Editor’s note: Arkansas Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, provided the following commentary on the previous week of the 88th Arkansas General Assembly.
The Capitol is finally starting to see some activity, and good activity at that, with the past week’s activities.
We began the process of seeing our way through the formalities and into action, and I think the presence of many new faces has made a positive impact on what has been discussed and what will be passed. It will be interesting to see if the cohesiveness continues or if it splinters based on substance rather than rhetoric.
A resolution was filed to take the “independent” status away from the Highway Commission, Game & Fish, Lottery, and Higher Education institutions. Each of these individual groups at one point in time has been set apart to keep politics out of the way they spend money and make decisions. We have gotten well away from that in my opinion, and I have specific issues with at least 3 of the 4.
The Highway Commission still allocates money based on 10 districts across the state that were drawn a long time ago and do not adequately (if at all) follow population shift or economic growth. In particular, the district in which Fort Smith resides is at the bottom of Highway Commission dollars in every recent report I have seen.
The Game & Fish Commission has been chastised in the past few months because they have more vehicles than employees and because they decided on their own that the Freedom of Information Act need not apply to them (they have since rescinded that horrendous idea after being lambasted in nearly every form of media from print to blog to television).
The Lottery Commission successfully launched an Arkansas Scholarship Lottery after overwhelmingly being approved by the voters. What they also did was run afoul of any competent accounting practices, allocated comp time at will, had trouble backing up travel expense reports with receipts, and pay their employees well above accepted wage rates in Arkansas (the director makes well over $300,000). Legislators were held at bay because of the “independent” label of the commission.
Do you get the sense, as I do, that at the very least we need to see some change? I don’t know how this one will play itself out, but I am glad we are having the discussion. Also, just so you know, the Legislature will refer up to three resolutions for the people to vote on in the next General Election.
The Senate had its first real debate on the Floor on Thursday as good people disagreed over prohibiting tax dollars from paying for abortions mandated by ObamaCare. There were some eloquent arguments heard from both sides, but at the end of the day, the Pro-Life forces were overwhelmingly victorious with a 27-8 vote and now the bill goes to the House.
The best speech on behalf of the bill was from Senator Gilbert Baker who spoke in the Well on behalf of the unborn child. This vote showed the many social conservatives elected to the State Senate, regardless of party (or party platform for that matter).
You are starting to see some dialogue over ethics reforms being bantered about in the Capitol. A couple of brief points I want to make on this issue. First, I have heard that this simply does not go far enough. It may not, and I have argued that the reforms should be stronger. In the end though, it is a process that takes a majority of members support to pass. We could stand and champion the best ethics reforms in the world and if we couldn’t get 18 Senators and 51 House members to sign on, it would all be for naught.
Let’s appreciate the fact that we are moving the right direction and hopefully continue to elect people who still believe integrity and transparency are not only important but also paramount to restoring trust in government.
Look for Correction Reforms and more vigorous debates on not just cutting taxes but how many taxes will be cut. Both will be interesting and worth watching.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me by email or phone if you have an issue or problem with state government. I look forward to working with other leaders in state government to see some positive resolution come from this Session! My e-mail is email@example.com