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Arkansas Senate approves process for ethics violation hearings

Senate President Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, will relieve his duties of presiding over the ethics violation hearing to Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe. Hickey was the one to file an ethics complaint against Sens. Alan Clark and Mark Johnson.
Ronak Patel
Senate President Pro Tem Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, on Monday said he will relinquish his duties of presiding over the chamber during an ethics violation hearing later this week.

Arkansas lawmakers set the framework Monday for hearings that will take place this week concerning ethics violations by Republican senators Alan Clark of Lonsdale and Mark Johnson of Ferndale.

Last month, the Senate Ethics Committee found Clark had asked Johnson to place his name on a sign-in sheet for a Boys State meeting he did not attend to receive reimbursement. The full Senate will vote whether to penalize the two.

According to a document provided by the committee, the penalties recommended 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
Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, leads lawmakers in prayer before they start the process for the ethics violation hearing against two senators.
Ronak Patel
Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, leads lawmakers in prayer before they started the process on Monday for how this week's violation hearing against two senators will be conducted.

Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, will preside over the hearing in place of Senate President Pro Tempore Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, since Hickey is the one who filed the ethics complaint against Clark and Johnson. Dismang served as Senate president for part of the 89th General Assembly after the previous president resigned. He was then elected by the Senate to serve as president for 90th and 91st General Assemblies.

According to a draft of the Senate procedures, the presiding officer has the authority to determine whether debate and testimony is relevant to the matter. Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, shared concerns that determining whether testimony or debate is relevant is subjective. Dismang responded to Rapert by saying his concerns were legitimate and that is why the Senate has the ability to overrule his decisions.

“If a member wants to make a motion that I was out of order in regards to my ruling, not germane or whatever, then you have the ability to do that. Eighteen of you can decide either I was wrong or agree,” Dismang said.


A list of witnesses will need to be submitted to the Bureau of Legislative Research (BLR) for approval by noon Wednesday. In addition to getting approval from the BLR, witnesses who didn’t testify to the Senate Ethics Committee will have to be approved by senators. Dismang said this deadline will help provide the Senate with additional information.

“The reason for that is to be able to give some latitude, if there was some information that wasn’t thought of, discovered or whatever it may be after the meeting of the Ethics Committee," Dismang said. "That’s to the benefit of the respondents.”

In addition to witnesses, documents will be allowed in the hearings. According to a draft of Senate procedures, presenters can only use documents that were presented to the Senate Ethics Committee. If presenters want to use documents that weren’t given to the committee, they will need to file a motion and have 18 senators vote to approve the document.

When Clark and Johnson were asked by KUAR News after Monday's meeting if they felt the rules established for the hearing are fair, they said it’s too early to tell. They declined to comment further. Dismang said the Senate staff helped create the process for the hearings.

Ronak Patel is a reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.
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