Bipartisan ethics amendment in the works

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 71 views 

A proposed ethics amendment to the Arkansas Constitution would go beyond a citizen’s initiative effort that failed to make the ballot in 2012.

HJR 1009 by Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, and Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, is titled “The Arkansas Elected Officials Ethics, Transparency, and Financial Reform Amendment of 2014.”

The bill is in a “shell” status, but sponsors are discussing the specifics they plan to layer into the proposal.

Like an initiative proposed by the Regnat Populus citizens’ committee, the amendment would force a two-year cooling off period for state lawmakers to become lobbyists, limit campaign contributions from corporations, and impose a “Wal-Mart” rule to prevent lobbyist spending or gifts on state legislators.

Regnat Populus sought ballot access for an initiated act in 2012, but failed to meet signature goals. Talk Business-Hendrix College polling showed overwhelming voter support for the proposal with 69% approval.

Regnat Populus has restarted its effort for the 2014 election cycle and that pressure has lawmakers pushing the legislative-referred route in the current session.

State lawmakers are allowed to refer up to 3 proposed constitutional amendments to voters in the next general election. Wednesday (Feb. 13) is the deadline for filing proposed constitutional amendments and nearly two dozen measures have been or are expected to be filed.

Sabin says the measure he’s working with Woods on is “bipartisan and bicameral” in nature. He also says that with high public approval, lawmakers would be wise to get behind the effort.

“This Regnat Populus proposal is going to pass at the ballot if we don’t address it in the session. So this is our opportunity to have a say in it,” said Sabin.

He also said that HJR 1009 would add two more components to the Regnat Populus proposal. One addition includes an extension of term limits, which Sabin said is still being debated. The second one would create a citizen’s commission to address legislative pay.

The citizen’s commission is Woods idea and has been implemented in some form in either other states.

“I think we’ve found a good way, again on a bipartisan basis and a bicameral basis, to work on that,” Sabin said.

House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, did not take a position on the ethics proposal in his daily debriefing, but he indicated he’s open to the merits of the measure.

“I’m encouraged they’re working together,” Carter said. “I look forward to hearing more about the proposal.”

He did indicate his support for a proposed constitutional amendment to address tort reform. There are several proposals filed to reinstate aspects of a 2003 tort reform law that was struck down by the Arkansas Supreme Court.