Regnat Populus, the grassroots group that succeeded in putting its ethics initiative in a legislatively proposed constitutional amendment heading to the ballot in 2014, has circulated a statement touting its achievement and defending some of the items grafted onto that amendment to achieve legislative approval, particularly an extension of term limits and a mechanism to raise legislative pay.
There’s news in the message of an expected lawsuit over efforts by the business lobby to curtail the ability of Arkansas voters to petition their government:
The now infamous SB 821, introduced by Sen. Ingram of West Memphis, was designed by the Southland/Oaklawn duopoly and the gas lobby to stymie the Ballot Initiative process itself because of Initiated Acts that were attempted in 2012 which would have presented competition/and or cut into profits for their respective businesses. SB 821 imposes restrictions on paid canvassers, makes rules that make it more difficult to petition and shortens the time allowed to petition. We believe SB 821 will be shown to be unconstitutional and are filing suit to fight this measure which infringes upon Arkansas citizens’ ability to petition through this cherished Citizen Initiated process.
Sadly, the legislature has also referred a constitutional amendment on petitions that would make it harder to cure petition drives that fall short at the initial deadline. It could hamper the process even if a lawsuit succeeds in striking the law.
On other subjects:
I take exception to Regnat Populus’ benign view of the provision added by the Senate to continue to allow lobby-paid junkets. RP believes the provision allowing travel to conferences means only transportation costs, not food, lodging or other events (say golf tournaments) scheduled as part of the conferences. The amendment doesn’t specify this definition of travel. “Travel” by any standard of government reimbursement routinely includes food, lodging, registration fees and other incidentals. We won’t know until a court decides. I expect an early test. Legislators won’t be traveling if they have to pay for hotels, meals and drinks. And they want to travel.
I also think Regnat Populus is naive in thinking its decision to allow free wining and dining of official groups can’t and won’t be abused. To continue to allow fancy swillathons for the whole legislature is pernicious enough. But the amendment allows banqueting for an event to which a “specific governmental body” is invited. What is a “governmental body?” The amendment definition [and it’s more important than any previous law or rule] includes an “office” or “other establishment” of the “legislative branch.” Got a truck? I see a loophole big enough for any lobbyist or legislator to drive an officeholder in the legislature through. Or the Payday Lenders Caucus, at least.
But for now celebrate some elements in the amendment that represent a step forward. The Regnat Populus message follows: