News » The Week That Was

Hard to watch the ledge


Tweet of the week

"Ps 37:12 The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him / Ps. 37:13 But the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming."

— Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork), returning to Twitter. Harris, normally a prolific tweeter, has been absent from social media these past weeks in the wake of revelations published in this paper that he and his wife "rehomed" two adopted daughters with another family, where one was then sexually abused. We'll decline to speculate about exactly who "the wicked" refers to in this context.

Do as I say, not as I did

Last week, the Arkansas House of Representatives passed a bill by Rep. David Meeks (R-Conway) to make it a felony to rehome an adopted child with a non-family member. It passed the chamber easily — and yes, Rep. Justin Harris voted for it.

Hard to watch

Still, it's true that we've been doing a lot of teeth gnashing lately while watching the Capitol. We expect the legislature to pass its share of bad policy, but it might be even more painful to watch commonsense bill after commonsense bill fail miserably in committee. Here's a small sample:

Last Wednesday, the House Insurance and Commerce committee shot down an idea from Rep. Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) to establish minimum habitability standards for rental property; Arkansas is considered to have the worst landlord-tenant law in the United States.

Thursday, House Rules killed a bill by Rep. Camille Bennett (D-Lonoke) to allow legislators to request an attorney general opinion on a bill's constitutionality and the cost of defending a legal challenge.

Friday, a committee sank yet another attempt — this time by Rep. Fred Love (D-Little Rock) — to stop celebrating Robert E. Lee on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. No surprise there.

But what about on Monday, when Rep. Warwick Sabin (D-Little Rock) presented a clean energy bill with the support of Arkansas Entergy and the Public Service Commission? The Joint Energy Committee refused to hear witnesses and voted the bill down, then adjourned. On Tuesday, Sabin's proposal to give low-income working families a tax credit was defeated by the same lawmakers — such as Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville) — who ardently champion tax breaks that accrue mostly to the wealthy.

Even good ideas from Republicans failed this session if they made the mistake of being too humane. Rep. Jim Sorvillo (R-Little Rock) attempted to address Arkansas's puppy mills by better regulating dog breeders; the Farm Bureau, which opposes pretty much any animal cruelty legislation, stopped him in his tracks. A bill from Rep. Josh Miller (R-Heber Springs) that would have given long overdue help to families with developmentally disabled children (via a program called the Community First Choice Option) was voted down as well. Gnash, gnash, gnash.

Keep it public

But hey, sometimes bad bills fail, too.

Early last week, hundreds rallied at the Capitol against HB 1733, which would allow privatization of public school districts deemed "academically distressed." The bill had the support of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, but it was opposed by education organizations representing superintendents, school boards, teachers and others. While the rally was occurring, news broke that in the face of opposition the bill's sponsor, Rep. Bruce Cozart (R-Hot Springs), had decided to shelve the legislation for the remainder of the session.

Stay in school suit

Meanwhile, the battle for the future of the Little Rock School District entered a new phase last week as witnesses delivered testimony in a preliminary injunction hearing before Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen. The plaintiffs in the case asked the judge to reverse the state's takeover of the LRSD. On day two of the hearing, while Superintendent Dexter Suggs was on the stand, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a stay of the proceedings, stopping everything cold. Now everyone will have to wait for the high court to decide whether the lawsuit can continue.

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