Least surprising news of the day: the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and affiliated industry groups and other big business interests around the state want protection from liability lawsuits, Kyle Massey at Arkansas Busines reports.

In a perfect world — as envisioned by the State Chamber of Commerce — businesses could not be sued for harm done to employees or customers. We have one of the meanest workers comp laws in the country, and one of the stingiest unemployment benefits laws, but as yet, not the punitive limits on damage lawsuits that big business has tried to get enshrined in the Constitution.

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What better excuse for broad tort reform than a crisis. And how easy, a simple sign of the pen to an executive order from the governor, who’s frequently emphasized economic development before public health in public utterances about coronavirus response.

Here’s what the corporate bosses want, reports Massey:

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The governor issued an executive order recently to protect health care and emergency providers from civil liability, and five dozen state chambers of commerce, industry associations and other entities signed the State Chamber’s May 5 letter to the governor seeking the same type of protection for businesses “providing critical services, goods and facilities during the crisis.” Those businesses “are in survival mode,” the letter said, adding they should have immunity from “an onslaught of class actions” and other lawsuits “seeking to capitalize on the crisis.”

The state needs to assure immunity “to all industry sectors” meeting critical needs, the letter said, specifically asking for an executive order specifying wider protections, as well as advance and support legislation “to be acted upon in a special session” of the Arkansas General Assembly to address any gaps in legal immunity “not addressable by executive order.”

“During this time of uncertainty, Arkansas needs businesses — large and small — to continue to operate, produce, and employ” their workforces, the letter said. It was signed by 32 local and regional chambers of commerce, as well as business groups representing agriculture, bankers, pavers, automobile dealers, builders, truckers, timber producers and insurers.

Civil immunity for anyone providing goods, services and facilities? That’s what you might call a business wet dream.

I like the odds of this governor holding business harmless before he gets around to guaranteeing people safe access to the polls in November with broadened absentee voting.

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Here’s one piece of evidence:

Remember when the governor’s economic development agency rolled out a day early a $15 million GRANT (not loan) program to businesses and gave a heads-up to insiders?

Here’s the group favored with special service in the form of an informative phone call two hours before the website went online for a public largely unaware of its existence. Compare the list with those signing the letter reported by Arkansas Business.

These are what the state likes to call its “partners.” Good luck finding rank-and-file representation on the state partner list. I got this list from AEDC with an FOI request. I also discovered through an FOI request that word went out by email about this grant program before it was announced at the governor’s news conference last Wednesday. The chamber of commerce was passing the word to big business lobbyists and other insiders. Asa might as well make Randy Zook a cabinet secretary.

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The state is refusing to release applications for the grant fund, now up to $55 million. It has been oversubscribed, but we need to see applications before judging that. In the original oversubscribed first-come-first-served offering, 94 businesses claimed almost two-thirds of the money and questions existed about how the money could be used. One senator wondered, for example, about the need for a restaurant for $1,000 per worker to buy face masks and gloves.

Free money is a powerful lure. What business wouldn’t want some? The applications need a close look for the suitability of proposed expenditures and need. The application for immunity lawsuit — essential because of the vaguest of unsubstantiated threats — should get the same vetting.