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Tuesday topics

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The line is open. I may check in on the handful of runoffs tonight. Meanwhile:

TERRY RICE: Potential House leader joins other Repubs in opposing ethics reform.
  • TERRY RICE: Potential House leader joins other Repubs in opposing ethics reform.
* REPUBLICAN OPPOSITION GROWS TO ETHICS REFORM: Significant report from Talk Business. Rep. Terry Rice, who'll be House speaker in 2013 if Republicans can take over the House, spoke up against ethics reform in Fort Smith today as Brent Bumpers and Jim Keet sought support in Fort Smith. Rice joins a number of other Republican legislators who are adamantly opposed to limiting corporate contributions to political campaigns in any way. They can already spend unlimited amounts independently and contribute to PACs, both of which would continue under the proposal. But they would NOT be able to contribute unlimited amounts under the names of multiple corporate entities as Arkansas's leaky law does now. Rice, Nate Bell, Jon Woods, Missy Irvin, John Burris, Anne Clemmer and probably others of the Rick Perry Posse/Tea Party Caucus are coming out for corporate dominance. All the more reason to cut some slack to Party Chair Doyle Webb, who's on the right side of the ethics issue, even if few of his legislators are. A good election issue, don't you think? Do you want to elect candidates of the party who favor corporate control of the legislature?

* ATHEISTS ORGANIZE: I've printed on the jump a full release about the Secular Coalition of America's plans to organize a chapter in Arkansas to lobby for separation of religion and government. It's fertile ground. The Arkansas Constitution prohibits office-holding by non-believers (though I don't think it's enforced). The state DHS is trying to allow religious instruction at pre-schools wholly funded by tax money. A majority of Americans, including many people of faith, believe religion has no place in politics.

* WALMART UNCOOPERATIVE: Two members of Congress complained today that Walmart hadn't been cooperating in their effort to investigate reports that the company had paid bribe to build business in Mexico.

* ANOTHER BIGGIE DROPS ALEC: Add Johnson & Johnson to the list of major corporations ending support of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate lobby for right-wing state legislation that has moved beyond tax preference to a wide-ranging agenda including guns and school vouchers. Not to worry. The likes of Arkansas legislators Nate Bell, Missy Irvin and other Republicans will do ALEC's bidding to the Kochs' bitter end.

* DUELING ECONOMISTS: Economist Charles Venus will be on hand for a news conference with Sheffield Nelson on the impact of the gas severance tax increase Nelson is trying to get on the ballot. I'm guessing Venus, long a major player in economics consulting in Arkansas, will take a different view of the impact of the tax than that offered up by an expert offered up by the gas companies.

* HANDICAPPED PARKING UPDATE: Rep. Jane English has not responded to my note yesterday and again today on whether she has an explanation or a permit she failed to exhibit that allowed her personal car, complete with campaign sign, to be parked in a parking space marked for the disabled. I DID get ANOTHER photo of the Jane English auto in another parking place that appears to be marked for the disabled and with no permit on display on the dash or hanging from the rear view mirror. But the disabled marker is worn on this space in North Little Rock, maybe it no longer applies. UPDATE: Her campaign helper also didn't respond to my request for info yesterday, but he's circulated a photo showing a DAV license plate lying on the car dash. It was not on display in either photo I received. English's husband is an Air Force vet, according to this Twitter dispatch. The law specifies that the plate be displayed and the vehicle be in use by the disabled veteran to qualify for use of a special parking place.

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NEWS RELEASE

Washington, D.C. – The Secular Coalition for America is excited to announce the initial organizing efforts for a chapter in Arkansas this month. The state chapter will lobby state lawmakers in favor of a strong separation of religion and government.

The initial organizing call for the Secular Coalition for Arkansas will be held on Thursday, June 28, 2012 at 1:00 PM, ET (12 PM CT). Other states chapters being organized later this month include California, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Montana, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Texas. Earlier this month, the SCA successfully held initial organizing calls for chapters in Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The Secular Coalition for America—a lobbying organization representing nontheistic Americans and advocating for a strong separation of religion and government—will launch chapters in 48 states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico by the end of 2012. Two state affiliates, the Secular Coalition for Arizona and Secular Coalition for Alabama, are already operational – the SCA has elected to adopt a chapter model, instead of the affiliate model, for the subsequent 48 state groups.

“Some of the most egregious violations of church state separation are being promoted and passed at the state level, and we absolutely must act to stop it,” said Edwina Rogers, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America. “There are 40 million Americans who don’t identify with any religion, but our political influence has been limited because we have not been organized. This year, that changes.”

A recent Pew Forum study indicated that 16 percent of Arkansas residents do not express an absolute belief in God, and 26 percent disagreed that “religion is very important to their lives.” Another Pew study found that the majority of Americans (54%) say that churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters, and 38% says that there has been too much expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders – a number that has grown to its highest point since the Pew Research Center began asking the question more than a decade ago.

Among current law and recent religiously-inspired legislation the Arkansas legislature has considered are:

Atheists cannot legally hold public or serve on a jury. The Arkansas state constitution reads: “No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court.”
In January the Arkansas Department of Human Services issued a rule that opens the door to religious instruction at state-funded pre-schools, as long as it occurs outside of a prescribed seven-hour period of required instruction – a clear deviation from federal case law.
Statistics indicate Americans are tired of religion being inserted into secular government, and state chapters being organized around the country will lobby to halt such legislation. State chapters will receive websites, as well as training, promotional and educational materials. Chapters will be trained, organized and supported by the Secular Coalition for America.

The Secular Coalition, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, has traditionally focused advocacy efforts on federal legislation. The SCA will continue to lobby at the federal level, while state chapters will lobby at the state level.

Secular Coalition for Arkansas is among the second round of chapters being organized by the Secular Coalition. Additional states will be rolled-out in subsequent phases:

Phase 3 (July 16- August 3) - Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Washington
Phase 4 (August 6- 17) - Alaska, Delaware, District of Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin
Phase 5 (August 20-31) - Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, West Virginia, Wyoming

Rogers said lobbying at the state and local level is important on several fronts and from a long term strategic perspective.

“In our current U.S. Congress, 38 percent of Representatives held local office first,” said Rogers. “When we get to law makers at the local level, not only are we going to help curb some of the most egregious legislation we’re seeing, but we are also building relationships and working to educate legislators on our issues, before they even get to Washington.”

Interested participants are encouraged to call in to the meeting at (530) 881-1400, Participant Access Code: 978895.

Official call dates and the call-in phone number for subsequent chapters will be announced at Secular.org/about/states closer to the beginning of each phase.

The Secular Coalition for America is a 501(c)(4) organization that serves as the national lobby for atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheistic Americans. Composed of 11 diverse member organizations, SCA works to protect and strengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all. For more information, please visit www.secular.org.

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