OPENING DAY: The legislature's beginning with a joint session is largely ceremonial. Here, new House Speaker Jeremy Gillam addresses the assembly.
As usual, the legislature
doesn't hit the ground running full speed.
A resolution was filed today calling for a recess
of the legislature on Thursday and a return to work Tuesday. (There's a state holiday in that run, on Monday.)
Under past practices, legislators have claimed per diem
($150 a day for those living farther away from Little Rock) for the four days in recess during a session, even if they are home snoozing in Mena or Cave Springs or wherever. Attorneys for the Arkansas Public Law Center,
which brought a successful lawsuit over past improper expense practices of the legislature, has asked for this practice to stop and also plans to bring concerns about this and other abusive expense practices to the attention of the independent citizens commission soon to set pay for the legislature and also make non-binding recommendations on expense practices.
Recommendations: End payment of per diem (a payment that is tax-free because federal law presumes it is reimbursement for actual food and lodging expenses to attend meetings at the Capitol) for days when legislators aren't at work. No attendance, no expenses. And, apart from per diem, there's the matter of other expenses. When expenses are paid, pay them only for actual, documented, business expenses. And car mileage shouldn't be reimbursed at a rate higher than that paid other state employees. Let's run government like private business, how about?
The legislature is trying to wrangle a deal to get five days of per diem each week whether legislators work or not. Lawyers for the Arkansas Public Law Center, on whose board I sit, seem disinclined to enter an agreement for pay for days not worked.
PS: the only meeting on the Thursday agenda so far is Joint Budget, so many legislators need not be around that day, either.