- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 11, 2017

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The majority-Republican Arkansas House on Wednesday gave the speaker expanded power to appoint committee members months after Democrats blocked the GOP from controlling a panel that will take up tax cut proposals.

The House approved the move by a 75-23 vote as part of a package of rule changes that also would allow representatives to raise money during election-year legislative sessions that focus on the budget. The change won’t affect the current makeup of House committees.

House Speaker Jeremy Gillam said the change mirrors the practice in most other states and would help steer members toward panels where they have expertise. Previously, members could choose committee assignments based on seniority. The new rule would require the speaker to choose five members from each of the congressional districts and to consult with Republican and Democratic leaders.

“This is a collaborative effort, ladies and gentlemen. It’s not proposing a dictatorship,” he said.

The speaker already had the power to name committee chairs and vice chairs and the members of the House Rules Committee. He also determines where to send legislation.

The change drew complaints from House Democrats, who in November secured a majority on the House Revenue and Taxation Committee days after Republicans gained seats in the Legislature. The Democrats now hold half the seats, after one Democrat defected to the GOP. Republicans hold 76 seats in the 100-member House.

“We can’t allow the speaker to be one who exercises all the determinations that we were elected to fill,” Democratic Rep. John Walker said before the vote.

The state Senate last year changed its rules to ensure that the majority party in that chamber controls its committees. Republicans hold 26 of the 35 Senate seats.

The rule changes also end the House’s ban on fundraising during fiscal sessions, which focus on the budget and are held in even-numbered years. Representatives are still banned from raising money during regular sessions, which are held in odd-numbered years, as well as 30 days before or after the session. They’re also banned from raising money during special sessions.

The change mirrors the rules in the state Senate, which did not ban fundraising during fiscal sessions.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ademillo

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