Judge issues temporary restraining order on LEARNS Act; AG appeals

A Pulaski County judge issued a temporary restraining order late Friday (May 26) on the LEARNS Act, Gov. Sarah Sanders’ signature education bill, which is being litigated over whether or not the state legislature properly followed the Arkansas Constitution in voting on an emergency clause.

The plaintiffs argue both chambers of the General Assembly did not hold separate votes on the bill and the emergency clause. They contend the state constitution calls for separate votes, citing Article 5, Section 1, which says the chambers “shall vote upon separate roll call” and “state the fact which constitutes such emergency.”

In issuing a temporary restraining order, Judge Herb Wright determined that the plaintiffs in the case have a chance to succeed on the merits of their claim. His order is only extended through June 20, 2023, when a court hearing is scheduled.

A spokesperson for Sanders, Alexa Henning, said the state plans to immediately appeal. Shortly after the order was issued on Friday, Attorney General Tim Griffin’s office had filed its motion to appeal.

“As I’ve said, this is an absurd lawsuit with zero merit and we will file an appeal immediately. It is sad that the radical left is playing political games with children’s futures,” Henning said.

Ali Noland, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, provided this statement to Talk Business & Politics.

“I am thankful that Arkansas still has three independent branches of government and that the judicial branch still follows the Arkansas Constitution, even if the legislature does not. Today’s ruling sent a clear message that neither the Arkansas General Assembly nor Governor Sarah Sanders are above the law,” she said.

“Judge Wright’s order vindicates my clients, who have been disparaged in the press and have been the target of misinformation by the State. As is clear from today’s ruling, these MESD [Marvell-Elaine School District] parents, educators, and residents are simply trying to protect the district and do what is best for their children,” Noland said.

The original court challenge was made on Monday (May 8) from a group of Marvell parents opposed to the State Board of Education’s move to enter into a ‘transformation contract’ to resolve the Marvell-Elaine school district’s failings.

A ballot question committee seeking to overturn the new law through the referendum process, Citizens For Arkansas Public Education And Students (CAPES), is also a plaintiff. Defendants include the Arkansas Department of Education, Education Secretary Jacob Oliva, all members of the State Board of Education, the Marvell-Elaine School District, and the Friendship Education Foundation, a charter school management company.

The lawsuit alleges the Arkansas General Assembly did not follow the state constitution in voting separately for an emergency clause that allowed the LEARNS Act to go into law upon the governor’s signature. The filing, which was made in Pulaski County circuit court, also questions if an emergency clause is even necessary for the measure.

Talk Business & Politics will update this story shortly.

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