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Lobbyist reporting endorsed

Ethics panel calls to broaden rules by Michael R. Wickline | October 17, 2018 at 3:24 a.m.

The state Senate Ethics Committee on Tuesday recommended broadening the rules on who must report their relationships with lobbyists.

In addition to categories approved earlier, the proposed change would require the disclosure by senators who own more than 10 percent of a business, have legal authority over the finances of a church or receive a financial benefit through a nonprofit organization.

The committee last week endorsed changing the rules to require attorneys and consultants in the Senate to disclose their lobbyist relationships. In all instances, the senators would give a range of how much they were paid for these relationships.

Without any senators voicing dissent, the ethics panel endorsed a compromise plan to expand who would be required to make disclosures.

The vote came after Sens. Will Bond, D-Little Rock, and Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, separately proposed expanding the recommended requirement beyond attorneys and consultants. Both Flowers and Bond are attorneys.

The proposed rule changes recommended last week would apply to attorneys or consultants in the Senate who are retained by registered lobbyists or by individuals or entities employing registered lobbyists. They also would apply to senators who participate in profit-sharing or cost-sharing agreements with their law or consulting firms when those firms are retained by lobbyists or by individuals or entities employing lobbyists.

A financial disclosure statement would be filed with the secretary of the Senate by Jan. 31 of each year for the preceding calendar year under these proposed rules. Senators would disclose the income in the following categories: $1,000 to $12,500; $12,501 to $50,000; $50,001 to $100,000; $100,001 to $250,000; and more than $250,000.

Bond said Tuesday that under the rules approved last week, a senator who owns a business wouldn't be required to disclose income from "a significant purchase" of the business' product by a lobbyist or if he or she employs a lobbyist.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, said the latest proposal would directly affect him as an accountant because he considers accountants to be consultants, and accountants provide services.

"For me personally, I think this disclosure is one that is needed, warranted and really called for," he said.

The committee endorsed expanding the definition of a consultant from "a person who provides expert or professional advice" to include a person who contracts for professional services.

During debate Tuesday, Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, said, "We keep trying to define this out.

"Why don't you just say if you are a member of the Senate, you have to disclose to the best of the ability, because we're sitting here trying to figure out a scenario where he might catch these folks that we already have seen happen?"

But Dismang said, "It is not selling widgets that we have a problem with.

"Widgets have a defined price. They have a value that is expected and is readily known. It's the service industry that is not so defined and more arbitrary, and that's why we seek this focus on the service industry or folks that provide professional services," he said.

The committee chairman, Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain Home, said, "When we read this, I understand there is a lot of conflicts out there.

"We are just trying to create rules for how our Senate is to act with one another and how we are to behave professionally while we are holding office in the Senate," she said.

The committee also reversed its recommendation from last week to allow Senate staff members to file ethics complaints against senators.

Irvin said the change was requested by senior staff, who advised her that existing policies allow employees to bring their concerns to senior staff, who will document them and inform Senate leaders.

The rules allow senators to file complaints alleging violations of the Senate ethics rules against fellow senators.

In June, the Senate overhauled its rules to create the ethics committee, to prohibit certain activities involving conflicts of interest, to require disclosure of other conflicts of interest and more personal financial disclosure.

The panel has met in recent months in an effort to refine the rules that Senate President Pro Tempore-elect Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, urged senators to adopt in June. The recommendations will require Senate approval.

Former Sens. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, and Jake Files, R-Fort Smith; and former Reps. Micah Neal, R-Springdale, Hank Wilkins, D-Pine Bluff, and Eddie Cooper, D-Melbourne, have been convicted or have pleaded guilty to federal charges as a result of several investigations during the past two years.

The former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, has been indicted on federal wire fraud and tax charges to which he has pleaded innocent. In addition, state Rep. Mickey Gates, R-Hot Springs, faces state criminal charges accusing him of failing to pay state income taxes or file returns. Gates has pleaded innocent.

Metro on 10/17/2018

Print Headline: Lobbyist reporting endorsed

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