Fri, Aug 18, 2023 3:44 PM
By Kim Jarrett, The Center Square
The Arkansas Attorney General's office said in a filing on Friday that if the state supreme court does not rule on whether the emergency clause for the LEARNS Act is valid, it could jeopardize other legislative decisions.
Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Herbert Wright said in a ruling in June that lawmakers did not take a separate vote on an emergency clause that made the law effective immediately. While the House and Senate journals said the Legislature took two separate votes, videos of the votes showed just one.
Attorneys for the Marvell-Elaine School district and others said in filings last week the issue was moot since the omnibus bill went into effect on August 1, along with other bills passed by lawmakers this year.
The state said the lower court decision that invalidated the emergency clause would stand if the Arkansas Supreme Court does not rule on the case.
"Anything less invites further litigation challenging virtually every July expenditure in living memory, countless criminal judgments, and an unknowable number of agency actions," the state said in its brief. "And waiting for another case makes little sense because—as Plaintiffs’ anemic defense of the circuit court’s order underscores—this isn’t a difficult case on the merits."
The lower court's ruling violates the separations of powers, the state said.
"So the circuit court should have done what previous courts confronted with “challenges based on the legality of internal legislative processes” have and dismissed this case on the grounds that it “presents a nonjusticiable political question," the state said in its brief. "But the circuit court did the opposite and opted to play legislative referee—reviewing videos and taking legislative testimony. That “usurp[ed] the legislative branch’s core function [and] threaten[ed] its independent institutional integrity.”
The court did not indicate when it would rule on the matter.
The LEARNS Act includes pay raises for teachers, literary coaches for the schools, and "Educational Freedom Accounts" for parents to send their children to the school of their choice. A possible ballot challenge to the law failed to garner enough signatures to be placed on the 2024 ballot.