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Arkansas legislative ethics investigation begins

Michael Hibblen
Members of the Arkansas Senate Ethics Committee at the start of a meeting Friday to consider a complaint.

The Arkansas Senate Ethics Committee on Friday held its first hearing regarding an apparent complaint that has been filed. Few details are known about this latest investigation as most of the meeting happened behind closed doors.

It comes a month after two senators were sanctioned for violating reimbursement rules. Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, acknowledged asking Sen. Mark Johnson, R-Ferndale, to add his name to a sign in sheet at an event he did not attend, enabling Clark to receive a $155 per diem. There are indications Clark may be involved in making this latest complaint.

Sen. Kim Hammer, chairman of the committee, cited a rule at the start of Friday’s meeting allowing him to call it into executive session, “as the committee members will review the documents submitted to them regarding the current petition.”

Clark, who is not a member of the committee, joined the meeting via Zoom along with members who were not at the state Capitol. After calling the meeting into executive session, Hammer instructed Clark to disconnect from Zoom.

“No action will be taken by the committee today and it’s my intention to come out of executive session just to adjourn the meeting,” Hammer said.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported late Friday that Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, had reimbursed the Senate nearly $3,000 earlier this month in per diem and travel expenses she received for legislative meetings she joined via Zoom.

Clark, the newspaper said, had asked the Bureau of Legislative Research in the last week of July how many meetings Flowers had attended in-person or remotely.

After apologizing for his actions on the Senate floor last month, Clark told columnist John Brummett that he opposes the current Senate ethics rules which he suggested mainly exist for enemy senators to target one another. He also said he thinks the Senate will come to regret the personal or vindictive abuses invited by the ethics process.

Hammer said during Friday's meeting that the committee will again meet next Thursday at 9 a.m. to hear from people involved in this latest complaint, any witnesses, and to conduct deliberations.

Michael Hibblen is News Director of UA Little Rock Public Radio. A 34-year radio veteran, he oversees the KUAR News staff, plans coverage and edits stories while also reporting and anchoring newscasts.