Week four was another weird one with a lot to cover. Let’s dive in. 

Still waiting on the Governor’s ed bill

After three full weeks, lawmakers have yet to file education legislation on behalf of the governor’s office. We’ve heard that out-of-state attorneys and DC lobbyists are the ones drafting Sanders’s education bill, which could be reason for the bill’s delay. We’ve also heard the bill package may look a lot like education reform bills in other states, copied from national groups like the Heritage Foundation. If true, the governor’s education plan wouldn’t be tailored for the unique challenges Arkansas schools face. Rather, it would be copied and pasted. Perhaps this is another reason for the delay, and we hope lawmakers push back on one-size-fits-all approaches to making public education better. 

For AR People proudly supports a $50k base salary for starting teachers and opposes school voucher expansion. We enjoyed John Brummet’s Dem-Gaz column from this week where he described the heroic efforts of Rep. Jim Wooten, former high school football coach and Republican from Beebe, who has a long history of fighting for public education in Arkansas. Rep. Wooten believes, as we do, that vouchers threaten our small public schools. The Beebe badgers, the Malvern leopards, the Ozark hillbillies, and other rural districts deserve full state funding.

Action Item: Call your reps and ask: Do you support starting salaries of $50k for Arkansas teachers?

Senate says “nah” to protecting trans people; House advances bathroom bill  

The Arkansas Times provided excellent coverage of the Senate’s failure to protect trans people from being murdered under the “Panic Defense” legal strategy. Senator Rice worried the bill would give LGBTQ people special treatment: “While I understand your concern, I always look at, are we making a special class? Are we giving somebody special rights when we’re not trying to keep everybody safe?” Sen. Rice’s subtext is this: protecting vulnerable Arkansans is considered special treatment. 

Not only is Arleg uninterested in protections for certain groups of people, they are steadfast in their pursuit to punish LGBTQ kids. House education passed Mary Bentley’s bathroom bill this week; it moves to the senate next week. Notably, the house also passed the “Drag bill” (SB43) but only after substantial changes were made to it. Rep. Bentley, the bill’s house sponsor, amended the bill twice. The new edition avoids any mention of drag performers and is now titled “An act to add certain restrictions to an adult-oriented performance.” It’s unclear why Rep. Bentley amended the language, but it’s a strange and positive development nonetheless. The bill heads to the House floor in its amended form. If it passes, it will go back to the Senate.

An end to Affirmative Action?

This week’s low point is arguably the passage of SB71, Dan Sullivan’s bill that would end Affirmative Action in Arkansas. Not only would the bill cut state and public programs that help historically marginalized groups get ahead, it would also make it a crime to continue these programs. Sullivan also decided to drop a 9 page amendment to the bill the morning it was up in committee. Members did not have a chance to read the amendment, and Sullivan went forward with the bill when most of the state was hunkered down for an ice storm. In other words, Sullivan was happy to ram through his bill without any public input from those who run and/or benefit from these programs.

Sullivan believes Affirmative Action programs, like scholarships or business loans for minorities and women, show preferential treatment to certain groups at the expense others. The subtext, of course, is that Sullivan does not believe women and Black people should receive special treatment from the state. He argued his bill actually ends discrimination and puts every Arkansan on equal footing. Let that sink in for a minute. 

Many are unaware of the history of Affirmative Action, like its origin as a housing program that gave preferential treatment to white families during the New Deal. Dr. Jim Ross, a specialist in the intersection of race, class, and religion in 20th century United States history, wrote about Affirmative Action for us on our site. Please read it, and consider how damning it is that a senate committee of all-white, all-male members passed the bill with only one dissent (Sen. Clarke Tucker of Little Rock). The bill now moves to the senate floor.

Action Item: Call your senator and ask them to vote NO on SB71.

Work requirement for public housing passes committee

HB1196 would add specific work requirements for those who receive public housing. David Ray, champion of governmental red tape, does not think it’s cruel or inhumane to ask able-bodied adults to work in exchange for government services. The problem is not all disabilities are visible, and this bill puts unnecessary restrictions on certain groups of Arkansans. Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families testified against the bill and explained how it would negatively impact families, especially those with young infants. Unsurprisingly, the bill passed out of committee on a voice vote. It moves to the house floor. 

Two positives

  • Rep. Collins filed a great pro-democracy bill that would require additional early vote polling locations to mirror the hours of their County Clerk’s office. Hours of operation for early voting sites vary widely, causing confusion and frustration for those making early vote plans. This bill would help cut down on that, and it a step toward streamlining our early vote process. Any bill that simplifies the voting process is a win for Arkansas voters. 

  • In a bizarre end to the senate’s week, Sen. Sullivan ended up pulling his “free speech” higher education bill, SB125, from senate education. Folded into language about free and open discourse on college campuses was the main purpose of the bill: language prohibiting universities from mandating the use of pronouns. The bill was problematic for numerous reasons, including an attempt to redefine the First Amendment (pro tip: don’t do that). To their credit, senate education members pushed back; some were sympathetic to the bill’s intent, like Sen. Kim Hammer, but all agreed that the bill was an overstep. Sullivan decided to withdraw the bill. For now, SB125 stays is in legislative limbo.