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Arkansas Senate Ethics Committee finds lawmakers violated reimbursement rules

After an executive session that lasted about five hours, lawmakers voted to penalize Senators Mark Johnson of Little Rock and Alan Clark – both Republicans.
Ronak Patel
After an executive session that lasted about five hours, lawmakers voted to recommend penalties for senators Mark Johnson of Little Rock and Alan Clark – both Republicans.

Two Arkansas state senators are being recommended for discipline by the Senate Ethics Committee after it reviewed a petition filed by Senate Pro Tem Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana.

After meeting for several hours behind closed doors on Monday, the committee unanimously voted to recommend penalties be imposed against Sen. Mark Johnson of Little Rock and Sen. Alan Clark of Lonsdale – both Republicans.

Johnson is alleged to have signed Clark’s name on a list of lawmakers taking part in a Boys State meeting earlier this month even though Clark was not there. Sen. Matt Pitsch of Fort Smith said the committee had Clark testify orally and in writing.

“He [Clark] admitted he did not attend the Boys State meeting on June 3, 2022. He knowingly sought reimbursement for public funds by requesting another senator sign his name on the sign-in sheet for the meeting,” Pitsch said.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Arkansas reimburses lawmakers 56 cents per mile when they have to travel to the Capitol. Lonsdale, where Clark resides, is about 38 miles from the Capitol.

Johnson, who signed into the meeting for Clark, admitted to the committee that he signed in knowing Clark wasn’t there.

The committee does not have the authority to penalize the lawmakers. Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton and the chair of the committee, said the recommendations agreed upon will be considered by the full Senate.

“Under rule 24.10, we now have 20 calendar days to prepare a written report for the president pro tem of the Senate [Jimmy Hickey]. My intention is to complete the report as quickly as possible,” Hammer said.

According to a document provided by the committee, the penalties for Clark and Johnson include:

  • a letter of reprimand
  • removal as committee chair or co-chair for the remainder of the rest of the 93rd General Assembly
  • losing eligibility for per diem and mileage for the remainder of the 93rd General Assembly
  • losing future considering to serve on the Boys State, Girls State and Senate Ethics Committee

Currently, Johnson is vice-chair of the Joint Budget Committees, Arkansas Legislative Council-Charitable, Penal, And Correctional Institutions and Joint Energy Committee, according to the Arkansas Senate’s website.

Clark is the chair of the Child Maltreatment Investigations Oversight Committee and the Judiciary Committee. He is the co-chair of the ALC- Occupational Licensing Review Subcommittee and the vice-chair of ALC-Review.

Clark and Johnson did not immediately respond to emails and calls by this station.

The committee will meet again to produce a written report that will need to be sent to Hickey within 20 days. After receiving the report, Hickey will have within 10 days to call the full Senate to decide whether to adopt the recommendations.

Ronak Patel is a reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.