Judge approves legislative expense reimbursement settlement | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Judge approves legislative expense reimbursement settlement

Posted By on Tue, Apr 3, 2012 at 4:18 PM

Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Chris Piazza today approved a settlement agreement in the Arkansas Public Law Center's legal effort to end the salary supplements most state legislators receive.

Max is a member of the Arkansas Public Law Center.

See a release from the APLC on the jump.

LITTLE ROCK, April 3, 2012 — The Arkansas Public Law Center applauds the ruling issued today at a hearing in the Pulaski County Circuit Court by Judge Chris Piazza approving a settlement agreement in the APLC's lawsuit concerning legislative expense reimbursements. The APLC filed suit last September in an effort to end the salary supplementation procedures of most legislators. Attorneys for the APLC argued that these procedures violated Arkansas law and Amendment 70 of the Arkansas Constitution. Judge Piazza agreed.

"Today we are pleased with the settlement approved by Judge Piazza," said Kathy Wells of Little Rock, a plaintiff in the case. "The settlement agreement serves the public interest by ending the legislative practice of collecting reimbursements for expenses that were not incurred and/or undocumented." This was a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of all Arkansas taxpayers.

Attorneys and financial experts on both sides have worked diligently over the last several months to come up with an agreement that is fair to all parties involved, including Arkansas taxpayers. Under the agreement, both chambers of the Arkansas General Assembly will implement changes to their own Accountable Reimbursement Plans. Each plan will meet IRS guidelines with regard to proper itemization and documentation of expenses actually incurred and ensure that legislators do not receive income in violation of Amendment 70.

Moreover, a certified public accountant will conduct periodic reviews to verify that the reimbursement practices are in compliance with the law and IRS regulations. These results will be public record. If it turns out that the reimbursement plans are not being followed, the APLC has three (3) years during which it can enforce the settlement agreement.

Mike Lauro, president of the APLC, emphasized that the purpose of the lawsuit was to pave the way for more accountable and transparent government. "As a public interest advocacy group, the APLC wanted to end this illegal practice and start requiring proper documentation for legislative expenses. Taxpayers deserve to know where funds from the state treasury are going. We support adequate salaries for public officials that are openly set and disbursed on the record. It may be time to review the salaries set in the Arkansas Constitution."

Judge Piazza also heard, but took no action on, objections to the fairness of the settlement agreement. One objection noted that the settlement agreement does not go far enough to halt other questionable expense policies. However, according to APLC attorney Bettina Brownstein, "our lawsuit went as far as we could given the current state of the law on legislative expense reimbursements. To the extent that there may be other problems in government, our lawsuit cannot address every issue."

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