Governor’s assist of invoice raises questions

Before Governor Asa Hutchinson voted on legislation last week to remove a public commission from control of local teams responding to child abuse cases, she sent a letter to members of the commission – including several members of the executive branch – soliciting them Support the bill.

The letter, as well as the governor’s public support for House Bill 1499, raised questions of conflict of interest given the close association between the nonprofit that would perform the commission’s duties and First Lady Susan Hutchinson, who sits on the nonprofit’s board of directors.

Under applicable law, the Arkansas Child Abuse, Rape, and Domestic Violence Commission and its staff are responsible for coordinating child advocates, law enforcement officers, health professionals, and prosecutors – collectively known as multidisciplinary teams – who respond to reports of child abuse and services for victims.

Under HB1499, oversight of the multidisciplinary teams would be given to the Arkansas Children’s Nonprofit, which is one of the groups that are part of the multidisciplinary teams. The nonprofit’s website states that their services include victim support and advocacy. Conducting forensic interviews; and providing medical exams and therapies.

The governor denied any conflict on Friday, saying in a statement: “First ladies always have initiatives or concerns that they support. Of course, the governor also supports the cause.”

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette received a copy of the governor’s letter at the request of the public records after it was sent to members of the commission.

In the letter, Hutchinson stated that he “fully supports” HB1499, adding that the first lady “worked hard”. The governor said in the letter that he had spoken to Chancellor Cam Patterson of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, where the commission sits, and had been “assured” that the UAMS would not oppose the bill.

“I ask you to join me in supporting this endeavor as we work together to improve our response to our most precious people,” the governor said in the letter.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren, and Senator Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, who both serve on the Advisory Boards for Children’s Advocacy Centers in Arkansas. When the bill went through the house by 74 votes to 11 on Tuesday, Susan Hutchinson watched from the visitors’ gallery above the chamber.

Neither the bill sponsors nor Susan Hutchinson reported receiving any income from their positions with Arkansas Children’s Advocacy Centers.

All three said they saw no conflict of interest in supporting HB1499.

“I’m a 24-hour volunteer for the state, seven days a week,” Susan Hutchinson told a reporter last week, noting that she is involved in other community and charities. She praised the work of Children’s Advocacy Centers in Arkansas and said the group would be more efficient at distributing money for local services than UAMS.

“It cuts out the middleman, it will be a lot cheaper, and it will be in the hands of you [Children’s Advocacy Centers] People who are involved with working in the field and working with the kids, “said Susan Hutchinson.

Fite said her role on the advisory board did not give her any authority in making decisions about the nonprofit’s operations or budget.

Dismang, who said he has been less active on the advisory board lately, acknowledged the “validity of the concerns” raised by opponents of the law and would work with lawmakers to see if a compromise could be reached can.

“There is a little more controversy than I thought,” said Dismang.


The commission has 22 members, all of whom are appointed by the governor for a five-year term. Four members who received the governor’s letter also work for agencies reporting to him: the Arkansas State Police, the Department of Child and Family Services, the Department of Health, and the State Crime Laboratory.

Several lawmakers and opponents of HB1499 told the Democrat Gazette that they were unsure of possible conflicts between those driving the bill and the advocacy centers for children.

Rep. Denise Garner, D-Fayetteville, said the governor had pressured UAMS and members of the commission not to speak against the bill and testimony on the bill at a committee hearing on Monday was weighted by people who work for the child counseling centers and agencies that report to the governor.

“He’ll do whatever it takes to be sure [Susan Hutchinson] gets what she wants, “said Garner of the governor.” I just don’t think that’s best for the kids. “

In his statement to the Democrat Gazette, Hutchinson said he had not pressured government officials to remain neutral on the bill and that his only conversations were with Patterson.

Proponents of the bill argued that it would bring Arkansas in line with national best practices adopted in other states. When asked who set these best practices, Elizabeth Pulley, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center, referred to the National Children’s Advocacy Center – the umbrella organization for the national chapter.

“Almost every state honestly uses this model,” Pulley said, adding that Arkansas, Oregon, and Oklahoma are the exceptions.

Pulley, who is also a member of the commission, criticized this body for a lack of transparency and communication with members of the multidisciplinary teams, including child counseling centers across the state.

“It’s not a properly functioning state commission … we don’t make decisions or monitor money,” said Pulley, adding that these functions were performed by commission staff at UAMS.

Paula Stone, the Commission’s Executive Director, did not respond to requests for comment last week. Your administrative assistant referred all questions to a UAMS spokeswoman.

UAMS spokeswoman Leslie Taylor said Patterson was out of the office and unavailable for comments.

“However, I am not aware of any concerns with UAMS about the commission or the current system,” Taylor said in an email. “We feel like her [have] was well managed and served the people of Arkansas well. “

In his statement on Friday, the governor said: “UAMS has done an excellent job of providing support [Children’s Advocacy Centers]. Since the service for children has expanded, a change of model makes sense. “

The bill was pushed back last week by prosecutors and multidisciplinary team coordinators who said the national model may not be appropriate for Arkansas, especially in rural areas where the closest children’s advocacy center may be far away.


Nathan Smith, president of the Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association, was one of four commissioners who testified at the hearing on Monday on HB1499. He was the only one who spoke against the bill.

When asked about the governor’s letter last week, Smith said he didn’t feel compelled to stay neutral on the bill.

“The letter to me was not remarkable,” he said.

The child counseling centers operate 17 centers in the state and 10 satellite systems, according to Pulley.

Under the current structure, 38 coordinators oversee teams in 67 of the state’s 75 counties. These coordinators work for various agencies or local child counseling centers and their work is monitored by the Commission.

“I’m afraid that bill will engulf my rural districts, mine [multidisciplinary teams]”said Jeff Phillips, the prosecutor for the 5th District of Justice for Pope, Johnson, and Franklin counties. Of the state’s 28 elected prosecutors, 25 oppose the bill and three are neutral, according to the Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, a former assistant prosecutor who praised the work of child counseling centers as “important and important”, voted against HB1499, saying he was concerned that the nonprofit was consolidating local teams and coordinators into the nonprofits embarrassed.

“I see this as a consolidation of money and power,” said Gazaway.

Pulley denied the nonprofit had plans to consolidate teams or fire coordinators. She said the group was hoping to expand and, with “very little” government funding, planned to hire a nationwide coordinator to manage administrative oversight of the multidisciplinary teams.

UAMS spokeswoman Taylor said the commission has a budget of $ 6.8 million and government revenue of $ 1.4 million. The Commission is currently allocating US $ 696,081 of government funding to child care centers.

Neither Pulley nor UAMS could say how much additional funding the nonprofit would receive under HB1499 to take on administrative duties from the Commission. A spokesman for the Ministry of Finance and Administration said the agency had not determined the cost of the new system.

Max Snowden, the Commission’s former executive director for 20 years, said Friday that while he had praised both the bill sponsors and the children’s advocacy centers, he didn’t think the nonprofit should be enabled to do more Gaining authority – and funding – from legislators closely related to the organization.

“Yes, I see this as a conflict,” said Snowden of the links between Susan Hutchinson, the bill sponsor, and the nonprofit. “Elisabeth [Pulley, the nonprofit’s executive director] kind of has a built-in benefit of having these people around and they wouldn’t be there if they weren’t interested in these subjects. So you will support efforts that are positive for them [Children’s] Advocacy centers. “

Speaking of the commission and its eight staff, Taylor said that “staff have many roles dealing with issues related to child abuse, rape and domestic violence across the state.”

These roles will be reviewed in the event HB1499 succeeds, Taylor said.

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