Arkansas Senate ethics panel to convene with temporary member to fill in for lawmaker facing complaint

Temporary member to fill in for senator as inquiry unfolds

FILE — The state Capitol is shown in this undated file photo.
FILE — The state Capitol is shown in this undated file photo.

The Arkansas Senate Ethics Committee is scheduled to convene on Wednesday and Thursday, after the Senate Rules Committee appointed a temporary replacement for an ethics committee member.

Senate Rules Committee Chairman James Sturch, R-Batesville, said Friday that the Senate Rules Committee on Thursday voted to appoint state Sen. David Wallace, R-Leachville, as the temporary replacement for a member of the Senate Ethics Committee.

When a complaint is filed against a member of the Senate Ethics Committee, the state Senate's rules require the Senate Rules Committee to appoint a temporary replacement for the ethics committee member until the investigation of the complaint is completed, he said.

"They did not disclose who the complaint is filed against to me or members of the Rules Committee," Sturch said in a text message. "We were just told it was a Republican member, therefore we appointed another majority member."

Senate President Pro Tempore Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, on Friday declined to comment on the matter.

The Senate Ethics Committee's members include Republican Sens. Kim Hammer of Benton, Missy Irvin of Mountain View, Mark Johnson of Ferndale, Mat Pitsch of Fort Smith,and Dan Sullivan of Jonesboro, and Democratic Sens. Joyce Elliott of Little Rock, Stephanie Flowers of Pine Bluff and Clarke Tucker of Little Rock.

In response to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's public records request seeking the identity of the Senate Ethics Committee member, who has been temporarily replaced, Senate Director/Secretary Ann Cornwell wrote Friday in an email, "It was handled by BLR [the Bureau of Legislative Research]."

Hammer, who chairs the Senate Ethics Committee, said Friday in a written statement issued through the Bureau of Legislative Research that a meeting of the Senate Ethics Committee has been scheduled for Wednesday to begin at 9 a.m. in Room 309 in the state Capitol.

The committee will take up a matter that has been presented to it under the Senate eules, he said.

"To protect the integrity of the process and ensure that the matter is handled appropriately, at this time I am not at liberty to discuss any of the details of the matter," Hammer said.

Asked whether he has been temporarily replaced as a member of the Senate Ethics Committee, Johnson said he was advised by legislative staff, on behalf of Hammer, not to answer that question.

"Rules are about confidentiality prior to the committee review," he said in a text message.

The Senate Ethics Committee also is scheduled to meet Thursday at 9 a.m. in Room 309 in the state Capitol, according to the General Assembly's website.

Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, on Friday declined to comment when asked about speculation in some state Capitol circles that a complaint has been filed against him with the Senate Ethics Committee.

Asked whether the Senate Ethics Committee meetings would be open to the public or closed, Bureau of Legislative Research Director Marty Garrity said, "I would refer you to [Senate] rule 24.09(d) which provides that the public shall be allowed to observe the entire proceeding unless the committee is in executive session."

In June of 2018, the state Senate approved an overhaul of its rules to create a committee on ethics, prohibit senators from certain activities involving conflicts of interest, and require more disclosure of other conflicts and their personal finances.

The Senate's action came after federal investigations in the previous few years led to convictions of several former state lawmakers.