General Assembly enters fiscal session
Greetings! We are now one week from the fiscal session and the hatches are being “battened down”! Seriously we have still been hearing reports and requests from the “Big Six” agencies in anticipation of the fourth fiscal session of the Arkansas legislature.
Last week began with the quarterly performance report and the annual report card from the Division of Child and Family Services of DHS. I have to tell you I enjoy these reports because I have the opportunity to reconnect with the DCFS director, Cecile Bordeaux Blucker. Cecile is a native Drew Countian and graduate of Drew Central Schools. She is the daughter of JoAnn and the late Cecil Bordeaux, the sister of Linda (Jesse) Griffin, and a former student of mine—and an exceptionally bright one at that!
I always enjoy Cecile’s presentations because she is always so well-organized and represents her division well in a soft, yet authoritative, manner. She is always well-informed and “ready” with the correct answers to legislators too. I am very proud of our “hometown” girl!
Cecile gave an excellent report and shared the division’s new training video with us.
The Arkansas State Police’s Crimes against Children Division also gave a quarterly report as well as the Task Force for the Prevention of Human Trafficking and the Division of Youth Services. Those agencies deal with some very difficult situations that most of us never deem possible in America.
Tuesday I attended the Southeast Arkansas RC&D Council meeting here in Monticello. I learned a very great deal about rural volunteer fire departments that I didn’t know. Their discussions centered on the value of prescribed “burns” in forest management and in training purposes for firefighting. Another former student, Greg Jones, made some valid points I’d never considered. They also spoke about the likelihood of a very “fiery” season this summer due to some near-drought conditions this early in the year. Burn Bans are rare in January. I hope we fare better than anticipated, and I am glad they are trained and alert to the danger.
I also heard an excellent discussion about the state water plan and resource conservation. The Southeast Arkansas RC&D has ten member counties. I think more might have profited from sending representation to hear the information presented at this meeting.
Wednesday included another nearly-marathon session with the Arkansas Insurance Department and DHS about the private option insurance plan. I fear this debate will implode at some point with the same questions and the same answers, but becoming more accusatory and uncivil at times. I wish I had all the answers—or all the questions. However, I am still seeking new questions and answers. This is a serious matter and should not be allowed to be degraded to a school yard brawl, or a “he said—she said” affair. At times I think about the story of Rumpelstiltskin. We need to be rational on both sides. I hear some say, “I’ve got the answer”, but I haven’t heard their suggestions verbalized yet. Woe is we!
This week I also had a most pleasant visit with Monticello’s East Lab students to help with their ongoing project! Miss Hannah Jones invited me. I miss that learning environment with the students. It was fun. When asked, I try to make all such events I can.
I thought I’d now share some other significant news with you that you might have missed this pre-Super Bowl week. The new Farm bill has passed the U. S. House. The Farm Bill that emerged from a conference committee would reform numerous agri programs and eliminate almost 100 programs that are considered duplicative.
Although it may not be perfect (What has man ever created that was?), it is a beginning for working together. All of the Arkansas delegation but one voted for it. Other strong points of the bill, according to the Senate committee, include:
• Repeals the direct payment program and strengthens risk management tools;
• Strengthens conservation efforts to protect land, water and wildlife for future generations;
• Maintains food assistance for families while addressing fraud and misuse in SNAP;
• Reduces the deficit by billions of dollars in mandatory spending;
• Strengthens and modernizes crop insurance programs;
• Provides a livestock disaster assistance program;
• Consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13 programs; and
• Seeks to boost export opportunities for U.S. farmers.
In other areas, Gov. Beebe said Wednesday he supports a draft bill he has seen that would allow him to forgo calling a special election to fill the soon-to-be-vacated lieutenant governor’s office. House and Senate leaders have said that with the office up for election in November anyway, they favor avoiding the expense of a special election if possible. The legislature will convene for a fiscal session on Feb. 10. Consideration of a non-appropriations bill during a fiscal session requires a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate, though the measure itself could pass with a simple majority vote. So, it sounds like this problem may soon have an acceptable solution to the majority of the legislature.
Saturday I had a very “cool” and enjoyable experience. I was asked to help “judge” the Ashley County Spelling Bee! Senator Eddie Cheatham, Candice Jeffers and I were the judging team. The students were so bright, personable and intelligent that I was really impressed! I was so delighted to hear that spelling is given so much emphasis in these schools. It was great fun for me to be with the “kids”.
This ends my report for this week. Have a great—and a warm—one!