A friend who once worked in the Washington, D.C., office of a congressman often quoted the aphorism widely credited to Otto von Bismarck that one should never watch laws or sausages being made. Actually, American lawyer/poet John Godfrey Saxe may have said it first. But no matter, most of us would tend to agree.
However, that’s not the case at all for the 92nd Arkansas General Assembly that begins Jan. 14 in Little Rock. Judging from the bills that were pre-filed between mid-November and mid-December, this legislative session has a chance to be not only impactful, but entertaining. It would be in the best interest of all Arkansans to pay attention to what goes on in the Capitol anyway.
Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, pre-filed a bill that would require out-of-state sellers to collect and remit sales and use taxes. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has indicated that he expects the bill to pass and that he’s accounted for the increased revenue in his budget for fiscal years 2020 and 2021.
Douglas filed a similar bill in 2017, but it died in the Senate after passing the House because some senators were concerned that such a bill would be unconstitutional. That concern was nullified after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that states have the authority to collect and remit such taxes. The idea — in addition to raising additional tax revenue — is to be fair to Arkansas retailers who have been disadvantaged compared with out-of-state companies who didn’t collect and remit.
Douglas also pre-filed a proposed resolution that would change Arkansas’ current system of party primary elections to non-partisan “blanket” primaries where the top vote-getter and the second-place finisher, regardless of party, would face each other in the general election. The idea is to increase turnout in primaries and encourage candidates to appeal to their entire constituencies, not just a particular segment.
Douglas is right that turnout in party primaries tends to be low. In Craighead County, for example, only 16% of registered voters voted in the 2018 primary, while 46.5% voted in the November general election. Obviously, in 2016 — a presidential year — there was more interest in party primaries because nearly 33% of Craighead’s voters cast ballots in the primaries, while 60.4% voted in the general election.
Certainly, Douglas’ proposal merits some consideration. However, Louisiana uses that blanket primary system, and maybe we don’t want to hold up our neighbors to the south — where drive-thru daquiry stands proliferate — as an example of how to do certain things. It’s perhaps worth noting that California and Washington also use that primary system.
Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, pre-filed legislation that would deal with bullying, a topic of much concern in both school settings and in society generally. Gazaway offers legislation “to amend the anti-bullying policy; to require anti-bullying training; to create the positions of anti-bullying specialist and district anti-bullying coordinator; and to establish a week of kindness.”
Legislators from south Arkansas have been busy pre-filing their proposals as well. Take for example Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, who filed a pair of abortion-related bills and a bill that would create a task force to address veterans’ issues, in particular, veterans’ suicide.
The problem of veteran suicide is a critical one. An estimated 22 U.S. military veterans die by suicide every day. We simply shouldn’t allow this to continue. This bill should at the very least bring much-needed attention to this topic and at best spur some state action to keep us from losing valuable citizens of our state.
A couple of Sen. Garner’s pre-filed bills, however, don’t have quite the gravitas of those addressing abortion or veteran suicide. One would designate the Bowie knife as the official knife for Arkansas, and the other would designate the shotgun as the official firearm of the Natural State. The shotgun should be so designated because of the importance of duck hunting in the state and the Bowie knife — known as the “Arkansas Toothpick” even before statehood — is regarded as the state’s most famous weapon, Garner’s bill says.
Bowie’s knife became the subject of much folklore and the object of significant admiration after an 1827 fight on a sandbar near Natchez, Miss. Ironically, the Bowie knife has a less storied place in Arkansas history. In 1837, the Speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives stabbed to death a legislator from Randolph County with whom he disagreed over a bill in the House.
Enough of the blood and gore and on to a more pleasant cut. Rep. Johnny Rye, R-Trumann, wants to give those of us who are homeowners a little tax cut. Rye served as the Poinsett County tax assessor for 25 years from 1991 through 2016. His proposal, HB 1034, would increase the state homestead property tax exemption from $350 to $375, effective in the assessment year that begins Jan. 1, 2019.
That’s just a tiny sample of some of the legislation that some members of the legislature will seek to advance beginning in a couple of weeks. Of course, the omnipresent debates over public school funding, Medicaid expansion and prison overcrowding almost certainly dominate — they always seem to do so. But do yourself a favor. Watch ’em being made this time. After all, it’s your money they’re cutting up.
Editor’s note: Paul Holmes is editor-at-large for the Northeast Arkansas Talk Business & Politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are those of the author.