Courthouse bill fails in committee

Courthouse bill fails in committee

LITTLE ROCK, AR (KAIT) - A Senate bill that would have changed a 134-year-old law allowing for two courthouses in Craighead County received a no vote in the House Judiciary Committee.

Meanwhile, the bill's sponsor said he is considering his options on the bill.

"It is very disappointing to see this legislation fail. This is probably one of the most important bills that I have authored. I haven't decided if I will run it again but it needs to pass. Craighead County was denied the same status as sixty-five of our other counties enjoy. As always, I will defend my constituents and their interests. I want the citizens of Jonesboro and the West District to know that it is not ok with me for resources to be illegally transferred across district boundaries, which appears to be routine practice," Sen. John Cooper, R-Jonesboro, said of Senate Bill 535.

"If this had passed, there would have been an avenue of proper lines of authority restored like sixty-five other counties in this state operate with. Unfortunately, the House Judiciary chose to keep us and our elected officials shackled by archaic laws that are over a hundred years old. Regardless, I will continue to try to determine how much funding is being shifted inappropriately. I will ask for audits to try to determine the extent of these practices which are a similar situation to a recent Supreme Court decision at Blytheville," Cooper said.

The bill would repeal an 1883 law that created courthouses in Jonesboro and Lake City. Cooper pointed out the 1883 law created clear rules on financial records.

"That the Clerk of the County Court of Craighead County shall keep two financial records, in one of which he shall keep a true and perfect record of the financial affairs of the Jonesboro District, and in the other, he shall keep a similar record for the Lake City District. The financial affairs of each District shall be kept as separate and distinct as though the two Districts were separate and distinct counties. That all revenue accruing to the County of Craighead from the sale of forfeited State and county lands, liquor and ferry license and from all other sources whatever, shall be used for the exclusive benefit of the District in which such revenue may arise," Sections 19 and 20 of the 1883 law noted.

However, County Judge Ed Hill said he believes the committee made the right decision in voting no on the bill.

Hill said while he has not had an opportunity to delve into the financial issues brought up by Cooper, he said the Lake City courthouse is a valuable part of the county and has served the county well.

The courthouse on Highway 18 is not only convenient for most people in the eastern half of the county to get to, but also people in other areas of the county, Hill told Region 8 News.

In a statement to Region 8 News, Cooper said his bill would give power back to the people in the county and would seek to answer over 100 years of questions about the operation of county government. In addition to the bill, Cooper said he plans to ask the Division of Legislative Audit to take a look at the operations of the courthouse in Lake City.

However, Hill said earlier this month that he has not received any complaints or heard any issues about the way the courthouse in Lake City has operated.

"The Lake City Courthouse has been doing a great service for several years. We've never had any issues. I tried to remember this morning, I don't believe I ever remember getting a complaint from the Lake City Courthouse. There's some really nice folks over there do a great public service. It's kind of caught us off guard. Why you want to change something that's working for us," Hill said.

At the time, Hill said he wanted to see the bill before forming an opinion.

"We're waiting to comment on the bill," Hill said. "Until we see the bill and read it and see how it's going to pan out. We're waiting before we form a definite opinion on it."

Second Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington also said that the possible closure of the courthouse in Lake City could create some problems, especially in the eastern half of the county.

"It certainly would be regrettable if the ultimate end of this matter results in the loss of services to the people of Black Oak, Caraway, Lake City, Monette and all those residing east of the current dividing line," Ellington said.

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