Legislators from the Fort Smith area gathered Monday night (Nov. 24) at the Fort Smith River Park to meet with members of Leadership Crawford County and the Leadership Fort Smith Alumni Association.
Legislators attending the LCC and LFSAA sponsored event were:
Sen. Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith
Rep. Frank Glidewell, R-Fort Smith
Rep. Rick Green, R-Van Buren
Stephanie Malone, R-Fort Smith (Representative-elect; attended briefly due to illness.)
Rep. Tracy Pennartz, D-Fort Smith
Rep. Beverly Pyle, R-Cedarville
Terry Rice, R-Waldron (Representative-elect)
(Link here for the complete list of the Fort Smith regional legislative delegation and their committee assignments.)
Highlights of the discussion between the legislators and the audience included:
• Rep. Pennartz said she intends to push legislation that would provide an investment tax credit for new construction and renovation in special downtown development districts. The tax would provide a 20 percent tax credit for qualifying developers. Such developments in the Central Business Improvement District in downtown Fort Smith would be eligible, Pennartz said.
• Rep. Green said he was “incensed” at newspaper editorial writers and columnists who questioned the intelligence of Arkansas voters in approving annual legislative sessions. Green said he is convinced Arkansans understood that approving state budgets once every two years was not smart in a modern economy.
“I give the people of Arkansas more credit for their wisdom,” Green said.
Pennartz concurred, saying that most households and businesses don’t budget two years at a time.
“Most of us do that every year. So why not the state?” Pennartz said.
• There was much discussion about the availability and policies of college scholarships. It was recently reported that about $50 million sits untouched in the Arkansas Challenge Scholarship program. Pennartz said there are too many Arkansans who need financial assistance for that much money to sit unused. Part of the problem, she noted, was that the program requirements don’t allow a probationary period for a student who drops below a 3.0 grade point average for a semester. Existing law drops that student from the scholarship program.
“I think we put that student on probation, and if they return the next semester and raise it (GPA), then we return the scholarship,” Pennartz said, summarizing a potential change to the program.
And prodded by a comment from the audience, Pennartz said the state needs to do a better job of providing information to Arkansans about the various college scholarship programs available.
• Not surprising, the lack of physicians and other medical system shortfalls were part of the discussion. Bryan Clardy, a physician at the Arkansas Health Education Center in Fort Smith, encouraged the legislative panel to support funding for a trauma system that would help doctors around the state more quickly find access to available care. Clardy also asked the legislators to be more innovative and helping the state reduce the physician shortage.
“Real, meaningful liability reform would do a lot to bring (doctors) to Arkansas,” Clardy said.
Representative-elect Terry Rice, R-Waldron, and Gary Campbell, a Fort Smith city director, talk issues before the legislative panel discussion.
Sharon Blentlinger (left), a Leadership Fort Smith volunteer, and Paul and John Post, with Post Familie Winery, set up the beverages before the event begins.
Business and politics are part of a discussion between Philip Doss and Calvin Moye.
Reps. Beverly Pyle, R-Cedarville, and Tracy Pennartz, D-Fort Smith, and Sen. Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith, meet before the legislative panel discussion begins.
Audience members listen to legislative responses.
Cathy Gifford, (left) director of Leadership Crawford County, District Court Judge Jim Spears and Julie Moncrief, director of Leadership Fort Smith, introduce the legislative panel. The legislators (left to right): Rep. Rick Green, R-Van Buren; Rep. Frank Glidewell, R-Fort Smith; Rep. Beverly Pyle, R-Cedarville; Sen. Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith; Rep. Tracy Pennartz, D-Fort Smith; and Representative-elect Terry Rice, R-Waldron.
Sharon Blentlinger hands Dr. Homer Ellis a beverage.