Local State Senator Opposes ADH Lawsuit

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Recently, a handful of Arkansas lawmakers announced they would file suit against the Arkansas Department of Health concerning restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week Senator Blake Johnson, of Corning, released a statement concerning his stance on the lawsuit.

“As an elected member of the Arkansas General Assembly who is not a party to litigation that has been announced against the Governor’s emergency declaration and the Department of Health’s guidelines, I would like to make the following statement.

The legislators who have not joined in this litigation support our local citizens and businessmen through this unprecedented time. We appreciate that in our representative form of government the legislative, executive and judicial branches have coequal functions in decision making for those we represent.

The current emergency was declared under a process created by previous legislative acts and constitutional amendments. An emergency process as lengthy as this one has never been addressed in state law, and there has been an outcry for relief from its restrictions by many.

Though I too would like to see an immediate remedy, I do not agree that legislators should be a party to a lawsuit asking the court for remedies without adequate forethought in our own body.

What has been forethought is that the Arkansas legislature currently has the ability to terminate a state of emergency with a concurrent resolution. (Ark. Code Ann. 12-75-107). The resolution process can happen when the legislature is in session, regular or special. Only the governor has authority to call a special session and our regular general session will not begin until January 2021.

For our legislative body to terminate the current state of emergency, it would require a majority of the members in both chambers to agree that we have no confidence in our Health Department, our Public Health Officials and our Governor.

I do not believe that such an agreement would be possible without much more deliberation, based on data that has been tested and verified during legislative debate and committee hearings.

For a legislative body, information gathering makes for a cumbersome process, and during a time of emergency immediate action is often needed.

The Governor, Arkansas public health officials and the Legislature have worked tirelessly to address the economic crisis and public safety issues during the past six months. Also, the Legislature has assumed its role in fiduciary oversight of funding.

If the Arkansas legislature wants to extend its authority in executive oversight and policy making during times of emergency, it should be done through the legislative process and not through litigation.

With all due respect for all parties involved, I ask that we work together during this unprecedented time so that we can effectively address the needs and concerns of our state.

We should address our current crisis through the process of considering, debating and voting on legislation approved by the General Assembly. In the event of a future crisis, Arkansas citizens would be better served by statutory measures enacted by their elected General Assembly, rather than through the legal system.

The process may be more cumbersome but the people of Arkansas will be assured that the outcome reflects the will of their elected representatives. Solutions arrived at through the court system may be quicker to take effect, but nobody can anticipate the long-term legal precedents that would be set.”

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