Arkansans are getting to see exactly what it means to have a state that’s gone completely red, but if I had to guess, we haven’t seen anything compared to what we will see before this legislative session comes to a close.
After being elected on a platform that was almost entirely dedicated to economic growth, job expansion and lower taxes, Gov. Hutchinson came into office with a substantial list of important and complex issues waiting for him. But he met those challenges head on and delivered on several campaign promises, including tax cuts and legislation to promote computer science skills for Arkansas students. He also found a way to maintain the Private Option for two more years. Granted, his goal is to ultimately replace it with something else that will also be reliant on tax dollars, but for now, many Arkansans are keeping their health insurance, and that’s good for us all.
So, what’s left to do? Bills to address workforce development or the possible restoration of the capital gains tax cut that was passed last session have already been filed, so no large items remain. Prison reform is making its way through the pipeline. The lottery woes have been addressed, and it appears that highway funding may be dealt with during a special session.
Now that the heavy lifting is complete, we’ve started to drift into the land of social issues and have already gotten our first real taste of how such a red state chooses to face them.
Just last week, we passed legislation that strengthens and allows for the continued discrimination of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. The effort was put forth in response to one city seeking to pass a civil rights ordinance that would prevent against discrimination of any human based on their sexual orientation. Their effort was overturned and, in what seemed like no time, every city in the state was stripped of local control in order to “protect local control.” Now, within ninety days, cities across the state will have one less (and significant) way of more immediately responding to its own needs on a case-by-case basis.
We’ve also passed a telemedicine bill that prevents the medical community from conducting abortions via the Internet – even though that’s not something that happens in Arkansas.
Now we’re well on our way toward arming our campuses to the teeth despite the input against the policy from board members, administrators, faculty members and students. There are regular headlines from across the country of shooting incidents on campuses that could not have been prevented by policies like what passed the House Tuesday because they are often premeditated and usually always unexpected. Most disturbing of all is the idea of an on-campus shooting that devolves into a Wild West scenario once law enforcement officials arrive to the scene and are unable to discern whom the perpetrator is from the “protectors.” Meanwhile, the risk to innocent bystanders has reached new heights.
Now we’re on to the death penalty – with proposals to eradicate the entire policy of executions and policies to promote other methods of executions to supplement our state’s inability to conduct lethal injections due to lack of access to drugs.
So, what does this mean for our state? How will our Governor, who indicated an interest early on in continuing the tradition of moderate leadership that we have been accustomed to, reconcile his priorities with a legislature that seems determined to carry the banner for the most extreme social conservative policies?