The Big Swill begins: Legislature convenes, lobbyists with drinks at the ready | Arkansas Blog

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Big Swill begins: Legislature convenes, lobbyists with drinks at the ready

Posted By on Mon, Jan 12, 2015 at 6:59 AM

PARTY TIME: Looking for a legislator? Good chance you can spot one here from 5-7 p.m. tonight.
  • PARTY TIME: Looking for a legislator? Good chance you can spot one here from 5-7 p.m. tonight.
The Arkansas legislature convenes its 60-day session today and, despite a new ethics amendment, the free booze and food will flow as usual.

The legislature convenes at noon for a ceremonial opening

Then, at 5 p.m. at the Next Level Events Center comes the traditional opening day free swillathon for all members thrown by the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Arkansas.

You may recall that Amendment 94, approved overwhelmingly by voters in November, prohibits gifts of any value to legislators by lobbyists or the people, such as wholesale beer distributors, who employ lobbyists.

But …. The legislative drafters of this amendment — in addition to burying extension of term limits and pay raises for themselves in the amendment — also included a vehicle to keep the free drinks and eats flowing. If the entire legislature, or an entire committee, is invited to an event, then: Drink up boys and girls. It's on the house.

I'll keep you posted daily on who's feeding your legislator. In days leading up to the session, the schedule was packed with free breakfasts, lunches, dinners and cocktail parties. That will continue at a heavier pace during the session.

Remember this gravy train if a member of the independent pay commission says again — as one did last week — that pay and expense considerations perhaps should be guided by the "loss" of free lobbyist dining privileges. 1) They haven't been lost. 2) They are cheating already on per diem by claiming it for days they don't work. 3) If meals are a cost of doing the public's work, let them submit an expensive voucher with time, date and purpose and ask for taxpayer reimbursement. If it's honestly important, nobody should complain.

PS: You'd think from the House opening day agenda we were at Westminster, preparing to install royalty The self-importance factor does run high out there.

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