Today’s Talk Business & Politics Daily features interviews with U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, State Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, and State Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock.
Westerman, who served on a panel before oil and gas industry executives, discussed his upcoming role on the conference committee for a major energy bill passed by the U.S. House and Senate. Westerman said his role will come from his position on the House Natural Resources Committee, where he has championed forestry and outdoorsman issues.
The comprehensive energy bill, which addresses energy resources, mining and logging, and infrastructure policy, won’t be dealt with until a lame duck session of Congress.
“When we get back to D.C. after the election and we start working on the energy bill, I want to make sure that the energy interests in Arkansas are well represented there,” said Westerman.
“You know my main purpose for being on there is to look after the forestry bill that was amended into the energy bill, and also we’ve got a big sportsman’s bill that effects a lot of folks in Arkansas. So that’s the two areas I will probably have the most to comment on,” he added.
Westerman also said he’d be working to avoid any policies that might hurt energy production in Arkansas.
PRISON, SENTENCING REFORMS
In a separate roundtable discussion, Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson and Rep. Vivian Flowers laid out their top policy items related to prison and sentencing reforms, which will garner much focus in the 2017 legislative session.
TB&P: Senator Hutchinson, what are two things that you feel like have to get addressed in the next session on this issue?
Sen. Hutchinson: I think the most important thing we can do is to improve our probation system. Currently, we don’t have enough probation officers, so they are overwhelmed and so they don’t do a good job of supervising probationers and this is true of parolees as well. But probation is where we can save a lot of money. If we increase the number of probation officers, which we need to do, give them a more manageable case load and then provide treatment and assistance to not just put somebody on probation when we know they are an addict – we know they are going to fail the terms of probation and they are going to end up in the state penitentiary – if we can provide local treatment, that’s a critical component.
And then secondly, when they are revoked, I think they ought to be revoked in intermediate sanctions. There should not be that if you fail one drug test you are revoked for 6 months, or if you commit a misdemeanor crime, you’re revoked for 6 months… It doesn’t do any good. These studies have shown, data has shown that in fact it increases recidivism the longer you send them. So there ought to be intermediate first revocation, you know, 60 days and graduating up as they continue to violate the terms or the severity of their offenses increase.
TB&P: Representative Flowers, name two things that you think need to be addressed in this arena.
Rep. Flowers: I think we need to do a better job of funding our drug courts and in addition to that providing some uniformity in funding for veterans courts, which we know that focus on both in those areas works to save money by targeting those groups which tend to have some very specific issues. I kind of couch that as one.
The second thing that I think we need to do is really to do an overhaul in reforming not only the sentencing, but the incarceration of people with mental illness. We know that our prisons are filled with people whose problems really stem from mental illness that goes untreated and so we are really pouring bad money after worse when we don’t address the real problem with that population and they come out. We know that the primary issue with them is still an issue and we expect for them to transition effectively and not be a part of that group who come back to prison.
Watch Westerman, Hutchinson and Flowers interviews below, plus catch up on the top stories of the day and check out the latest Arkansas Transportation Report.