That time when the legislature set aside $200,000 in taxpayer money for the ACLU | Arkansas Blog

That time when the legislature set aside $200,000 in taxpayer money for the ACLU


UPDATE 11:15 a.m.: I've received permission to post the recording of the exchange I described earlier, so I've added the audio itself to the post below.

Sunday's Democrat-Gazette
reported on the taxpayer costs of Arkansas's continued defense of its ban on abortions past the 12th week of pregnancy, a 2013 law that's clearly unconstitutional. The approximately $70,000 in costs and fees so far accumulated will only rise now that Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is seeking an additional hearing from the full federal 8th Circuit, after a three-judge panel earlier ruled against the state.

One additional figure worth mentioning, though: $200,000. That's the pot of money the legislature set aside in 2015 to cover legal fees to defend the 12 week ban. Not to defend lawsuits against the state in general, mind you, but "for legal fees as determined by a court of competent jurisdiction in the case of Edwards v. Beck."

Here's the appropriation for the State Medical Board, which is the defendant in the case. The $200,000 is detailed on page 3, sections 4 and 5. That figure, like the $70,000 figure, doesn't take into account the salaries of the staff attorneys in the AG's office who are working on a suit that everyone knows will fail.

So where does that money go? It goes straight to the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, of course, which is challenging the law in court.

The ACLU has already received over $65,000 in legal fees after a district court judge ruled against the state. It's seeking additional fees for the cost of the appeal to the 8th Circuit, even while Rutledge is pressing onward with requesting another hearing before the full court.

Might as well keep defending the law, since we haven't yet burned through all of that $200K set aside from the state budget. It would be a shame to leave some money on the table, right?

When this appropriation was before the Joint Budget Committee during the session, by the way, there was an interesting exchange between some liberal Democratic legislators and committee chair Sen. Larry Teague (D-Nashville) and others. Sens. Linda Chesterfield and Joyce Elliott and Rep. John Walker, all of Little Rock, attempted to force Teague into admitting the money was essentially intended to cover the cost of the ACLU litigating against the state. Here's an excerpt from the transcript:

Rep. Walker: What is it we are paying for and why are we paying for it?
Sen. Teague: We're paying for the defense of the bill, in court, and I think we're paying for some court fees
Walker: Don't we have the Attorney General to defend these things?
Teague: That's where this money goes, to the Attorney General.
Walker: But I thought the Attorney General had a budget for these the money to take care of these things. I thought the budget of the AG was sufficient to take care of all of —
Teague: It's not sufficient to take care of all of those.
Walker: Well ... this is an increase in the budget of the Attorney General's office without it being called that
Teague: It's not an increase. It's paying a debt that we owe.
Sen. Chesterfield: At the risk of sounding obtuse,we are paying ... up to $200,000 because, why? Because we lost a lawsuit?
Teague: We lost a lawsuit ... we have this bill
Chesterfield: And to whom are we paying?
Teague: The AG pays court fees, I think probably some legal fees on the other side.
Chesterfield: You are being evasive. You know what I'm asking. ... Nobody's touching it, are they?

UPDATE: Here's the full audio. Elliott raises the point that this $200,000 comes from the existing funds of the State Medical Board, which she feels is unfair considering the board was forced to comply with the law created by the legislature. Appropriate money from the General Improvement Fund, she suggests to her colleagues, if you insist on paying for these narrow legal costs. At the end, Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway), who sponsored the 12 week ban in 2013, gets in a jab at Elliott: "Perhaps you could put her GIF towards all the state has had to pay regarding Little Rock schools."

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