A little chill for legislators: Is it legal? | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A little chill for legislators: Is it legal?

Posted By on Tue, Apr 26, 2016 at 9:48 AM

click to enlarge wick.png
Michael Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette just tweeted a photo of an invitation by two lobbyists — Leo Hauser and Marvin Parks — to join them for ice cream in the Capitol rotunda at noon today.

I don't see this event on the schedule of official events on the House and Senate calendar and it coordinated no committee events, the Bureau of Legislative Research said. As you may know, a so-called ethics amendment, 94, prohibits gifts from lobbyists to legislators of any value. Even a cup of coffee or ice cream cone. But the legislators were careful to write loopholes into the law for "planned activities" of the House, Senate and its committees:

(b)(1) As used in this subdivision (b)(2)(B)(v), "planned activity" means an event for which a written invitation is distributed electronically or by other means by the lobbyist, person acting on behalf of a lobbyist, or a person employing or contracting with a lobbyist to the members of the specific governmental body at least twenty-four (24) hours before the event.
The House and Senate and Bureau of Legislative Research, which handles scheduling of some committee planned activities, have been reasonably reliable in posting notice of such planned activities. They must. Meetings of the House and Senate, if gathered officially (even if just for purposes of evading the ethics law), must be open to the public under the Constitution.

If lobbyists Hauser and Parks complied with the 24-hour notice rule and no mention of the gifting turns up on House and Senate websites, I have to wonder if other events with more than ice cream cones on offer are flying under the radar. Trust level for the Arkansas legislature and those who attach themselves to it like lampreys is not high, I'm sorry to say.

Hanging with Marvin Parks, given his past association with Gilbert Baker and other related aromatic wheeling and dealing, is maybe something a self-respecting legislator would think twice about. His current big paying client: Forces working to make it hard to sue health care providers for negligence and malpractice. Life is cheap to that lobby, particularly if you are a child or an incapacitated person in a nursing home.

Cell phone photos of lawmakers licking lobbyists' cones are welcome.

UPDATE: My worst fears were realized in a response to questions I sent to the House information officer about absence of this event from the House calendar. Short answer: Yes, there may well be legal events that are not published. How, then, I wonder, is the public supposed to know about them?

Max,

It is not necessary that an event be placed on our House Events Calendar to be legal. If the sponsors of the event invited an entire governmental body to a planned activity, it is exempt from the Amendment 94 prohibition of providing food and drink. If the sponsors sent out a 24 hour written or electronic notice and, if, the sponsors have not sponsored another planned activity in the past 7 days, they are good to go.

It is not a requirement that the events be listed on our House Events Calendar.

We provide the House Events Calendar on our website as a courtesy to the members. In order to be on our website and on the Legislative Events Committee Calendar (that is placed in the members’ mailboxes) you have to go through the above vetting process by completing and signing the Legislative Events Committee’s event form. This indicates that the sponsors are aware of and have followed the laws. However, you can lawfully host an event without going through the Legislative Events Committee or by appearing on the House Events Calendar.

The Speaker would like to extend you a personal invitation to attend the event as his guest.

-Cecillea Pond-Mayo
I've asked for Senate policy as well. 

I'm also curious who's paying for Arkansas Legislative Sportsman's Caucus luncheon with Game and Fish this week. Whatever the caucus might be, it is not an official committee of the legislature. Calling yourself a caucus should not qualify for free swill.

The Senate turned its answer over to Marty Garrity at the Bureau of Legislative Research:

First, the definition of gift excludes “Anything of value that is readily available to the general public at no cost.” The ice cream is available to anyone that wishes to participate. Because it is an open space and not within either of the chambers, then it would be my position that it is available to the general public. This can be evidenced by the fact that so many non-legislators are getting ice cream. Again, it would be my opinion that in this type of situation, an invitation to the public would not be necessary to make it available to the general public.

Secondly, planned activities are not official meetings of the legislature. In fact the amendment to the law this past session provided that “planned activity” does not include food or drink at a meeting of a specific governmental body for which the person elected is entitled to receive per diem for attendance at the meeting. This was amended to prevent lobbyists from providing food and beverage during a committee meeting. Since it is not an official meeting, then no notice is required.


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