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Governor’s Lectern – What Should the Law Be?

Governor’s Lectern – What Should the Law Be?

By David Ferguson

The controversy over Governor Sarah Sanders’ $19,000 lectern has reached a point where most people just want the issue to go away.

An audit conducted by the Division of Legislative Audit concluded the Governor’s office may have violated laws on budgeting, accounting, distribution of state property, and tampering with public records after purchasing the lectern. Attorney General Tim Griffin disagreed, saying the Governor and other constitutional officers are exempt from the General Accounting and Budgetary Procedure Law and from another law in question. The Attorney General also said some provisions might violate the state’s constitution if applied to the Governor.

The Division of Legislative Audit has a stellar reputation, and the Attorney General is no slouch either. Their disagreement over who is subject to the laws tells me there is room to argue either side, which means the laws need to be clarified by an Act of the Arkansas General Assembly,

A member of the Governor’s staff asserted the audit wasted significant taxpayer resources. I don’t think the audit was a waste. But it will be, if the General Assembly fails to consider the obvious next question. What accounting procedures should apply to constitutional officers in the future?

The General Accounting and Budgetary Procedure Law is over 50 years old. The law has been amended many times. It is time to review the law especially with a focus on what provisions should apply to constitutional officers. The focus should be on what procedures are necessary for good government and what procedures would serve constitutional officers as a path to avoid embarrassing situations.

It is not merely a question of whether constitutional officers should be exempt from certain procedures. If a procedure doesn’t fit for constitutional officers, you don’t stop there. Instead, the next question would be, what alternative procedures could the General Assembly enact that will not violate the constitution and will provide some protection to both the public and the constitutional officers.

There are always some legislators who are willing to do the hard work necessary to improve government. Will the Governor also be interested in improving procedures for the future? I hope so.

Instead of putting the issue aside and hoping purchasing issues don’t arise in the future, don’t you think it is time for the legislature to begin work to clarify and strengthen the law? Will your state Senator or Representative be the one to lead the way?

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David Ferguson is a former Director of Arkansas’ Bureau of Legislative Research, having a thirty-two-year career as an attorney for the Arkansas legislature.  After retirement from state service, his primary focus has been beef cattle farming. He is also a former officer of Conduit for Action.

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