Legislators still work during the session interims
This week we’ll discuss the work done by dedicated legislators during the interim, the period of time between the sessions. Our work does not end when the session ends. We devote as much, or as little for some of us, time as we will tending the people’s business at the much less hectic pace than is possible during the busy sessions on a variety of constituent’s and/or state issues. We search for solutions or suggestions for constituent’s problems, monitor regular reports of state agencies, boards and commissions, and we also seek information, recommendations and legislation to be submitted at the next General Assembly.
We diligently strive to find a solution to constituency concerns. We also may attend a variety of public hearings and meetings to mediate or review a large number of public issues. We now have over 150 “interim study” proposals filed by the General Assembly. Topics range from expanding broadband infrastructure to ensuring our children are reading at grade level by the third grade – all noble pursuits and all complex and expensive.
It is the responsibility of elected legislators to be well informed and ever diligent when it comes to matters important to Arkansas and our citizens. We were elected to do just that and it is reprehensible to do less. We should be ever mindful of the concerns and needs of our citizens and ever diligent in keeping abreast of public affair and issues. This really isn’t a “fun game” – or at least it shouldn’t be. It’s all the people’s business and I believe should be taken seriously.
Let me refresh your knowledge of the legislative procedures for studying issues or legislation. The House and Senate both have 10 standing committees that specialize in subjects like education, health, agriculture, forestry, economic development, state agencies, judiciary, etc. Members of these committees review and discuss reports and rules promulgated, possible future legislation and other issues. Committees may then make recommendations or take other actions when necessary and relevant.
It is the added responsibility of the committee chairs to schedule the topics the committees will study. Joint committees, like the Arkansas Legislative Council and the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee, also meet frequently. The Arkansas Legislative Committee and its subcommittees review matters like rule and regulation changes within state agencies as well as the financial operations of state agencies, departments and institutions.
The Joint Auditing committee and its subcommittees audit state agencies, boards, commissions, departments, as well as most counties and cities, helping legislators gather information to aid in our decision-making and increasing government transparency and accountability.
Working through this proactive committee structure during the interim ensures legislative oversight of important issues and decisions. Only full committee members have voting privileges in committee meetings, but all members are encouraged to attend and ask questions in order to familiarize and educate themselves on issues and events they will likely have to act on with some degree of intelligence.
Now that I have briefly explained the process, I’d like to share some of the more interesting topics we’ve begun to address since our May 17th adjournment.
One “big” issue has turned out to be the feral hog bill. For those of you unaware, this issue deals with wild hogs running amok in South Arkansas in huge “herds” wreaking havoc, creating much damage in forests and fields, and gradually becoming a problem in northernmost parts of the state. (I personally have only “seen” one, but I have seen the aftermaths of their rampages in our forests and croplands and they are highly destructive. I know people who don’t believe what they don’t see exists, and I know others who have to kill them in large numbers weekly to protect their crops.) The animals reproduce very prolifically and their numbers have become uncontrollable. During the session a law was passed to try to gradually get rid of them or reduce their numbers by not transporting them legally except to termination facilities. (They often escape and reproduce in other places literally broadcasting the species. Therefore, if they were trapped or caught in a field, they could not be hauled and released elsewhere. They had to be terminated.)
What a firestorm that unleashed! I was surprised at the number of “hog hunting ranches” we have in Arkansas! After much heated debate and compromise, a law passed. It was left to the Livestock and Poultry Commission to promulgate rules and regulations for enforcement of the law. As a member of the Agri, Forestry and Economic Development Committee, I attended the first meeting to review their “rules and regulations” and another volcano erupted! In the end some changes will be made and their conclusions will be brought back later for another “discussion” before approval. (I don’t think many realize what a problem these wild hogs have created in some areas. By the way, we are not talking about Razorbacks - or heritage hogs.)
We also discussed the avian flu outbreak among poultry farms in Scott County after recent heavy rains and flooding. We were assured that the situation has been corrected now, but it has cost Arkansas poultry producers some contracts for a while. Poultry provides 47% of agricultural income in the state; that had to be an economic blow!
The National Blueways designation given to the White River was also discussed, resulting in various involved Arkansas agencies asking the federal government to withdraw the designation because of fear over government interference in the rights of property owners. This may hurt tourism a tad, but the hog farm on the Buffalo River and the ensuing conflict likely triggered the revolt. *In the last few days it was announced that the designation has been withdrawn.
Of course, health care has been the most studied, and the most argued, topic in the country for a while now. Arkansas is no different. We are traveling down this road “with a wing - and a prayer”, I hope. I’ll have more about that next week.
On Thursday, July 11, there should be a meeting of the ALC and a vote to approve Governor Beebe’s use of $1.1M from his “rainy day” fund to fulfill the scholarships promised to students going out of state to get degree in fields not obtainable in Arkansas; such as dentistry, optometry, veterinary medicine and other specialized medical fields, etc. You might want to give your legislator a call supporting this commitment to our children.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve you!