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20 state representatives declare voting mistakes

by Michael R. Wickline | April 30, 2023 at 7:33 a.m.
State Reps. Jamie Scott (left), D-North Little Rock, and Delia Haak, R-Gentry, are shown at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock in these 2023 file photos. (Left, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey; right, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

Arkansas state Rep. Jamie Scott, D-North Little Rock, shepherded a bill that aims to prevent discrimination in public schools and state-supported two- and four-year higher education institutions based on "natural, protective, or cultural hairstyles" through the Republican-dominated Legislature during this year's regular session.

But she didn't vote on her House Bill 1576, which is now Act 514, when it cleared the House on March 28 in an 83-6 vote.

In a letter dated March 28 to House Chief Clerk Sherri Stacks, Scott explained that "At the time of the vote, I was away from my voting machine.

"Had I been in my seat, I would have voted 'yes,'" she wrote in her letter.

Under Act 514, "natural, protective, or cultural hairstyle" will include "without limitation afros, dreadlocks, twists, locs, braids, cornrow braids, Bantu knots, curls, and hair styled to protect hair texture or for cultural significance." The measure will add "natural, protective, or cultural hairstyle" to definitions in the Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993.

Scott explained Monday in an interview that she was excited about the House approving her bill and she took a picture of the votes on the House's voting board after she thought she had already voted for the bill that she worked on for four years.

Then, she said, she realized she hadn't voted for her bill, but "it was too late" to push a button for her vote to count.

Scott is one of 20 state representatives who submitted a total of 26 letters to the House chief clerk to explain how they intended to vote or would have voted on bills on issues ranging from ending affirmative action programs in state and local governments to abortion-related legislation during this year's regular session. Fourteen of the letters were filed in the two weeks before the Legislature recessed April 7 as lawmakers raced to wrap up the session. The Legislature plans to adjourn the regular session Monday.

The letters to Stacks don't change the outcomes or alter the vote tallies, but they are designed to correct the record, respond to criticism and deflect future political attacks.

No state senators submitted similar letters to Secretary of the Senate Ann Cornwell during this year's regular session because "we expunged votes on a few bills that [were] voted on again," according to Cornwell.

Over the past dozen years, the number of letters filed in the House has ranged from eight in the 2017 regular session to 39 in the 2011 regular session, while the number of letters filed in the Senate has ranged from zero in this year's regular session to 26 in the 2013 regular session. The numbers have declined in the Senate after a voting screen was installed in 2013 to allow senators to see how their voice votes are recorded.

Scott also submitted a letter dated April 10 to Stacks regarding her non-vote on Senate Bill 71 by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro, which aimed to end affirmative action in Arkansas' state and local governments and give state agencies two years to implement the measure.

"As a member of the State Agencies committee, my intention was to vote 'no' on the bill, but I inadvertently did not vote on the bill," she wrote in her letter.

Scott said Monday that "I had thought I had hit my machine," but "we were trying to get pictures of the vote screen" and "I was completely shocked" that the House voted 27 to 51 to reject SB71.

Seventeen representatives didn't vote on the bill and five representatives voted present.


Rep. Ken Ferguson, D-Pine Bluff, said in a letter dated April 6 to Stacks that "my intention was to vote 'no' on [ SB71], but I inadvertently voted 'yes,'" on April 5.

He said in an interview last week he was talking with colleagues in the House and trying to get a picture of the votes on the voting board and inadvertently hit "the green button" after he saw the bill was going to be defeated.

Then, Ferguson said he tried to hit the "red button" to cast his vote against the bill, but it was too late to change his vote on a bill that he worked hard to defeat.

On April 7, he issued a news release that stated he "inadvertently voted Yes, but intended to vote No," and he "regrets this mistake."

Rep. Ashley Hudson, D-Little Rock, said in a letter dated March 16 to Stacks that it "was my intention to vote 'present'" on Senate Bill 66.

"While I appreciated the intent of the bill, I was concerned about some language that I had understood what would be amended prior to the vote on the House floor," she wrote. She voted against the bill March 14, according to the General Assembly's website.

SB66, sponsored by Sen. Tyler Dees, R-Siloam Springs, aims to require pornography website operators to verify that users in Arkansas are at least 18 years old before allowing access to their site. The bill is now Act 612.

Hudson said she asked her seatmate to cast a present vote on the bill for her and that seatmate misunderstood her request, and the miscommunication was "my fault."

She said the language in the version of the bill considered by the House on March 14 was at odds with U.S. Supreme Court precedent and it would have created a new standard. She said she voted for a later version of the bill April 4, after that was fixed.

Rep. Delia Haak, R-Centerton, wrote in a letter dated Feb. 14 to Stacks that "I inadvertently voted my machine 'present' instead of voting a 'yes' vote as I had intended" on House Bill 1006 on Feb. 13.

HB1006, sponsored by Rep. Aaron Pilkington, R-Knoxville, would require companies that pay employees' expenses for out-of-state abortions to also have 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. The bill failed to clear the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.

Haak could not be reached for comment by telephone last week.

Rep. Jim Wooten, R-Beebe, wrote in a letter dated March 8 to Stacks that he "inadvertently voted 'no'" on House Bill 1522, "but it was my intention to vote 'yes.'"

HB1522, sponsored by Rep. Carol Dalby, R-Texarkana, will change the minimum and maximum salaries of various district court personnel, including raising the minimum salary of the White County District Court Beebe Department clerk from $25,210 to $50,000 and the maximum salary from $40,990 to $70,000. The bill is now Act 483.

Wooten said in an interview, "I hit the wrong button.

"I couldn't believe I did it, but I did it," he said. The clerk deserves a pay raise because the clerk hasn't had a raise in three years, he said.

Rep. Rick McClure, R-Malvern, wrote in a letter dated Feb. 22 to Stacks that "I inadvertently voted 'no'" on Senate Bill 193 on Feb. 21, "but it was my intention to vote 'yes.'"

SB193, sponsored by Sen. Ricky Hill, R-Cabot, amends the Arkansas Occupational Licensing of Uniformed Service Members, Veterans and Spouses Act of 2021 to allow national certifications to be considered toward occupational licensure requirements, extend the application for initial licensure to the spouse of a uniformed service member or a uniformed service veteran, and remove the one-year limit for veterans to apply service education, training or certifications toward occupational licenses. The bill is now Act 137.

McClure said in an interview last week that "It was a stupid mistake on my part. The bill was a good bill. I pressed the wrong button."

Rep. Les Warren, R-Hot Springs, wrote in a letter dated April 6 to Stacks that "my intention was to vote 'no' on [House Bill 1748 on April 4], but I inadvertently voted 'yes.'"

HB1748, sponsored by Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, creates a procedure for Arkansas to appoint delegates to a convention called under Article V of the United States Constitution. The bill is now Act 835.

"It was a screw-up on my part. It was just one of those days," Warren said in an interview.

Rep. Karilyn Brown, R-Sherwood, wrote in a letter dated April 3 to Stacks that "I am writing this letter in regard to my vote on House Bill 1538.

"It was my intention to vote yes, but I hit the 'nay' button," she wrote.

HB1538, sponsored by Rep. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio, will bar school districts from requiring more than four days of professional development in addition to six days of professional development included in a teacher employment contract for 190 days. The bill is now Act 548.

Brown, who was the only representative recorded as voting against the bill, said in an interview "I just hit the wrong button.

"I had intended to vote [yes]," she said.

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