Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, and State Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, are aiming to end the confusion surrounding their co-authored and recently passed constitutional amendment, Issue No. 3.
The measure enacts significant ethics reforms for state legislators, such as restricting gifts, eliminating corporate campaign contributions, and extending the lobbying period for former legislators once their service is complete. The amendment, which passed 52-48%, also extends term limits to 16 years in either chamber of the state Legislature or a combination of both and it creates a citizen’s commission to set salaries for elected officials.
Appearing on Talk Business & Politics, which airs Sundays at 9 a.m. on KATV Ch. 7, Sabin said a shell bill he and Woods have filed seeks to put some immediate guidance in place.
“I think it’s going to be fairly quick as legislating goes. We’ve already filed actually the first shell bill of the 90th General Assembly, which will convene the middle of next month,” Sabin said.
He said his goal is to put language together to authorize the Arkansas Ethics Commission to be the arbiter of many of the questions that have surfaced regarding the new law.
“We want to make sure that going forward there’s no confusion and people get used to the new culture,” Sabin said. “I think our enabling legislation authorizing the Ethics Commission to rule on some of this will at least give at the staff level of the Ethics Commission – so (director) Graham Sloan who runs it on a day-to-day basis – will at least be able to offer advice and opinions so that during the legislative session people can have the benefit of that direction.”
The independent citizens commission, which will set salaries for state legislators, constitutional officers, and the judges, was named last week. Sen. Woods said the rationale for the group is to hopefully raise certain salaries, which he claims are far too low compared to other states.
“I think it’s wrong, I think its embarrassing, it needs to be fixed,” Woods said.
He hopes that by raising salaries recent scandals involving elected officials – such as the high-profile financial issues that led to the resignations of Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, Treasurer Martha Shoffner, and State Sen. Paul Bookout – could be avoided.
“The thought behind the citizens commission is to eliminate bad behavior,” he said. “They shouldn’t have been put in that situation. Because Arkansas is 49th in the country, and 50th, on salaries for elected officials, these politicians have sacrificed a lot of time being away from their family, being down in Little Rock.”
On term limits, Woods defended the language in the amendment that said the measure would “set” not “extend” term limits.
“Everyone that I talked to that was upset at the way that it said ‘establish term limits,’ knows our current term limits. I’ve not had anybody that’s come up to me and said, ‘hey, you lengthened term limits and I didn’t know that I did that.’ I’ve not heard that,” Woods said, adding that the proposal could have eliminated term limits altogether, but didn’t.
You can watch the full roundtable discussion in the video below.