Why the LEARNS lawsuit is utterly silly
5 min read

Why the LEARNS lawsuit is utterly silly

Next Gen
May 10
5 min read

The implementation of the LEARNS Act, Arkansas’s historic, universal education freedom legislation, is well underway. The Arkansas Department of Education is promulgating rules, meeting with key stakeholders around the state, and raising public awareness about the new law that will truly transform our educational landscape. Unfortunately, the Arkansas Left is undeterred and will stop at nothing to halt the law from freeing kids from failing schools.

Their latest attempt: a flimsy lawsuit that challenges not the merits of the policy but instead what the Left seems to think is a previously unrecognized glitch in the legislative process.

Since they were unable to persuade the public or more than a few lawmakers that the LEARNS Act should be rejected, this lawsuit is their last-ditch attempt to stop it in its tracks.

But the lawsuit is incredibly silly on its face, to put it mildly. Let’s explore.

The Left’s LEARNS lawsuit challenges a well-established legislative process

The premise of the Left’s symbolic lawsuit seems to be that the Arkansas Constitution requires a “separate” vote on the bill’s emergency clause, which dictates when the bill should go into effect. According to the Left, this separate vote did not happen.

Here’s what the state Constitution says:

"If it shall be necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety that a measure shall become effective without delay, such necessity shall be stated in one section, and if upon a yea and nay vote two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, or two-thirds of all the members elected to city or town councils, shall vote upon separate roll call in favor of the measure going into immediate operation, such emergency measure shall become effective without delay."

Apparently the question of a “separate roll call” is what’s primarily in question here. The Left argues that this did not occur and therefore the law is illegitimate.

Now, I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. I also did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. But what I can tell you is that, for better or worse, what actually transpired during the legislative session. And, from what I’ve observed in more than a decade of working in and around the legislature, nothing outside of the ordinary occurred.

The legislature specifically voted to pass the emergency clause

As you can see in the video below, the Arkansas House clearly knew they were voting on both the bill and the emergency clause. That is because this is how they always do it. House Speaker Matthew Shepherd even says so audibly, to remind members of what they are voting on.

See and hear for yourself:

Now, we can perhaps argue about whether or not this is the correct way to do it, or if it precisely follows the intent of the state Constitution’s “separate roll call” requirement. But this is the way the legislature has done it for as long as I can remember.

I’ve been an outspoken critic of the legislative process, and I’ll continue to be when I see it abused. But this doesn’t seem to be anything outside the ordinary based on what I’ve seen for more than a decade.

(Notably, all of these ‘Protectors of the Legislative Process’ were silent when legislative rules were suspended in a Senate attempt to expand food stamps.)

Both the House and Senate record separate roll calls—and they did on the LEARNS Act

Importantly, the House and Senate record separate roll calls in their journals on emergency clauses and bills.

Case and point, here is the House journal for the votes on SB294. As you can see, there are two pages. For two separate recorded votes. One for the emergency clause, one for the bill. Two separate votes.

Again, perhaps lawyers can argue about whether or not this satisfies the constitutional standard, but it seems clear to a layman like me that these are officially treated as separate votes, even though they are recorded on the same ballot.

Any member could have requested a separate vote on the emergency clause

You also have to wonder, “Why is this just coming up now?” The House vote on the LEARNS Act was more than two months ago. Why is this process now allegedly an issue? And why did no members raise a point of order and request a separate vote at the time? They certainly could have.

But I think we’ve already identified the answer to this question, which is that this is normal legislative procedure.

Legislative intent was, and is, clear

To the degree that it’s relevant–and I would argue that it is–there’s no question or uncertainty about legislative intent with SB294 and the LEARNS Act. Again, the Speaker of the House was clear about what members were voting on. No one objected. And the bill passed overwhelmingly.

We all know, including the Left, that Governor Sarah Sanders could reconvene the legislature tomorrow if she needed to and pass LEARNS easily a second time. That would be absurd, because we all know how the vote went and how it would go again.

Even if the Left is right, would the lawsuit even stop LEARNS?

Even if, under some crazy scenario, this lawsuit gains any sort of steam, it seems highly questionable (at best) that it would result in the law’s permanent undoing. If we accept the premise that the emergency clause was incorrectly adopted (which, again, we do not) and the emergency clause is found to be invalid, the LEARNS Act would still stand on its own. From what I can gather, all that would change is the effective date of the act.

Will the Left challenge every other law passed in this same way?

It looks like there were about 300 laws passed this last legislative session that included emergency clauses. Will the Left challenge all of them, based on their new-found reverence for the state constitution?

Some of them were even championed by our state’s few-remaining Democrat lawmakers. 

For example, Sen. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) passed SB469, “An Act to Reduce Violent Crime in Arkansas.” It had an emergency clause; it was voted on in the exact same way as LEARNS.

Will Democrats sue to have this unjust law overturned?

Or how about SB426, to expand maternity leave for state employees. It was passed in the same manner as LEARNS. Should it go too? You can see the vote on it here.

Do any LEARNS opponents want to volunteer to break the news to the state employees who have already benefited from the bill–including Brooke Holloway, who was the first state employee to have a baby on the new policy–that only went into effect immediately because of the exact same emergency clause process that Democrats now decry?

Or how about HB1775, also by Clarke Tucker? This act, to create foster care leave, among other things, was tied to the passage of SB426 and says it only takes effect if SB426 becomes law.

If we throw out SB426, it looks like HB1775 is going with it. That’s the only right thing to do, according to our Democrat legal scholar friends, correct?

That would probably be unreasonable. And I suspect our Democrat friends wouldn’t like that very much. But if the LEARNS vote is somehow illegitimate, so are these votes.

The Left will never stop fighting LEARNS

At the end of the day, this isn’t about any sort of breach of normality or any thoughtful critique of the legislative process. This is about desperation from the Left.

They are desperate to keep the status quo, which is trapping Arkansas kids in failing schools. They know it feeds our dependency pipeline, which they know will help them retain voters. They are desperate to continue dictating to kids what their chances of success will be, based merely on their zip codes. And they are hellbent on keeping parents out of the matter entirely. 

To the Left, as usual, this is about control. They know how much real educational freedom threatens their grip on Arkansans. But thankfully, this latest attempt to derail LEARNS is nothing more than nonsense.

Image of the story authorNicholas Horton
Founder & CEO

Nic Horton is a native Arkansan and Founder & CEO of Opportunity Arkansas. He has spent more than a decade in the conservative movement as an expert on election, disability, tax, welfare, and workforce reform.

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