- Associated Press - Friday, February 19, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - An effort to ban Arkansas lawmakers from wearing jeans or sweatpants at a key committee’s hearings failed Friday after one opponent suggested he’d get mistaken back home for an undertaker in a suit and tie.

The Arkansas Legislative Council, which meets when the Legislature isn’t in session, rejected the proposal by Republican Sen. Jimmy Hickey of Texarkana to require its members to wear “business casual” clothing at its meets. Hickey’s proposal didn’t define business casual, but said it wouldn’t include jeans, T-shirts, sweatpants or sweatshirts.

Hickey said he had been approached by a constituent about the restriction, but declined to say whether it was geared toward any specific lawmakers. It’s not unusual to see some members of the panel, which usually meets on Fridays, dressed more casually and sometimes in jeans.

“We are the face of the state of Arkansas and our state deserves the utmost respect,” Hickey said.

The proposal comes after similar fights have been waged in other state legislatures recently. A Kansas lawmaker last month apologized and retracted a dress code that banned plunging necklines and short skirts for women who testify before his committee.

The Arkansas House requires its male members to wear suit and tie, or coat, tie and slacks in its chamber, and female members to wear “business attire” or “professional wear.” The Senate does not have a dress code in its rules, Senate Director Ann Cornwell said.

Hickey’s proposal would have allowed the council’s leaders and subcommittee chairs to revoke a lawmaker’s membership privileges during a meeting if they violated the dress code. It also would have allowed the dress code to be waived for off-site meetings that require casual dress.

Independent Rep. Nate Bell called the idea of taking away a lawmaker’s voting rights at a meeting over their clothing “anti-democratic and anti-American,” and said more casual outfits merely reflect what people in his district are wearing.

“Most of those folks, when they see somebody in a suit and tie, it’s an undertaker, it’s a politician trying to raise their taxes, it’s a lawyer trying to lien their property, it’s a banker trying to extort them for some interest,” Bell said.

Beyond the ban, Hickey’s proposal didn’t define “business casual.” But a guide he attached defined the term for men as not requiring a blazer or tie, but requiring a button-up collared shirt. For women, the guide said the term would be blouses, sweaters, turtlenecks, sleeveless shirts, skirts and dresses, along with dress pants, khakis, trousers or corduroy pants - but no jeans of any color.

The guide also said the term doesn’t include sandals, flip flops or sneakers.

Hickey said he doesn’t expect to bring the proposal back before the panel.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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