Arkansas Lawmakers Propose New Ethics Rules After Recent Corruption Scandals

Jun 14, 2018

Sen. Majority Leader Jim Hendren, Sen. President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang and Democratic Minority Leader Keith Ingram during a press conference at the Arkansas Capitol.
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR News

New ethics rules are being put forward by a bipartisan group of Arkansas Senate leaders following a slate of convictions against lawmakers found guilty of redirecting state money in exchange for bribes.

Foremost among the changes may be the creation of a five-member Senate Ethics Committee to investigate claims against members.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren is leading the effort.

"I have confidence that we have a majority of the Senate – an overwhelming majority of the Senate – when they see one of their colleagues in violation of what we have said is prohibitive contact [they] will make that accusation. If somebody is violating the rules that we have adopted, they will be held accountable," Hendren said.

Senate President Jonathan Dismang says he hopes allowing members to make claims against each other to a five-member ethics group, instead of the entire senate, will help the body police itself.

"One of the goals was to take [out] some of the emotion that may occur in these types of discussions and really have a process in place," Dismang said.

Neither Hendren nor the other seven senators present would say whether or not Senator Jeremy Hutchinson’s recent conduct would merit an ethics violation.

Jeremy Hutchinson is the nephew of Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Documents related to a federal corruption investigation show Hutchinson took $500,000 in legal consulting fees from convicted lobbyist Rusty Cranford.

Under the newly proposed rules, such financial relationships would be required to be disclosed prior to debates and may be prohibited if deemed that it "could reasonably be expected to impair…independence of judgment."

It would be up to the senators to determine what a reasonable financial relationship is.

The House is expected to consider rule changes tomorrow. The Senate ethics body would also be tasked with creating legislative solutions for the 2019 session.