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There was a national outcry a few months ago when state Sen. Maureen Walsh, from the state of Washington, argued against a bill to mandate that nurses get uninterrupted meals and rest breaks.

Senator Walsh said that nurses "probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day."

Let me be blunt: What Senator Walsh said about nurses is dead wrong.

As a state senator in Arkansas, I know that conditions in Washington are essentially the same as they are here. Nurses work long hours, and their work is hard.

My grandmother, Wanda O'Dell of Harmony Grove, was a nurse well into her 70s. More times than I can remember, Sunday lunches after church were interrupted by her pager, because she was "on call" so often.

I can also remember how tired she was after working overtime all night.

Naturally, most nurses agree with me about Senator Walsh's comments. They think her comments undervalue the work they do and trivialize the role they play in our health-care system. In response to the backlash over her remarks, Senator Walsh agreed to shadow a nurse for a day in order to better understand their jobs.

That gave me an idea; why not shadow a nurse in Arkansas? In fact, why stop there? Why not experience a typical working day with as many people as possible?

The idea inspired the "We the People" Tour. It is an opportunity to get out in my Senate district with real people, to more closely experience the jobs they do every day.

I started with Frances Fridell, an amazing home nurse. She works throughout south Arkansas, driving to people's homes and providing care. Frances taught me a lot about nurses, but the most important lesson was simple. Nurses care about the people they help.

She cared enough to individually place every pill in just the right place for a man who lives by himself. She cared for a veteran in a wheelchair when she massaged his feet. Her caring was evident when she laughed and talked with a woman about local gossip while she changed her dressing.

She taught me how hard it is to be a nurse, but also how rewarding it can be.

She also made me aware of how much paperwork she has to fill out because of the many government regulations in place.

Next, I went to the woods with Michael Clayton. He's in the timber industry, one of the biggest job creators in south Arkansas. Michael is a forester who sells timber and timberland. He took me to a tract of land in Union County.

We checked access to areas that have been restricted by recent flooding. Outside in the heat, we were soon sweating. He told me about what it means to work alone, deep in the Arkansas woods, providing a service for landowners.

I thought the heat was the hardest part of his job, until he told me that he has been bitten twice by snakes!

We discussed potential legislation that could make his job easier. We talked about timber markets, and the consequences for real people when markets fluctuate.

For the next stop on my tour, I went shopping. To be more precise, I visited a local Brookshire's. It's a family-owned grocery chain that has numerous stores in south Arkansas.

Trent Brookshire, the grandson of the company's founder, joined the staff during my tour. I learned about the company's rich history. I met some great employees and heard about the challenges of their business.

Many of the senior staff began their careers bagging groceries before moving up the ranks.

We discussed the impact of the Pharmacy Benefit Management (PBM) system on the Brookshire's pharmacy. They had good suggestions about changes they would like to see.

Finally, I visited El Dorado Metals. Willie and Jeff McNabb, brothers who run the company, proudly told me how their father started the business after moving from North Carolina.

I could feel their love and appreciation for El Dorado. The company makes unique containers to safely transport dangerous material. It also manufactures barriers to block radiation.

The McNabb brothers told me how changes in Washington, D.C., over the past few years have helped their business, allowing them to hire more people and invest more in their workforce.

Before I went on the "We The People" tour, I thought I knew a lot about the work done by the people in my Senate district. I must say, the tour was an eye-opener.

My main takeaway is that policies enacted by the government have a clear and real impact on working people, and on the businesses where they work.

As a legislator, it was an honor to listen and learn from them. It gave me the perspective and the motivation to work harder for them.

I want to put their ideas into action, causing real and lasting positive change for Arkansas.

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State Sen. Trent Garner represents District 27.

Editorial on 08/12/2019

Print Headline: TRENT GARNER: Tour de workforce

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