LITTLE ROCK — A legislative panel removed a 2 percent cost-of-living increase for judges and prosecutors from an appropriation bill before recommending it Wednesday.
The pay hike had been recommended by the governor’s office and the interim Joint Budget Committee in December.
During a meeting of the Joint Budget Committee on Wednesday, Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, asked that the pay increase be removed, saying that doing so would make it easier later in the session for lawmakers to consider cost-of-living increases for all state employees.
Sen. Larry Teague, R-Nashville, co-chairman of the committee, urged support of Key’s request.
“This is early in the game and nobody wants to deal with this today,” he said.
House Bill 1024, the General Appropriation Bill, could be considered in the House as early as Thursday.
The $39.1 million measure routinely is the first legislation passed during a legislative session. The legislation sets the funding level for constitutional officers, judges, prosecutors and legislators.
Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, told lawmakers before the vote that constitutional officers, judges, prosecutors and legislators have not had a pay increase since 2010.
“My sense is that members want to have a broad discussion on many different topics and I think the COLA is one,” said Duncan Baird, R-Lowell, co-chairman of the committee. “If you start passing out things with COLAs I think individuals may feel like it takes away from that broader discussion. … We have to move forward with this bill, we’re constitutionally required to pass it first, but I think members are saying let’s keep things flat, let’s have the discussion, we can come back and add in a COLA at the appropriate time if that’s what decided.”
Baird also said the committee’s vote should not be considered the panel’s opinion on whether state employees should receive 2 percent cost-of-living raises, which is recommended by the governor.
“Not necessarily, whether it’s the House, Senate, governor, I think people have said Medicaid is number one, so we want to look at that, we want to address that,” he said. “Whether it’s COLA’s or anything else, I think people are just saying let’s have a broad discussion on all of these topics and decide.”
“We’ve got to figure out how much money we’ve got and how we’re spending it,” Teague said. “I think the consensus was that it’s just too soon to (consider COLAs for the judicial branch).
Baird and Teague both said COLA’s for constitutional officers and the judicial branch, as well as for state employees, are not out of the question, but they both said they both replied “no” when asked of COLAs were possible for legislators.
Also Wednesday, the Senate, in a 35-0 vote, approved Senate Bill 7 by Sen. Eddie Williams, R-Cabot, which would allow spouses of personnel stationed at military installations in Arkansas to transfer any professional licenses or degrees in health care or education they might have in other states.
That bill now goes to the House for consideration.
In the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, chairman of that panel, said he has asked that two of his bills SB 13 and SB 14, be deferred from consideration by the committee so he can address concerns raised by constituents and possibly amend them.
SB 13 would provide prohibit private investigations of animal cruelty by requiring that only law enforcement agencies investigate the allegations.
SB 14 would make a misdemeanor to videotape livestock and poultry operations without permission from the owner of the facility. It also would make it illegal to apply for a job at the farm under false pretenses in order to gain access to the property.
“There are some issues that were raised me that I had not contemplated and were not intended by the bills,” he said.
The Senate Thursday approved Senate Bill 7 by Sen. Eddie Williams, R-Cabot, which would allow spouses of personnel stationed at military installations in Arkansas to transfer any professional licenses or degrees in health care or education they might have in other states.
The measure, which passed 35-0, now goes to the House.
In the House, members approved House Resolution 1001, which establishes the rules the House will follow during the session. It goes to the Senate. The House also approved SB1, which appropriates $1.35 million for the Senate’s expenses for the current fiscal year. It goes to the governor.