Here are a few things that I think need to be attended to in 2006.
• While Arkansas stands high for its building and maintenance of interstate roads, I-40 as it comes from Memphis to the bottom of Park Hill and continues to the Maumelle exit is narrow, twisty and dangerous. For more than a year the workers have been attempting to turn it into three lanes both coming and going just as they did Interstate 30 from Little Rock to Benton. But they have been working on this northside road far longer than a year, and it appears that completion is still far off. The exits and entrances to the highway are difficult to see and scary to use, and every day cars and trucks have to sit still for many minutes because there has been a wreck or only one lane is open.
• When the legislature has its special session this year, the members should increase the minimum pay by at least $1 to lift the $5.15 per hour federal minimum that has been in effect since 1997, the longest number of years without a federal increase. Even Lee Scott, the chief executive of Wal-Mart, told its directors in October that the Congress should raise the minimum wage, a surprise since Wal-Mart is often criticized for its low average of $10 an hour. Several states have already lifted the minimum wage beyond the federal minimum. Why hasn’t Arkansas done it since its workers are the 47th poorest paid in the country?
• Bill Halter, a bright 45-year-old and an ambitious fellow, has been making speeches and asking for money for months saying that he wants to be governor. But he has yet to say he will run this year. He has moved back to hometown North Little Rock from Washington, D.C., where he was a deputy commissioner of Social Security and a helper in Bill Clinton’s campaigns. I interviewed him back in Washington in 2002 when he said he might go home to Arkansas and run for something. He didn’t. Two years later he talked about it again but still didn’t run, and now he’s at it again. If he doesn’t officially announce in a couple of weeks, people should really think of him as a talker rather than a leader.
• Eight percent of people talk in their cars on telephones while driving. Automobile organizations and innocent people who have been struck by talking drivers are trying to get laws passed to make it illegal for a driver to talk on a telephone while moving down a road. So far they have been successful only in a few cities and states like New Jersey, New York, Maine and the District of Columbia. Why not stop it in Arkansas? It’s easy and safer to pull off the road if you have to make a call.
• The evangelicals with their grand contact with the White House were able to persuade the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to delay its decision to declare that the so-called “morning-after pill” was okay to be sold over the counter at any drug store without a prescription written by a doctor. Peg Lautenschlager, the Wisconsin attorney general, has already filed a lawsuit to require FDA to let drug stores sell the pills without a prescription.
So far only Illinois and California have passed laws requiring pharmacies to fill a prescription. At its summer meeting, the American Medical Association called on pharmacists to fill all prescriptions. Laws passed in Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia and South Dakota give pharmacists the right to refuse the prescriptions. And in Arkansas, lobbyists for health insurance companies persuaded the Arkansas legislators to fix the law so the insurance companies would in no way be responsible for contraception.
I don’t understand why people are opposed to the “morning-after-pill.” It can safely end a mistake that could ruin a girl’s life. Scientists have ruled that “morning-after-pill” is a contraceptive, not an abortion. Sure, there may be a pharmacist in a drug store who has religious reasons that prevent him from selling the pills (four working in a Walgreen in Illinois say that’s why they were fired), but surely there would be someone in any drug store whose morality wouldn’t be harmed if he handed the two pills to a scared woman. And, I would think that there’s no excuse for any pharmacist refusing to fill a prescription from a doctor.
• The state Revenue Department doesn’t keep track of the number of SUVs because the amount of the price of the tax is based on weight, not shape. But there are thousands of them in Arkansas, most of them in the cities. People who live in the country buy vehicles they need. But I know there are a lot of them in my town because when I park there is almost always one of those big things on one side of me or both, meaning that when I leave I have to get out by the inch, creeping slowly back, praying that there isn’t a vehicle coming along horizontally. That also happens when I am turning right or left to enter a busy street. When you have a SUV on either side, you can’t possibly see when you can safely move.
Well, I have an idea. The owner of a SUV or a pickup cab that’s more than five feet high should have to pay an extra $5 for the new license every year. The money would go to the public schools so that the kids would be smart enough to buy a normal-size vehicle when they grow up.