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Senate approves Plant Board bill by 35-0 vote

by Cristina LaRue | February 9, 2023 at 1:52 a.m.
Sen. David Wallace, R-Leachville, talks with Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russelville, after introducing a bill that would revamp the system for making appointments to the state Plant Board during a meeting of the Senate at the state Capitol on Wednesday. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

A bill to change the way state Plant Board members are selected passed easily through the Senate on Wednesday.

Senators voted unanimously, 35-0, to approve Senate Bill 191. The bill cleared the Senate Agriculture, Forestry & Economic Development Committee Tuesday with a unanimously favorable vote during a 10-minute meeting.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. David Wallace, R-Leachville, told senators the bill aims to reform the Plant Board's selection process.

At Tuesday's committee meeting, Wallace said an emergency clause was added to SB 191 to conform with a state Supreme Court ruling and said it was a "repeat" of the bill the legislature passed two years ago that reformed the Plant Board selection process.

An emergency clause attached to the bill received enough votes for adoption.

Wallace warned the committee on Tuesday this issue could have implications for how other state boards are formed.

"Members, we should think going forward, there are other boards out there that [the Plant Board] was kind of designed off of many, many years ago, there may be future lawsuits involving that, so it's something we need to think about and we should look at do we want to take a look at those boards as well," Wallace said.

The selection process in place for 104 years for Plant Board membership was invalidated in May 2021 by the Arkansas Supreme Court after the court ruled the process gave too much power to business interests.

Before the high court ruling, the General Assembly had already taken action to replace the original selection process with Act 361 of 2021.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Morgan E. "Chip" Welch ruled on May 17, 2021, that the Legislature in Act 361 had illegally ceded control of the state Plant Board to private business interests in violation of the state Constitution, citing the state Supreme Court's 2021 opinion.

Welch invalidated the board member selection process, removing nine members appointed by then Gov. Asa Hutchinson on the 19 member board.

The nine removed members had been selected by trade groups as set out by Act 361, which requires agriculture industry trade groups to nominate two candidates each, one of whom would be chosen by the governor to join the board, subject to Senate confirmation.

The lawsuit brought before Welch was filed by Arkansas nonprofit organization FarmVoice Inc. representing row crop farmers and pesticide applicators; FarmVoice was formed in part to promote expanded use of the herbicide dicamba.

S.B. 191 is co-sponsored by Rep. Les D. Eaves, R-Searcy, co-chairman of the Administrative Rule Review Subcommittee, which reviews issues related to administrative rules by state commissions, boards and agencies and scrutinizes administrative organization, procedures and rules as assigned by the Legislative Council.

Print Headline: Plant Board overhaul passes Senate


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