Watch payday lending measure
I wanted to raise public awareness regarding upcoming Senate legislation that should be of concern to all Arkansans. Senate Bill 900 seeks to overturn the decision made by Arkansas voters when they enacted Amendment 89 to the state Constitution. Under SB 900, consumer loan interest rates, currently capped at 17 percent annual percentage rate under Amendment 89, would, if SB 900 is passed, be set "as defined" by the Arkansas legislature. Logically, there is no reason to enact SB 900 except to increase interest rates. SB 900 would allow out of state and other lenders to offer loans with outrageous interest rates and fees, which would create an increasing volume of debt that would victimize Arkansas consumers. Less than four years ago, so-called "payday lending," which made it difficult to escape an ever-escalating cycle of debt, was legislated out of Arkansas. SB 900, if passed, will allow something akin to payday lending to sneak in through the back door. Don't let this happen again. I urge all Arkansans to contact their senator and request a "No" vote on SB 900.
Pryor's ignorance a choice
Glancing at that other paper Thursday for its local take on the past two days' historic civil rights cases on same-sex marriage argued before the US Supreme Court, I read that Sen. Mark Pryor believes "... homosexuality is a choice, not a characteristic people are born with." I believe Sen. Pryor's ignorance is a choice. As a straight, life-long progressive Democrat, I'll vote with my feet, which — on account of that and a plethora of his other equally unwise and unlearned statements and positions — won't be heading in Mark's direction. And, whoever said the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree? What a shame, Sen. David.
Rallying against retrograde ledge
On March 23 I visited the Arkansas Capitol for the first time, on a blank, gray day with heavy, unpredictable clouds sliding overhead. An old friend and North Little Rock resident had suggested we attend the War on Women rally to show our own dismay and agitation with the ultraconservative abortion legislation being rammed through the Republican-run legislature.
I come from New Hampshire so the inclement weather bothered me little, but the nonsensical and paradoxical male-dominated usurpation of women's rights felt like a return to antediluvian times. "This is 2013, not 1913," read one sign. "Welcome to Arkanistan," said another.
A crowd of several hundred men, women and some children gathered in front of the Capitol's steps to listen to women speak in opposition to legislation that would ban abortion after 12 weeks, in direct defiance of Roe v. Wade. "We're not going back 40 years," said one speaker. I added my name to a petition and looked at the faces in the crowd — few held anger or fervor; most had a mix of contemplation and disappointment.
Later, my friend would tell me that most Arkansans can't believe it's come to this, that Republicans have hijacked a rather reasonable, middle-of-the-road state and are fixing to set it back decades. That was the disappointment I saw on faces.
After the event ended, the crowd scattered into the fading day and my friend and I walked over to the Little Rock Nine monument just as the rain began to pick up. "I've never seen it this close up," said my friend as we stepped within feet of the solemn statues. Looking closely, I realized the rain was running down the frightened faces like tears. "How far have we come?" I thought to myself.
Still, bigotry, misogyny, chauvinism, prejudice and racism exist across the land. Surely it is time that we all looked more closely at what our nation has been through, how we have gotten to this point and what history will have to say once we are gone. Going backwards is not an option.
John M. Rodgers
North Little Rock
Legislature should address wage theft
Bipartisanship is not a theme that has prevailed during this legislative session so far. In fact, this General Assembly has shown that it is more interested in engaging in divisive issues to gain political points rather than address the serious problems that our state faces. However, the state legislature can move in the right direction by finally addressing the issue of wage theft in Arkansas. It is an issue that affects all Arkansans, and has a bipartisan solution.
Wage theft is hard to define, but it is generally when an employer intentionally underpays or does not pay an employee owed wages. According to the Northwest Arkansas Workers' Justice Center, wage theft is a "silent epidemic" that plagues low wage workers and cheats the Arkansas taxpayers out of revenue each year. More importantly, it puts honest job creators in our communities at a disadvantage. A common occurrence is when a worker's employment is terminated, for one reason or another, and the worker is never paid the final paycheck owed. A victim of such a hypothetical has limited options in Arkansas.
While a worker can file a complaint with the Arkansas Department of Labor (DOL), the worker is not eligible for DOL assistance if owed more than $2,000 or makes more than $25,000 per year. Even if the worker can file with the DOL, it could take years before seeing any type of relief. If the amount owed is less than $5,000, the worker could also seek relief in small claims court. However, this also comes with court and administrative fees that mitigate the amount that the worker can recover. Unfortunately, private attorneys are unlikely to take such a case because of the relatively small amount in controversy. Further, prosecutors seem unwilling to pursue charges under the "Theft of Services" statute in Arkansas. At best, the worker will recover with DOL assistance after a long period, leaving the low wage worker hurting for money and not holding the offender accountable.
Recently, Rep. Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) introduced HB 2004, in shell bill form, that would "require full payment of wages after termination of employment." It will directly address the issue of wage theft in Arkansas. Rep. Leding attempted to pass a wage theft law last legislative session, but it died on the House floor. Rep. Leding, in a recent interview, attributed the prior bill's failure to concern that it would place too much of a burden on small businesses. What "burdens" are unclear, as the business owes these wages. Leding has stated in a recent interview that HB 2004 will address these concerns, and Sen. Jon Woods (R-Springdale) has stated he will support the new proposal. This bill will give low wage workers the ability to recover much earlier than under the current options. I urge readers to contact their legislators and educate themselves on the issue of wage theft. This is not a partisan issue, it is an Arkansas issue. Please support your local job creators and support HB 2004.
Brandon W. Maxey