From the Arkansas Statehouse...

Ethics bills meet mixed results.

In Ethics on 24 March 2009 at 1:35 pm

The Senate State Agencies Committee heard two ethics bills this morning, but it passed only the mildest of the pair. Though the committee approved a measure that would increase restrictions on current lobbyists, a bill to prevent public officials from becoming lobbyists immediately after leaving office failed to get enough support.

The successful bill has been criticized by some — see Max Brantley in the Arkansas Times — for allowing legislators to lard their own coffers under the guise of ethics reform. The bill would allow incumbents to double the amount of money they can retain in their carryover campaign funds. Currently an incumbent can keep the equivalent of his salary and expenses.

Sen. Kim Hendren objected to this part of the measure and voted against the bill as a result. “That twice just ruins a very good bill,” he said.

Sen. Hendren added that challengers will face an unfair disadvantage if incumbents can keep so much money. Sen. Ed Wilkinson responded that incumbents have advantages besides money that the bill would do nothing to change.

The bill carried the day after committee members opined that Arkansas is relatively miserly in the amount it allows officials to keep in campaign funds.

More controversial was Sen. Gilbert Baker’s bill to make state officials take a timeout before becoming lobbyists. The bill would require a one-year waiting period for constitutional officers, agency heads, legislators and certain staff members of these officials.

Sens. Bill Pritchard and Randy Laverty both said the bill would put an undue burden on lawmakers who need to lobby to make money. Sen. Pritchard complained that a lawmaker who quits his term before it’s over would have to wait even longer than the one-year interim, since the bill begins the cooling-off period the day a lawmaker’s term is due to end.

Sen. Baker responded that legislators know the length of a term going in and that the very purpose of the bill is to ensure that lawmakers don’t neglect their public service for private gain.

His argument was not enough to convince the committee, which defeated the bill 3-3. Sen. Hendren joined Sens. Laverty and Pritchard in voting no. Sens. Steve Bryles and Steve Faris were present but did not vote.

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