Andrew DeMillo writes for the Associated Press about the rise of “special language” amendments to budget bills to make policy changes.
Recent fights included an effort to abolish the Capitol Zoning District Commission and putting more punitive rules on recipients of cash assistance for needy families.
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In theory, the fiscal session can only be used for budget matters unless there’s a two-thirds vote to take up a substantive matter. Some legislators contend that rule is effectively met by the fact that budget bills require three-fourths votes. Some legislators believe you have to have an explicit two-thirds vote to take up a substantive item in the first place, rather than tacking on special language that rarely gets a full floor debate.
Where there’s a legislator, there’s a loophole.
I’ve just discovered legislators are making even more hash of the laughable “ethics” amendment that supposedly ended free slop for lawmakers by lobbyists or people who employ lobbyists. Apparently unhappy about regular publication of the slopfests, it’s now apparent that not all free swill events are being posted on legislative websites as had been the practice. And the Bureau of Legislative Research, which arranges some of the slopdowns, won’t give the information out unless requested under FOI on a daily basis.
I’ve also learned from legislative staff that the prevailing interpretation is that if there’s a “planned activity” — meaning an event to which either the full House or Senate or a committee of the legislature has been invited at least 24 hours an advance, the swill is good to go. No public notice need be given. The constitutional requirement for public meetings of the legislature is deemed inapplicable to secretly announced and attended meetings of the legislature designed simply as a vehicle for lobbyists to pour steaks and martinis on lawmakers despite the “ethics” amendment. What’s more, there’s some evidence that the legislature has broadened the definition of “committees” to include special interest “caucuses” of the legislature. I think that interpretation is even more dubious than the current hide-and-seek party policy, but it will take a court order or an ethics commission ruling to stop it. Caucuses have no official standing. They are merely interest groups and can count on support from the interests they cater to. Think “country” caucus. “Sportsmen’s” caucus.
Where there’s a legislator, there’s a loophole. Not to mention a lobbyist pouring drinks and grilling steaks.
This is exactly why Little Rock lawyer David Couch is working for a group interested in stronger ethics law to get a corrective amendment on the ballot. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has not been cooperative. The amendment, among other things, adds restrictions on the dark money that helped elect her.