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Executive decision

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The state Senate has approved and sent to the House of Representatives a bill (SB 16) to bar former legislators from turning lobbyist for one year after they leave office. This is what’s known as “revolving door” legislation, and several states have it. But while SB 16 will slow the passage of legislator to lobbyist (critics have noted that it exempts current legislators, extending its effective date significantly), it won’t impede former members of the executive branch.

Some reformers see a need for that too -— for a law that would, say, keep a former member of the state Public Service Commission from going to work for a public utility as soon as his PSC term ends. The PSC regulates utilities.

Sen. Robert Thompson, D-Paragould, is the sponsor of SB 16. He said he didn’t include the executive branch in the bill because “I didn’t want to try too much at one time. This bill [SB 16] has been presented in the past.” Thompson said his bill was prompted by scandals involving legislators and lobbyists at the national level and in some states. “We as legislators ought to be able to police ourselves,” he said. He said SB 16 was not aimed at any particular legislator or lobbyist in Arkansas, although a large number of former legislators are now registered lobbyists at the Capitol. There’ve always been people who went from legislating to lobbying, and the number has increased in recent years, possibly because the adoption of term limits has forced legislators out of office earlier.

Some former members of the executive branch are, or have been, registered lobbyists too — former insurance commissioners, former securities commissioners, former members of the Public Service Commission, former heads of state agencies such as the Department of Human Service, etc. In some cases, former officials have voluntarily refrained from lobbying for a year or so after leaving office. Graham Sloan, director of the state Ethics Commission, said he knew of no Arkansas statutes imposing revolving-door limits on members of the executive branch. The Ethics Commission would be the agency most likely to enforce such laws if they existed.

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