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Arkansas speaker seeks lawmaker’s removal over tax plea

By ANDREW DeMILLOSeptember 7, 2019
FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Arkansas Secretary of State's office shows Arkansas state Rep. Mickey Gates, of Hot Springs, Ark. Arkansas' House speaker says he's seeking the removal of Gates who pleaded no contest to not paying state income taxes. Speaker Matthew Shepherd said Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, he's filing a resolution to remove fellow Republican Rep. Gates. Gates was charged last year with not filing returns from 2012 through 2017. In July, he entered the no-contest plea to one count of not filing or paying income taxes. Shepherd says a date has not been set for the House to take up the resolution.(Arkansas Secretary of State's office via AP File)
FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Arkansas Secretary of State's office shows Arkansas state Rep. Mickey Gates, of Hot Springs, Ark. Arkansas' House speaker says he's seeking the removal of Gates who pleaded no contest to not paying state income taxes. Speaker Matthew Shepherd said Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, he's filing a resolution to remove fellow Republican Rep. Gates. Gates was charged last year with not filing returns from 2012 through 2017. In July, he entered the no-contest plea to one count of not filing or paying income taxes. Shepherd says a date has not been set for the House to take up the resolution.(Arkansas Secretary of State's office via AP File)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas’ House speaker on Friday said he’s seeking the removal of a lawmaker who pleaded no contest to not paying state income taxes.

Speaker Matthew Shepherd told House members that he’s filing a resolution to remove fellow Republican Rep. Mickey Gates, who was arrested last year and charged with not filing returns from 2012 through 2017. Under an agreement with prosecutors, Gates entered the no-contest plea in July in Garland County Court to one count of not filing or paying income taxes and was ordered to serve six years of probation.

“I am saddened that it has come to the filing of a resolution, but we must abide by the laws that we pass and uphold the trust of the people of Arkansas,” Shepherd said in a letter to the House.

Removing Gates will require two-thirds support in the majority-Republican House. Shepherd said a date has not been set for the House to take up the resolution.

Shepherd last month said Gates should resign but stopped short of saying whether he would seek the lawmaker’s removal. Gates, who did not immediately return a call seeking comment late Friday afternoon, has said he won’t resign and that he plans to seek re-election next year.

Shepherd cited a measure enacted this year that prohibits someone who has pleaded guilty or no contest to a “public trust crime” from running for or serving in the Legislature. Gates voted for the legislation. Shepherd said reviewing that law’s language was the “tipping point.”

“When he was not willing to step down, I felt it falls on me to move forward in seeking his removal,” Shepherd told reporters.

Jeff Rosenzweig, Gates’ attorney, said the lawmaker doesn’t fault Shepherd for his decision but believed it’s unconstitutional to rely on the new law since it adds to the qualifications spelled out in the Arkansas’ constitution on who can serve in the Legislature. Rosenzweig said they will have to see the resolution’s language before deciding on whether to take any legal action.

“The Legislature cannot change the qualifications or disqualifications that are set in the constitution,” Rosenzweig said.

Shepherd said he has not surveyed the House to see how much support there is for removing Gates. House Majority Leader Marcus Richmond said he supported the move.

“Nobody wants to do this, nobody is looking forward to doing this, but the law is the law,” Richmond said.

Gates entered his plea under a law for first-time offenders that allows the case to be dismissed after he serves probation and fulfills other obligations of his plea deal. Under that law, Gates doesn’t have a felony conviction since a final judgment has been deferred. Gates in July agreed to pay at least $74,789 in taxes, penalties and interest owed to the state for 2012 through 2014 and a hearing to determine the remaining amount for 2015 through 2017 will be held in December.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, has also called for Gates’ removal.

“I fully support the Speaker’s action,” Hutchinson said in a statement Friday. “The proposed resolution is consistent with what is required by the law most recently passed by the General Assembly, which is part of the ethics initiatives in the last session.”

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