LITTLE ROCK — Measures to increase transparency in political races, abolish fiscal legislative sessions in even-numbered years and give teachers and retired military personnel tax breaks are among the bills Arkansas state legislators filed in the first week of bill filing for the 2017 session.
Last Tuesday was the first day legislators could file bills for the session, which begins Jan. 9. Among the first measures filed were several ethics proposals sponsored by Democrats.
“Ethics laws are constantly evolving, and our goal is to tighten some loopholes and make common sense changes,” Senate Minority Leader Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, said in a news release last week. “Ultimately, we hope to restore a measure of public confidence in the political process.”
Rep. Clarke Tucker filed House Bill 1005, which is aimed at eliminating so-called “dark money,” or spending on political races by independent groups that do not give the money directly to a candidate and do not have to disclose the sources of the money. Independent groups spent heavily in two Arkansans Supreme Court races earlier this year.
Under Tucker’s bill, a group spends more than $1,000 in a calendar year on TV, radio, newspaper, online or other advertising, would have to disclose names and addresses of contributors.
If a group makes contributions through a bank account created to pay for political advertising, it would have to disclose contributors who gave $100 or more in a calendar year. If the contributions were not made through an account devoted to political spending, the group would have to disclose contributors who gave $250 or more.
The bill also would tighten restrictions against coordination between candidates and independent expenditure groups.
HB 1006 by Tucker would expand the definitions of and increase the penalties for abuse of public trust and abuse of public office, which currently apply to a public servant who takes an official action or fails to fulfill the duties of his or her office in exchange for a benefit. Under Tucker’s bill, the offense also would apply to a person who has been elected or appointed to become a public servant but has not yet taken office.
Tucker also filed HB 1007, which would allow a person to file a lawsuit against a judge if the judge ruled against the person and has been convicted of or disciplined for bribery. Currently, judges are immune from suits over their rulings. Ingram filed a matching bill, Senate Bill 6.
Former Circuit Judge Michael Maggio pleaded guilty last year to a federal bribery charge. Prosecutors said he reduced a Faulkner County jury award in exchange for a bribe.
HB 1008 by Tucker would make the penalties for taking campaign funds align with the penalties with the penalties for theft.
“We are working to enhance the transparency and accountability of Arkansas’s elected officials and in the process restore some faith in government,” Tucker said last week.
Ingram filed SB2, which would prohibit a candidate from soliciting campaign contributions before the expiration of the previous general election. Currently, candidates are barred from soliciting contributions more than two years before the election.
SB 3 by Ingram would prohibit elected state officials from registering as lobbyists.
SB7 by Ingram would bar lawmakers from accepting loans from lobbyists.
Last year, a lobbying firm loaned $30,000 to Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, a transaction that was permitted under current ethics laws.
Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, filed HB 1009, which would prohibit judges, prosecuting attorneys, legislators and constitutional officers from being involved in more than one political action committee.
HB 1014, which Leding filed as a “shell” bill with details to be added later, would provide an income tax deduction of up to $500 to teachers for items they buy for their classrooms.
Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, filed HB 1010, which would expand the list of campaign finance reports that the secretary of state’s office must file on its website.
Sabin also filed HB 1011, which would prohibit a political action committee from making a contribution to another political action committee, and HB 1012, which would prohibit a candidate from accepting a contribution from a political action committee.
Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs filed Senate Joint Resolution 1, a proposed constitutional amendment that would call for the Legislature to hold regular sessions only in odd-numbered years. Currently, the Legislature meets every year, holding full sessions in odd-numbered years and sessions primarily devoted to budget matters in even-numbered years.
Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway, filed HB 1013, which would expand the definition of Internet stalking of a child to include a person who arranges a meeting with a parent, guardian, family member or other person with authority over a child 15 or younger, or who the person believes to be 15 or younger, for the purpose of luring the child into sexual activity.
Rep. Charles Blake, D-North Little Rock, filed House Bill 1004, which would allow a person obtaining, renewing or making a change to his or her driver’s license to register to vote at the same time.
Rep. Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren, filed House Bill 1003, which would exempt military retirement benefits from the state income tax.
Rep. Mark McElroy, D-Tillar, filed HB 1002, which would allow patrons of a schools district to petition the district to equip new school buses with seat belts.