Arkansas Senator facing sanctions says his actions were a "misunderstanding"

One of two Arkansas senators cited by the Senate Ethics Committee told The Center Square the incident in question was a "misunderstanding."

Sen. Mark Johnson, R-Little Rock, will be reprimanded and removed from his leadership positions if the full Senate agrees with recommendations made by the committee. Johnson would also not be eligible for per diem and mileage for attending interim meetings for the remainder of the current session.

Johnson is accused in a complaint filed by Senate Pro Tem Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, of signing in Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, into a Boys State event that Clark did not attend. Clark filed a per diem request for the event. That request was not paid, according to Johnson.

The commission recommended the same penalties for Clark.

In an email to The Center Square, Johnson said he attended a Boys State event on June 3 and left for about 45 minutes for a dentist appointment. He returned and stayed until the event adjourned at around 11:30 a.m.

"Shortly afterwards, I received a text from Senator Alan Clark, who said that he was feeling ill, and had gone to his apartment in the nearby Capitol Hill Building," Clark said in his email. "He asked if I would sign him in for the meeting. From this, I inferred that Senator Clark had been in the Senate chamber during the time when I had gone to my doctor's appointment. He is a trusted colleague and I thought this would be permissible. I did this courtesy for him in good faith, believing that he had been there while I was out of the building."

Johnson said he was "dumbfounded and blindsided" by the complaint filed by Hickey.

"I believed my actions to have been a misunderstanding, and certainly not the level of transgression that he accused me of doing," Johnson said. "When staff and relevant leadership determined that Senator Clark was not entitled to per diem for that day, his request was not paid. I regret signing Senator Clark’s name to the sheet, but did so as a courtesy to him, and at his direction."

Johnson said he looks forward to sharing the details with the Senate. Ethics Committee Chair Kim Hammer, R-Benton, has up to 20 days to file the recommendation with the Senate. Hickey has 10 days to convene the Senate for a vote.

The committee met behind closed doors on three occasions before rendering its decision earlier this week. Their last meeting was in January 2021, according to the Legislature's website.

Hammer and Clark did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

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