After hearing, but not seeing, an amendment to legislation allowing Little Rock voters to consider a change in government to mayor-council, the bill received the endorsement late today of the House City, County
SB 179 by Sen. Mark Johnson (R-Ferndale) was amended by Rep. Fredrick Love (D-Little Rock) in a manner approved, Johnson said, by Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. Scott’s office refused throughout the day to provide information about the city’s deliberations on the bill or about the mayor’s position, which Johnson had characterized as supportive during Johnson’s Senate passage of the original bill.
Johnson didn’t initially describe today’s amendment, other than to say it incorporated changes suggested by Scott.
In later comments, including by Mark Hayes of the Municipal League, it developed that the amendment removed a provision that, if voters did approve a change of government, new wards would NOT be drawn by the County Election Commission (controlled under state law by the Republican Party). Hayes also indicated the amendment dropped a provision that a change in form would require
I’ve made an FOI request to city officials for the draft they’ve presumably seen.
A measure of confusion today was brief testimony by City Director Lance Hines, who said he’d be for the bill if it addressed his concerns, but not having seen the amendment, he couldn’t say for sure. He indicated he trusted the judgment of his Republican friend, Senator Johnson.
The bill not only must pass the House tomorrow,
Johnson said the bill is totally permissive. The City Board can vote to refer a change in government to voters, perhaps in a form the directors choose. He said he proposed the bill because of interest expressed in a change in government form. Scott has been among those. With this law, a change could be proposed by the board. It’s unclear if the amendment continues to delete the ability of a petition to change the government. I’ll post the amendment when it surfaces. The loss of the six-ward requirement would be an improvement.
UPDATE: Here’s the amendment. It significantly improves what had been a terrible bill.
It preserves the popular petition for government change. It eliminates ward drawing by the partisan election commission. It eliminates a six-ward council set up. I talked with Mayor Frank Scott Jr. at length about the bill. He said the city had been engaged from the start in improving the bill, which wasn’t filed at his initiative, and was happy with the outcome.