Legislators rank highlights, disappointments of session

by Roby Brock (roby@talkbusiness.net) 602 views 

State Rep. Charles Blake, D-Little Rock, and State Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock, don’t see eye-to-eye on every issue, but they agree on a number of accomplishments from the recently completed regular session of the 92nd General Assembly, and share a common concern to address one issue during the interim.

Appearing on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, Blake and Davis shared their thoughts on highlights and lowlights of the session.

For Blake, a signature accomplishment was passage of a measure at the end of the session to allow young illegal immigrants covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to receive in-state tuition and obtain nursing licenses.

“I think when we have bills that no one expects us to pass and it shows the compassion of our state and how as a legislature we can work together like the DACA nurses bill, where we’re giving the opportunity for those students who are not citizens to get a nursing license, as well as Dan Douglas’ bill, the DACA in-state tuition bill. I think those bills show the compassion of our state. It shows what we can be when we know what a specific problem is,” Blake said.

For Davis, who carried the governor’s state government transformation overhaul legislation and a highway funding plan, he said that he was proudest of the National Cancer Institute designation for UAMS.

“My personal favorite out of the session was NCI-designation funding for UAMS. We’ve been saying for years we needed additional funding and support for UAMS. I appreciated [UAMS Chancellor] Dr. [Cam] Patterson bringing us a very specific ask, not just something for general budget, but here is something that will change lives of Arkansans if we can get this done, we’re able to get that done. For me, that was a great accomplishment,” Davis said.

On the disappointment side of the equation, Davis said that failure to advance a telemedicine bill was problematic.

“A lowlight for me policy-wise was that we failed to advance telemedicine again. We’re talking about a bill with very few words that are changing, but anyone who’s a small business owner like myself, and when you go and shop health insurance plans and benefits for your employees there’s always an asterisk by Arkansas because there are services that you cannot offer here. We’re near last in access, we’re near last in outcomes, but I just haven’t seen us been able to advance very much legislation that will improve those things, and that’s frustrating to me,” he said.

Blake was most disappointed in a bill involving sanctuary cities that was described as problematic for potential racial profiling. State money could be withheld from sanctuary cities, which are cities that allow illegal immigrants certain privileges, but Arkansas doesn’t have any at this time.

“It’s a bill that’s unconstitutional, it’s a bill that lacks compassion. It’s a bill that is going to cost our cities money,” he said. “It was a bill that was rushed through.”

In the interim, Davis will be focusing on a new law that reviews state contracts. Blake wants to work on changing the symbolism of the Arkansas flag to eliminate a reference to the Confederacy – an effort that failed in this recent session.

You can watch Blake’s and Davis’ full interview in the video below.

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