LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A chamber tasked with passing rules for others to follow is now putting its own members in check.
The Arkansas Senate leadership will release a new ethics proposal Thursday in light of multiple bribery and corruption scandals involving current and former lawmakers.
The president pro tempore-elect, Sen. Jim Hendren, said he asked the Bureau of Legislative Research to study what other state legislatures are doing, immediately after his colleagues voted him into the new position several months ago.
“We’re going to put in place some procedures and processes to try to change the culture,” Hendren said.
The plan includes increasing reporting requirements for contributions, putting some prohibitions on conflicts of interest, and establishing a committee to handle ethics investigations and recommend further changes for the 2019 legislative session.
Hendren said they will also release more details about training requirements for members.
“Unfortunately, this is nothing new,” he said. “I was here in the late 90s during the Nick Wilson days. We’ve had dozens of incidents over the last 20, 30 years.”
The latest involves Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, Hendren’s cousin.
Hutchinson’s attorney, Tim Dudley, identified him as “Senator A,” who is accused of taking bribes from Rusty Cranford, the former lobbyist that recently pleaded guilty to federal charges.
Dudley maintains his client was providing legal work, but fellow Republicans are calling for his resignation, namely Sen. Linda Collins-Smith and Sen. Terry Rice.
“Right now, I don’t support, and I don’t think the majority of the Senate supports that somebody should be forced to resign based on allegations that haven’t even led to an indictment yet,” Hendren said.
The president pro tempore-elect is usually a family-first man, but not when it comes to politics.
“We have a long record of we do what we think is right and that takes precedence over any family loyalty,” Hendren said.
A prime example, Hendren said, was when he sponsored a bill to stop funding for Arkansas Works. His father, Rep. Kim Hendren, voted against it, while his uncle, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, vetoed it.
The governor weighed in on the allegations against his nephew one week before lawmakers plan to announce the new Senate ethics rules.
“If State Senator A is indicted, then he or she should resign from office,” he said.
Following Thursday’s press conference, the proposed rule changes will be considered during a meeting Tuesday when two newly-elected Republican senators, Breanne Davis and Ricky Hill, take their oaths of office.