Bill filing and bill killing

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 29 views 

• Senate Report: Week 3 review
This past week saw some extremely positive news from the Governor with the announcement of our state’s first “Super Project” which happened to be a steel mill located in Osceola.

The price tag of the project is $1.1 billion (yes billion with a “B”), and it is contingent on legislative approval of a $125 million bond issue as allowed by Amendment 82. The mill will employ more than 500 workers initially with an average annual wage of $75,000, and the deal is laced with additional incentives to allow Arkansas to secure the investment while 10 other states missed out.

It is said to be the biggest deal in the country, and there is a lot of excitement and anticipation in the Capitol and also in Northeast Arkansas, as you can imagine.

The process is fairly simple, but the ramifications are costly and numbing. This is the first time Amendment 82 has been triggered, and to vote against the issuance of the bonds would probably be a death wish to any future large project for our state.

That being said, there are grave questions that must be answered for this deal to move forward. Questions like what if this deal doesn’t work out (as some similar large projects haven’t worked out in other states), and Arkansas’ budget takes a huge hit to absorb the bonds issued?

There is also the question that comes up dealing with how we can give incentives to one group and not to another, or better yet, why is a new company coming in and getting a load of cash and other perks and existing steel mills (like Gerdau – formerly MacSteel – in our area) don’t get the same benefits? Is that fair?

Have we fallen into the trap of trying to compete at the expense of existing industry? It will be interesting to hear the analysis of many experts on the subject, and I am looking forward to seeing how much the proponents of the project are willing to sign on and guarantee as well.

Hopefully, the benefits far outweigh the risks, and we are able to look back years from now and reflect on a great decision for our state and its future.

In more personal news, I often get asked where I get the ideas for legislation I file. It is a great question.

Some of the bills we file come from state agencies or commissions needing to clean up or propose new rules for the governance of their groups, such as the Real Estate Commission. Still other bills come from constituents who have a business need that requires some clarification in the law. Another group of laws come from concerned citizens or legislative ideas that hopefully lead to better efficiencies or fairness in governance. These would be things that legislators are more passionate about and tend to generate some debate in the halls of the Capitol.

In short, legislation comes from many facets and so do the laws that get passed. Many have a great story behind them, like someone who did something and it wasn’t illegal but it was unethical and violated the public trust. That is the kind of thing that needs to be corrected with legislative action. Still others are just simple technical corrections that must be addressed with a new law.

As legislators, we get a lot of feedback. Most of it is very helpful. The proliferation and anonymity of email has also created a faceless way to tear into elected officials for a vote or idea without ever having to stand up and defend your position.

Yet another coordinated approach is for a campaign to take shape via email to kill a bill. Take for example HB1040, which creates a Charter School Commission to oversee awarding charters.

I am a co-sponsor on the bill, and I will admit that the bill has some issues that need to be addressed, and it is in the process of being amended. The process on a bill like this is that there are many who don’t like the idea of charter schools and therefore send out emails to everyone who works at a public school warning them of the “dangers” of charter schools. These folks then get emailed talking points which get cut-and-pasted into emails defending their position to many of us legislators.

Some of the emails I get simply say Vote No to HB1040. No explanation, no defense. Just a simple “Vote No.” While one of the sweet liberties in our country is the ability to speak freely on our positions, I also appreciate the diversity of ideas.

It is my position that competition is not the enemy of good but is the driver of better. I also see that just because one school district is prospering, there are many others who do not have the same commitment to excellence and are not pushing our youth to be the leaders they could be. It is in those areas that more options are needed and more are deserved.

It becomes a balancing act to truly represent your district but look beyond it, at times, to what opportunities we have to create perhaps new public policy.  It is at these times we sometimes find ourselves at a crossroads of tradition and progress and must take the road less traveled.

We have some of those crossroads coming up. I hope and pray that we use the reasoning and guidance of best practices and solid principles to guide us to where we need to go.

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