The 35-member Senate held its organizational meeting to elect leadership and formalize the rules for the 92nd General Assembly of the legislature, which convenes in regular session on January 14.
The changes in Senate rules will affect which committees will consider proposed legislation affecting alcohol, tobacco, firearms and medical marijuana.
Previously, bills that affect gun laws would go to the Senate Judiciary Committee. However, under the new rules they will be referred to the Senate Committee on City, County and Local Affairs.
Bills affecting tobacco and alcohol used to be referred to the Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs, but now they will go to the City, County and Local Affairs Committee.
Medical marijuana bills be referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development. Arkansas voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2016 legalizing medical marijuana.
In the 2017 session, much of the enabling legislation that put in place the mechanism for cultivation and retail sales of medical marijuana was referred to the Senate and House Committees on Public Health, Welfare and Labor.
The general consensus among senators was that the changes in rules were necessary in order to more evenly distribute the workload during the 2019 session. The committees on Public Health, Judiciary and State Agencies traditionally have very lengthy agendas.
The rules changes were adopted before senators chose their committee assignments, therefore individual senators with a particular interest in alcohol, tobacco, firearms or medical marijuana had the opportunity to choose the committees with jurisdiction over those issues.
The senators elected Senator Jim Hendren of Gravette as President Pro Tempore for the next two years. Senator Bart Hester of Cave Springs will be the Majority Leader and Senator Scott Flippo of Bull Shoals will be the Majority Whip. Senator Keith Ingram of West Memphis will be the Minority Leader and Senator Will Bond of Little Rock the Minority Whip.
Senator Larry Teague of Nashville will chair the Joint Budget Committee. Senator Jonathan Dismang of Beebe will chair the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee.
Senator Ronald Caldwell of Wynne will chair the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs and Senator Jason Rapert of Conway will chair the Senate Committee on Insurance and Commerce. The Senate Judiciary Chairman will be Senate Alan Clark of Lonsdale. Senator Gary Stubblefield of Branch will chair the Senate Committee on City, County and Local Affairs.
Senator Missy Irvin of Mountain View will chair the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee and Senator John Cooper of Jonesboro will chair the Senate Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development Committee.
The Senate Education Committee will be chaired by Senator Jane English of North Little Rock. Senator Blake Johnson of Corning will chair the Senate Committee on Transportation, Technology and Legislative Affairs. Senator Bill Sample of Hot Springs will be co-chair of the Public Retirement and Social Security Committee. Senator Cecile Bledsoe of Rogers will be the Senate co-chair of the Legislative Council, and Senator Rapert will be the Senate co-chair of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee.