Sen. Sue Madison, D-Fayetteville, defended the practice of state legislators meeting in northwest Arkansas on the same weekend as Razorback football games. Yesterday, Rep. James McLean, D-Batesville, criticized the practice. Madison, who is chair of the committee that called the meeting, explains why she feels the practice is appropriate.
"The purpose is to once again visit the issue of rising textbook expenses and see what has changed from our last meeting," said Madison who calls a meeting every year on gameday weekends in Fayetteville for this purpose. "I want to meet in Fayetteville as that is where the flagship institution is located. I am hopeful faculty and students will attend. Administrators are also invited. The meeting room at the jail is easily accessible and has great parking. If we publicize progress at the flagship institution, other institutions will likely follow."
"Meeting is scheduled for mid-afternoon so legislators can work Friday morning at their other jobs if they need to and still have time to come to our meeting. I also want to check compliance with the act we passed that sets deadlines for adoption of textbooks by faculty as that knowledge is critical for bookstores in determining what they will pay students at buy-back time. It is, after all, the net cost that is important. I was worried Friday afternoon would run late with the textbook price issues and knew members might have other commitments. Hence, the Saturday morning meeting," said Madison in defending why the meeting stretches over two days. "I want as many members to come to this meeting as possibly can and that is why I specifically chose a football game weekend. The meeting last year was well-attended and we have many new members who also need to understand this problem."
It appears to me that Madison’s motives are pure. She has championed the issue of finding a way to prevent the rising cost of textbooks. As someone who has spent over a decade in college having to buy such textbooks, I can sympathize with this issue.
But the carrot Madison is using to attract legislators to the meeting is funded by taxpayers. Madison is upfront that she plans the meeting to correspond with Razorback games on purpose so that she can attract more legislators to attend and increase the focus on her issue. This is not a case of a private interest group paying for the legislators’ expenses, but rather the state paying for it.
Perhaps the most objectionable part is stretching the meeting out over two days. Madison’s explanation is above, but it is obviously a bigger incentive for legislators to get double the per diem for a weekend trip.
It is also quite telling that Madison cannot attract legislators to attend the meeting without the chance to attend a football game on our dime.
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