Ethics leg­is­la­tion: Easy to dis­cuss, harder to en­act

Siloam Springs Herald Leader - - NEWS - — May­lon Rice is a for­mer jour­nal­ist who worked for sev­eral north­west Arkansas pub­li­ca­tions. He can be reached via email at may­lon­trice@ya­hoo.com. The opin­ions ex­pressed are those of the au­thor. May­lon Rice

Be­ing and be­com­ing an Arkansas state law­maker just keeps get­ting harder and harder these days.

With the United States of Amer­ica end­ing its suc­cess­ful trial against for­mer state Se­na­tor Jon Woods and oth­ers in the scan­dal in­volv­ing Gen­eral Im­prove­ment Funds (GIF monies), there is now even more talk about e-t-h-i-c-s from the newly se­lected lead­ers of the Arkansas House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and the Arkansas State Se­nate for the up­com­ing leg­isla­tive ses­sions beginning in 2019.

And as we near the Septem­ber 1st final run of Cam­paign 2018 — we will see a fever-pitch sprint to the Novem­ber Gen­eral Elec­tion, no doubt, with both Par­ties try­ing to talk about ethics leg­is­la­tion.

But let me be very straight for­ward.

Ethics talk is cheap. Ethics rules, real ethics rules, are hard to pass. Such rules are hard to even for­mu­late, given the past his­tory of the Arkansas Leg­is­la­ture — since — well since long be­fore the Demo­cratic Party suc­ceeded the ma­jor­ity sta­tus to the Arkansas Repub­li­can Party, less than a half-decade ago.

The real fac­tor in ethics leg­is­la­tion is not how?

But, sim­ply, when?

When do new rules, negate those bad, old rules that were in place that re­ally didn’t mean any­thing.

It is al­ways the “loop­holes” that make ethics leg­is­la­tion hard to en­force, un­der­stand. It is these “loop­holes,” that leave out re­ally puni­tive mea­sures de­signed to drive these of­fend­ers out of pub­lic of­fice.

Like right now, for ex­am­ple. Both par­ties have a rule that if —and this is a big if — a law­maker is in­dicted, as in un­der in­dict­ment by the fed­eral govern­ment – that law­maker will have to give up “lead­er­ship” roles in their House or Se­nate seat.

He will not have to re­sign. Just give up “lead­er­ship roles.” So you can still serve un­der in­dict­ment?

Well, yes.

It will take a re­ally “hard move” by both the House and the Se­nate mem­bers to drive out a fel­low mem­ber.

It is easy for those foes of the mem­ber, who seem to have com­mit­ted an in­dis­cre­tion so se­vere that an in­dict­ment seems pos­si­bly com­ing in the near fu­ture, to crit­i­cize and call for a res­ig­na­tion.

But there is al­ways that “in­no­cent un­til proven guilty,” stan­dard that keeps us all at bay — as it should.

Also the other 34 state Sen­a­tors or 99 House mem­bers may have a very hard time — un-ring­ing the bell of the vot­ers’ choice — to throw out a House or Se­nate mem­ber.

It has been done in the past. But oh, so in­fre­quently, those pro­ce­dures to do so are fuzzy at best.

It could, how­ever, come to that same stan­dard soon, if an in­dict­ment is forth­com­ing for an elected of­fi­cial un­veiled this past week. The law­maker’s own de­fense at­tor­ney, said that the elected of­fi­cial is in­deed “Se­na­tor A,” as de­scribed by a crim­i­nal de­fen­dant tak­ing a plea agree­ment for his role in a scheme to de­fraud tax­pay­ers and en­rich oth­ers.

Ethics, as I have said, is a sticky sit­u­a­tion.

If you have un­eth­i­cal peo­ple – those who will cheat the sys­tem, lie, de­fraud and out­right hatch schemes to en­rich them­selves via tax dol­lars – im­pos­ing eth­i­cal rules, stan­dards, and penal­ties and then make the other politi­cians, who will not be so bold as the ac­cused to level penal­ties upon them — in­clud­ing ex­pul­sion — is a high, hard stan­dard to achieve.

Most of the ones found guilty or hav­ing pleaded guilty when these schemes were un­folded for pub­lic view by the fed­eral govern­ment were ei­ther out of of­fice, of­ten choos­ing not to run for re-elec­tion, or were elected to an­other non­state of­fice.

And then there are the “con­nec­tions” we all know that ex­ist in Arkansas.

At least our gov­er­nor has cleared the air, in a way. This past week he said:

“I have pre­vi­ously stated that pub­lic ser­vants must be held ac­count­able and if some­one is charged with a crime, they should im­me­di­ately re­sign,” Gov. Asa Hutchin­son said.

We shall watch and wait for the charges to be filed.

But wait­ing on ethics rules to drive out these solons from the midst of the leg­is­la­ture is an even longer wait with much less cer­tainty than a fed­eral in­dict­ment.

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