Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Henderson on Monday added two proposals to his list of suggestions for changing state ethics laws, three days after Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced his proposals in the wake of more allegations of misconduct.
Henderson proposed requiring lawmakers, while in session, to disclose and itemize their employment or professional services and compensation with registered lobbyists or firms that employ registered lobbyists.
He also suggested barring any lawmaker or group of them from designating the ultimate recipient of public funds appropriated by the General Assembly to executive branch state agencies or other entities with the power to spend the appropriated funds. Henderson, a former executive for the nonprofit Teach for America, last week made five other proposals.
On Friday, Hutchinson said the state Ethics Commission should be authorized to levy larger penalties for serious ethical violations than the current limit of $2,000 per violation.
The governor also proposed limiting campaign contributions to candidates from multiple affiliated political action committees and prohibiting the practice of legislator-directed General Improvement Funds to local projects.
Henderson said Monday in a news release that "public corruption is infecting Arkansas state government and it takes more than a few Band-Aids to cure it."
But Hutchinson countered that the proposals that he announced Friday to the Arkansas Bar Association "are the best foundation for restoring confidence in our leaders."
In a guilty plea made June 7 in federal court, former lobbyist Milton "Rusty" Cranford's accused "Senator A" -- acknowledged as Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, by his attorney -- of accepting payoffs, along with former Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, and former Sen. and Rep. Hank Wilkins, D-Pine Bluff. Sen. Hutchinson, who hasn't been charged or indicted, has denied any wrongdoing, according to his attorney, Tim Dudley.
Federal investigations at the Legislature in the past few years have led to the convictions of five former state lawmakers: former Rep. Micah Neal, R-Springdale; former Rep. Eddie Cooper, D-Melbourne; former Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith; and Woods and Wilkins.
The state Senate's leaders on Thursday proposed overhauling its ethics rules in response to all incidents during the past 20 or 30 years, not just those in the past two or three years, according to incoming Senate President Pro Tempore Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs. Sens. Hendren and Hutchinson are cousins. Gov. Hutchinson is their uncle.
The proposed rules would create a Select Committee on Senate Ethics to consider alleged ethics violations and expand the reporting requirements for senators' personal finances.
The proposed rules also would keep senators from discussing or voting on legislation in which they, a relative or affiliated business would have a financial interest unless they first publicly disclose the connection.
The Senate is scheduled to vote on these proposed rules changes today.
Henderson's proposals made last week would revoke a public official's pension if the official commits any crime relating to abuse of power; strengthen the Ethics Commission; increase the cooling-off period before a lawmaker can become a lobbyist; bar corporations from contributing to political action committees; and require any organization engaging in political activity to disclose its donors.
Libertarian candidate Mark West of Batesville said Thursday that he would contact Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, R-Pocahontas, and Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forrest, "to help write an iron-clad bill to stamp out the unethical behavior in which our legislators are engaging." He said he would call for lawmakers to approve the bill.
In the 2017 regular session, Collins-Smith and King unsuccessfully sponsored ethics bills. In the May 22 primary election, both lost their bids for re-election and their terms will end in mid-January.
Henderson said Monday that lawmakers should amend Arkansas Code Annotated 21-8-803 on conflicts of interest to require lawmakers to disclose and itemize during each week of a legislative session all employment or professional services and compensation that they have or had in the previous year with registered lobbyists or firms that employ registered lobbyists.
He said taxpayers deserve legislation to bar the practice of legislators designating recipients of appropriated funds and that could be done by amending Arkansas Code Annotated 21-8-304 to add a new section stating that "no member or group of individuals in the General Assembly can designate the ultimate recipient of public funds previously appropriated by the General Assembly to the various executive agencies or other entities with the power to expend appropriated funds."
"My proposals focus on ending the general improvement funds allocated by legislators for local projects; ending the practice of multiple affiliated [political action committees] circumventing the contribution limits; and increasing the penalties that can be levied by the independent Ethics Commission.
"As has been pointed out, the current federal investigations center on activity that occurred before I was sworn in as Governor [in January of 2015]. Regardless, it is important to work with the General Assembly to create more transparency and accountability in our legislative service," Hutchinson said Monday in a written statement.
"We should also understand that the ethics reform effort last led by Senator Jon Woods did not solve the problem," he said, referring to Amendment 94 to the Arkansas Constitution approved by voters in November 2014.
"It is fundamentally about electing good people who will do the right thing."
Metro on 06/19/2018
Print Headline: Hopeful adds to his list on ethics; Governor, rival talk up proposals