The Arkansas legislature moves to one-branch government domination | Arkansas Blog

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Arkansas legislature moves to one-branch government domination

Posted By on Sun, Sep 21, 2014 at 7:52 AM

SEN. JON DISMANG: His ballot measure strengthens power of already too-powerful legislative branch.
  • SEN. JON DISMANG: His ballot measure strengthens power of already too-powerful legislative branch.
Stephens Media reports today on a couple of constitutional amendments on the November ballot that are part of the Republican legislature's aims of having a one-branch government.

Arkansas already has a weak executive, thanks to a simple majority veto override; the 75 percent appropriation rule, and a legislative "review and advice" function that is already tantamount to legislative approval for executive branch decisions.

Legislators seek to solidify and expand that power. On the ballot:

* STATE TAKEOVER OF THE EXECUTIVE: This is Sen. Jon Dismang's proposed constitutional amendment to require legislative approval for all executive agency rule changes. Legislative control of executive agencies, period. Bad idea. Gov. Mike Beebe agrees, though he won't be around to suffer from it.

* THE RETURN OF INCUMBENCY: The constitutional amendment to add some tiny improvements to state ethics law — an end to lobbyist wining and dining is long overdue — comes at the price of a HUGE legislative ringer. It alters the term limits law to allow a lawmaker to serve 14 consecutive years in a single chamber. That's nothing less than the return of powerful incumbent domination of the House and Senate. If we are going to remove term limits — and I still think the vote should be the ONLY limit on terms — it should be done straight up, not through the back door in the name of "ethics."

Stephens Media also reports that one of the legislature's emerging bullies, Sen. Jimmy Hickey of Texarkansas, is nursing a plan to effectively make criminals of state agency directors who violate state statutes. He has no examples, mind you, save a difference of opinion on whether a deadline was met for submission of the state lottery budget. This is nothing less than giving the legislature the power to put a penalty, including job loss, on people they don't like. Hickey doesn't like the director of the Arkansas Lottery. He'll find a pretext to fine him or fire him. It's yet another incursion on the executive branch, which other runs agencies directly or through appointed commissions.

You can bet all these Republican improvements would have been met with howls of protest from Republicans during the days THEY were in the minority wilderness.

Term limits proponents have already begun raising a fuss about the ethics amendment. So it might fall, which will be good in one respect, bad in another. The surface appeal of the legislature's takeover amendment might pass it absence any public discussion. It will be the far greater damage to the public interest.

EXPLANATION: One-branch government? It's not as much of an exaggeration as you might think. The legislature is busy doing all it can to bind courts on criminal sentencing and limitations of damage lawsuits and compensation for injured workers. Sen. Jason Rapert is also the ringleader of a rising judicial intimidation movement that threatens judges with reprisals for rulings that run counter to their wishes (same-sex marriage is a leading example, but not the only one). It might not be necessary. An organized effort to elect Republican- or corporate-controlled judges is having great success, with the occasional setback (Mike Maggio.) Rapert is working diligently to influence court decisions. Judges get the message. Consider Cliff Hoofman, a Beebe appointee to the Arkansas Supreme Court, who's regularly gone in the tank by stepping away from difficult decisions, apparently in hopes Beebe will appoint him to yet another judicial position on the Court of Appeals when his current term ends. 

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