allowing those who can hold onto their offices to amass greater power and influence than is possible now.


Issue No. 1, which was referred to the ballot by the Legislature last year, would, if approved by voters, allow the Legislature to pass a law requiring all administrative rule changes at state agencies to receive approval from the appropriate legislative committee before they could take effect. Currently, legislative committees review rule changes but do not have the power to approve or disapprove them.


Meanwhile, Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, is working on a bill he plans to file during next year’s session to impose penalties on state agency directors who violate state statutes.


"We have statutes in place on our books that require things done, but there’s no penalty with it," Hickey told the Arkansas News Bureau. "So we’re going to set some type of penalty up whenever it’s intentional that people don’t do whatever they’re supposed to do within those statutes."


Hickey said he will propose that an agency director who intentionally violates a statute that now carries no penalty be subject to a fine on the first offense, a larger fine on the second offense, and on a third offense an even larger fine "plus possibly elimination from your position."


Asked to site an example of an agency director who has violated a statute, Hickey said the state lottery missed an April 15 deadline for submitting a budget for the 2015 fiscal year to a legislative oversight committee. That claim is disputed by Lottery Director Bishop Woosley, who said the lottery asked for and received an extension of the deadline.


Another proposed constitutional amendment that lawmakers referred to the November ballot, Issue No. 3, would impose new ethics rules on legislators but also would extend term limits. Currently, a legislator is limited to three two-year terms in the House and two four-year terms in the Senate, but if voters approve the measure, a legislator could serve up to 16 years in either chamber.


Greg Shufeldt, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said tension between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government is typical, but it is not surprising to see it become more pronounced in a state like Arkansas, which has a Democratic governor and, for the first time since Reconstruction, a Republican-led Legislature.


"Each of the three branches has a lot of interaction and overreach, and to some extent I would imagine this is what we want with a system of checks and balances. We don’t want the legislature to get too powerful, we don’t want the governor’s mansion to be too powerful, or the executive bureaucracy, and we don’t want the courts to be too powerful," he said.


"But it seems in many states, specifically states that do not have unified party control, we’re seeing this fight play out," Shufeldt said. "Where they’re not on the same team … they don’t always play nice in the sandbox."


Tension also has heightened between the legislative and judicial branches in Arkansas, he said, citing recent comments by conservative legislators about possibly impeaching or recalling a circuit judge who ruled that Arkansas’ ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.


Senate President Pro Tem-designate Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, who sponsored the legislation that became Issue No. 1, said of the proposal, "I don’t think it’s a Republican-Democrat thing at all, and I think that was reflected in the votes on its passage. It was something that was widely supported by members in both parties in both chambers."


Dismang said the purpose of the proposed amendment is to ensure state agencies do not implement rules in ways that conflict with legislative intent.


"I would much rather that elected officials have the final say on rules and regs and their ultimate implementation," he said. "In my mind it’s not an overreach. We’re just trying to make sure that legislative intent is followed."


Gov. Mike Beebe, who is prevented by term limits from seeking a third term, sees no need for the measure, according to spokesman Matt DeCample.


"Even though it won’t affect him, he does not support Issue 1," DeCample said. "Obviously it’s important to have checks and balances, but we have those in place, and we also have three independent branches of government, and he thinks that it works well the way the way it’s currently set up."


He noted that the Legislature already controls state agencies’ purse strings.


"He always says, the Legislature (was) listed first when our government was being set up because they pass the laws and they dispense the funds," DeCample said.


Richard Weiss, director of the state Department of Finance and Administration, said he would not be affected by the proposal because he is preparing to retire, but he does not support it.


"They’re expanding the authority of the legislative branch to get in the middle of more executive branch functions. Already, just about everything that goes on in state government has to go before a committee." he said. "I can’t think of too many places in the past where they have flat refused to review something and the executive has gone ahead and done it anyway."