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Rep. Jana Della Rosa (R-Rogers)appeared on Talk Business this weekend to make her case for her bill improving transparency and access to campaign finance information (don't miss Benji's detailed explanation of the bill from last week). The bill would require candidates for public office to file their campaign contribution reports electronically, rather than giving them the option to do so on a paper form. The paper option, despite the presence of a brand new electronic filing system, makes the efficient searching, sorting, and compiling of information all but impossible (the secretary of state's office scans the paper forms and makes them available online in non-searchable PDF form). The paper forms are often illegibly hand-written (which is just too rich), incomplete, or riddled with errors. The result is a database so dumb, arcane, outdated and unwieldy that the cynic might conclude that politicians want to make it as hard as possible to get a comprehensive picture of campaign finance in the state.
"What the bill is trying to accomplish is to create a searchable database for the public for campaign finance information," Della Rosa said. "What we have today is a system that's not very searchable."
To reiterate, from many hours of experience on this: True!
Della Rosa filed a similar bill in 2015 that was killed by lawmakers and lobbyists who view sunshine as a bug, not a feature.
She pointed out that a new system for lawmakers to use to report electronically was purchased during the fiscal session with a $750,000 appropriation (the excuse last session was that the old reporting system was too clunky). She hoped the new reporting system would encourage lawmakers to sign on to her plan this time around. "We have spent the taxpayer dollars, and we're going to get our end of it, which is a better system to use," she said. "This bill will make our participation mandatory — therefore, providing what the taxpayers get out of this, and that would be a searchable database."
Another excuse raised by transparency-leery legislators is that some rural legislators may not have access to computers or the internet. Given the widespread existence of public libraries in the state, color me a little skeptical about this excuse, but just in case, Della Rosa's bill allows a hardship exemption for lawmakers who don't have access to the necessary technology.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, most states now require electronic filing, so Della Rosa's bill would push Arkansas to play catch up with other states.
Della Rosa also addressed a few other issues of the day on Talk Business, including defending the legislature's tax-cut bonanza even as revenues are coming in under forecast this year, as well as expressing her opposition to the so-called tort reform proposal likely to be referred as a constitutional amendment by the legislature.
"When people say 'tort reform' nobody knows exactly what it is they're talking about," she said. "The changes that are included in this particular measure I don't agree with because they take away the power of the jury. ... I don't think we should be messing with that. The cleanest form we have and the least corruptible form we have of deciding cases is a jury of peers." She also said she opposed capping attorney's fees. The legislature shouldn't be in the business of capping the amount of money that private workers can make at their jobs, she argued. "The market determines how much money people make," she said.
In terms of capping non-economic damages, she added: "Additionally, non-economic damages, that's essentially the value of a human life. I am staunchly pro-life, and you're never going to find me putting a dollar value on a human life."