By ROB MORITZ
Arkansas News Bureau
LITTLE ROCK — The Republican Party of Arkansas on Friday dropped its lawsuit over elected state officials’ use of state vehicles.
State GOP Chairman Doyle Webb said he filed a motion to drop the lawsuit because the party’s concerns were addressed by the Legislature this year.
Webb said the decision had nothing to do with recent criticism of Republican Secretary of State Mark Martin, who since taking office in January has, among other things, purchased a $27,000 vehicle for use by his office for redistricting purposes.
"Absolutely not. Any constitutional officer will be equally treated under this new law and any personal use ... this law should be followed clearly," Webb said.
The GOP alleged in its lawsuit filed in September that officials’ personal use of state vehicles violated Amendment 70 of the Arkansas Constitution, which prohibits constitutional and legislative officers from receiving income for their services beyond their salaries and work-related expenses.
At the time, Webb asked a judge to expedite the case in an attempt to at least get a temporary injunction prohibiting further use of the vehicles before the November general election. The motion failed.
During this year’s regular session, the Legislature approved a measure that became Act 1021 of 2011, which requires constitutional officers and their employees who drive home and to work in state-owned or leased vehicles, but not as a requirement for their jobs, to reimburse the state the same rate that the agency pays an employee for his use of his private vehicle on official state business.
State employees are currently reimbursed 42 cents per mile for use of their private vehicles.
"We saw no need to continue with the current court action because we achieved the wanted result and it was a bipartisan effort," Webb said, adding that if the Legislature had not approved the bill the GOP would have continued to pursue its lawsuit.
"Hopefully this will now correct the situation," he said.
The GOP lawsuit was one of two filed against the state last year concerning state employees’ personal use of state vehicles.
The other lawsuit was filed by a group of taxpayers who argue that the use of state-vehicles for private use by all state employees, as well as state constitutional officers, without reimbursement constitutes an illegal exaction. That case is pending before Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen.
Attorney Christopher Brockett said Friday a hearing on the case is scheduled for June 14.
Last July, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel announced he would give up his state vehicle and would reimburse the state for his past personal use of it.
In October, Gov. Mike Beebe issued an executive order stating that commuting between home and work in state-owned vehicles was no longer allowed except when "a legitimate state business purpose is established."
Under the order, government employees may be assigned vehicles if their jobs require regular travel from their homes to job assignments outside their offices or if they need vehicles for their duties as public safety officers.
Other employees were told to apply to the state Department of Finance and Administration for a waiver if they believed they needed a vehicle to commute between home and work.
Within a month, the number of state vehicles was reduced by about 350, and nearly 40 state agency executives turned in the keys to their state-owned vehicles and began driving their personal vehicles to work.