ETHICS R US: At the Senate today.
Senate leaders today revealed ideas on ethics rules for the chamber in light of recent revelations about rampant corruption in the Arkansas legislature.
Benji Hardy will report details, but early info indica
te the s creation of an ethics committee, controlled (3-2) by majority party leader (currently Republican president pro Tem is Jonathan Dismang
) and a provision for removal from leadership on indictment and removal from office on conviction. I'm anxious to hear more. There
's an impeachment and removal by Senate trial procedure in the Arkansas Constitution now. Can the Senate by rules supercharge that without exceeding constitutional authority? UPDATE: Article 5 of the Constitution does say a legislator convicted of certain crimes is "ineligible" for office. In my 45 years in Arkansas, the Senate met and voted on one occasion to expel a senator convicted in a federal tax case, Guy H. "Mutt" Jones in 1974.
Oh, and senators will have to take an ethics course.
Stifle your laughter.
Do you need a course to know bribery is illegal?
Do you need a course to know taking money from people with interests you are voting on presents the appearance of conflict
We need laws with teeth. We need more detailed financial reporting as a requirement by law, punishable by meaningful fines when violated and without a mulligan rule.
Speaking of transparency: The Senate still refuses to televise its proceedings or those of important joint bodies like the Legislative Council and Joint Budget.
The proposed rule changes speak of financial "interest" in businesses before the legislature. Does interest mean ownership, or merely being employed by. Would these rules have stopped payment of legal retainer fees to Jeremy Hutchinson or required a disclosure on his part? UPDATE: A financial interest WOULD include being a consultant.
The Senate said the House is on its own. Democratic Chair Michael John Gray said he thinks rising House Speaker Matthew Shepherd will jump right on board with similar.
I'd prefer law enforced by an independent commission, with meaningful penalties, and more definition of ethical misconduct that what appears to be present in the boilerplate issued by the Senate.
Here's the draft of the rules revision.
The key prohibition is a shall not on anything that "is in substantial conflict" with discharge
of duties. Would agreeing
to provide honest legal advice "impair independence" of judgment, one standard for an unacceptable action? The rules do say a senator may not vote on a matter related to a business for which he/she has been an attorney consultant and the abstention must be a matter of record. (This is a small improvement if the senator chooses to disclose such secret deals.)
The Senate would up details on financial disclosure very slightly. Where now they must report sources of income ranges either above or below $12,500, there'd now be a category between $12,500 and $50,000 and above $50,0000.
Also, there's a specific requirement for disclosure of work as an attorney or consultant. This is new and significant.
Quarterly reporting will be required of substantial changes in the annual filing.
That ethics committee would take up complaints from members of the Senate. This procedure already existed for the Senate as a whole, but has never been used. Hearings would be public.
UPDATE: The first members of the ethics commission would be, on the GOP side, Missy Irvin, Dave Wallace and Jason Rapert.
The Democrats would be Bruce Maloch and Will Bond.
Tough questioning ftrom the press today. Nobody was willing to dump on Jeremy Hutchinson, which tells you something about how vigorous future ethics enforcement might be.