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Silver linings

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Last week, we complained that the legislative session was ending in a fit of meanness. The editorial hadn’t appeared in print before lawmakers were showing their better side. Let us amend our remarks.

One of the nastiest, most ignorant bills of the session, presumably on its way to approval, was stopped by a House of Representatives committee. Senate Bill 959 would have prohibited homosexuals from fostering or adopting children, and prevented unmarried heterosexual couples from adopting. It had passed the Senate 22-2; the House Judiciary Committee crushed it. Nice work by informed legislators; their action benefits children and inhibits intolerance.

Gov. Mike Beebe deserves credit too, for quiet but effective opposition to the bill, and so does Speaker of the House Benny Petrus, D-Stuttgart, for assigning SB 959 to an appropriate committee. Some of them would have been less discriminating, we imagine.

At about the same time, the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee was correcting another Senate mistake. SB 20, approved by the Senate 23-7, would have allowed the state to snoop into everybody’s medicine cabinet, discover what prescription drugs people are taking, and exert government force against patients, pharmacists and physicians found not in compliance with drug warriors’ demands. Supporters of SB 20 aren’t concerned as much about drugs as they are about liberty — they think there’s too much of it and too many people using it. One of those supporters showed his distaste for free speech by insisting that the committee act on the bill without hearing from opponents. The committee’s action was to deny the bill a favorable recommendation.

Still, the darker side of legislators’ nature has not been entirely vanquished. A Petrus-sponsored, House-approved bill to impose higher ethical standards on legislators and lobbyists died in the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee, at the hands of senators who don’t much like Petrus or ethics. Sen. Randy Laverty, D-Jasper, said he knew he’d be criticized for his opposition. It’s rare for Laverty to be right.

A few years back, we depended on senators to save us from House excesses. In this session, the situation seems reversed. When the House has passed bad legislation, like HB 2768, a hateful anti-abortion bill, the Senate has meekly gone along. Maybe the senators expect to be saved by a gubernatorial veto. As a senator, Beebe regularly opposed bills like HB 2768, and he was quietly effective then too. Exercising a veto would be a little showy for Beebe, but he’s gotten the hang of this governing business, and could be ready to strut. We wouldn’t hold it against him.

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