Phyllis Wilkins, the wife of state Rep. Hank Wilkins (D-Pine Bluff) was recently fired from her job at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). Why? Because her employment with the group (a state agency) violated Arkansas’ Act 34 of 1999.
No person whose spouse is elected to a constitutional office may, after the spouse is elected to the constitutional office and during the term for which the spouse is elected, enter into employment with any state agency without the prior approval of the Joint Budget Committee during legislative sessions, or the Legislative Council between legislative sessions, and the Governor.
The act defines “constitutional officer” to include state legislators of both chambers.
Mr. Wilkins began his service in the legislature in 1999, starting in the House, moving to the Senate, and now landing back in the House. Mrs. Wilkins was originally hired by UAMS in 2003, according to Arkansas News. She left in 2010 but returned in December 2011. So there appear to be two separate violations of Act 34 here–one for each hiring, which both occurred while her husband was in the legislature.
But here’s where the story really gets interesting: Hank Wilkins was a cosponsor of Act 34. So, after he passed a law that restricted spouses of legislators from going to work for the state, his spouse went to work for the state–twice.
Now that Mrs. Wilkins has been terminated, a spokesman for UAMS, Leslie Taylor, is saying she may be eligible for rehire. According to Taylor, UAMS could apply for a waiver under the provisions of Act 34. This would require approval from the Joint Budget Committee during session (or the Legislative Council in between sessions) and the Governor–who may not be so inclined to grant one, seeing as how he was the lead sponsor of the act.
Perhaps Wilkins could be rehired, with proper approval–but does this absolve her previous two violations of state law? It shouldn’t.
I suppose that, should the issue ever reach a court of law, the critical question would be whether or not Mrs. Wilkins knew she was violating Act 34. What did she know and when did she know it? But can’t we reasonably assume that, since her husband has been a state legislator for over a decade, he might occasionally have talked to her about legislation he cosponsored?
Of course, one also has to wonder if it ever entered Rep. Wilkins’ head that his wife was violating state law. At the very least, her actions are unethical and improper. At the very worst, they are illegal and felonious: According to Act 34 itself, any “willful and knowing violation of this act shall constitute a Class D felony.”
Judging by a quick Google search, it looks like Arkansas News is the only media outlet to report on this story so far–but I’m sure Max Brantley will be right on it, after he finishes fulminating over Occupy Little Rock’s God-given right to indefinitely inhabit public property and denouncing the “anti-tax corporate fat cats’ ” victorious Manchurian candidate Tom Cotton.
We’ll keep you posted with any further developments.