- Associated Press - Friday, June 15, 2018

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Gov. Asa Hutchinson is backing stronger ethics rules for Arkansas lawmakers following a recent court case that implicated a nephew.

Senate leaders have proposed stripping members of leadership posts if they are ever indicted, while a special panel would take up ethics complaints and consider sanctions, including expulsion. Hutchinson told members of the Arkansas Bar Association at a meeting in Hot Springs on Friday that the House should consider a similar set of rules.

“Those Senate rules are a step in the right direction,” Hutchinson said. “I applaud the leadership for offering those and I believe the House will similarly consider those types of rule changes to set better parameters on conduct of our elected representatives.”

In Little Rock, however, House Speaker Matthew Shepherd said he had no specific plans to change House ethics rules. The Republican representative was elected House speaker earlier Friday.

“I’m sure we’ll look at what, if any, improvements need to be made and have that discussion but at this point there’s nothing that I would say is concrete,” Shepherd said.

A lobbyist said in a federal court plea agreement this month that he had bribed “Arkansas Senator A.” Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson’s lawyer has said his client is “Senator A” but denied the lobbyist’s claims.

Jeremy Hutchinson is a nephew of the governor and has not been charged with a crime. Asa Hutchinson said he would not call for his nephew’s resignation, adding that any investigation must run its course.

“If a legislative member is charged federally, then it’s appropriate to call for the resignation,” the governor said.

Hutchinson also called for a series of reforms, including broadening the power of the Arkansas Ethics Commission beyond its current ability to issue a letter of reprimand or levy a fine of up to $2,000. He said the commission should be able to refer cases to Senate or House ethics committees, if they are created.

He also proposed campaign finance reforms.

Currently, individuals or organizations can avoid donation limits by contributing through multiple political action committees, Hutchinson said. Under his proposal, PACs which are affiliated through common ownership or other relationships would have to be publicly reported, and campaigns would be prohibited from accepting contributions from affiliated PACs that would exceed individual limits.

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