LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A controversial ethics complaint in the Arkansas legislature will now head to the full senate after ethics committee members gathered for a hearing against State Senator Jim Hendren. The final recommendation was to dismiss the complaint altogether. This case sets the precedent for handling ethics complaints in the Senate as it’s the first case following the newly adopted ethics code.
Senator David Wallace announced the recommendation at the conclusion of discussion. “I move that the recommendation of this committee is to dismiss the complaint against Senator Hendren,” he said, following nearly three hours of testimony and deliberation behind closed doors. This recommendation heads to the full Arkansas State Senate, where they will vote on the ethics violation claims put forward against Sen. Hendren.
“I’m disappointed, but it is not unexpected,” said Sen. Trent Garner, who first put forward the ethics violation claim November 6th, citing a lawsuit against Hendren claiming he failed to pay employees at Hendren Plastic minimum wage, among other accusations. Lawmakers voted to dismiss his claim, but ethics committee Chair Sen. Missy Irvin took up the case again, saying the initial vote was incorrectly cast by the 93rd general assembly. “The proper body to take up an ethics violation by and against a member of the 92nd general assembly, during the 92nd general assembly,” Irvin said, “is the current senate.”
Sen. Garner says he’s happy that a full hearing was conducted, but is disappointed Arkansans could not be involved in the hours-long executive session closed to the public. “The most disappointing aspect is instead of this investigation being done in the public light so that the general population could hear the charges and react,” said Garner, “it was done in the dark of the back room.”
But not all were troubled by the meeting. In a verbal statement, Sen. Hendren said he was “pleased that the committee came to the same decision as the initial vote”, and is looking forward to getting “back to business” and representing the people of Arkansas. Regardless of the outcome, the historic nature of this hearing remains, as it marks the first ethics investigation held under the new senate ethics code rule 24 adopted in 2018. “How we proceed sets a precedent for how the senate will handle any future ethics violation allegations,” said Irvin in her opening remarks.
From here, the full senate will vote on the ethics complaint following the committee’s recommendations. The committee now has 20 days to send their recommendations over to the full senate, who must convene and make a decision within 10 days.