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OPINION | GREG HARTON: In the last-minute rush at the state Capitol, watch for legislative trickery

by Greg Harton | April 2, 2023 at 1:00 a.m.

It's not unusual for the last days of a regular session of Arkansas' Legislature to feature pieces of legislation flying all over the place as lawmakers make a final push to get whatever they want accomplished.

The session going on in Little Rock right now is proving to be as chaotic as its predecessors.

It's when Arkansans need to pay close attention, as unscrupulous lobbyists and manipulative lawmakers show their willingness to push surprise bills and try to get them passed quickly, hoping to temper opposition's capacity to marshal a response.

This newspaper's editorial today addresses one such bill that emphasized convenience for government officials over the public's right to information about how government goes about doing "the people's" business. Fortunately, enough Arkansans who care about the people's right to know what they're government is doing or not doing were able to fight against the bill. A House committee declined the approve the measure.

Every public official who pushed the legislation to weaken the Freedom of Information Act declared they believe in transparency of government and the right of the people to access information collected and kept by the government on important matters of public policy. They then followed up by supporting what may have been the worst proposal to modify the FOIA I've ever seen.

While public officials may have some fair concerns about how the FOIA is put to use, the proposed legislation attempted to use a sledgehammer to slice a tomato. Rather than filing a last-minute bill that makes sweeping changes, what's wrong with working with advocates of transparency -- which these public officials say they are, too -- in a collaborative fashion to develop pinpoint measures to address specific issues?

One of the most troubling aspects of the broad attack on the Freedom of Information Act is that it was led by lobbyists of organizations funded by taxpayer dollars. Cities pay fees to the Arkansas Municipal League and counties fund the Association of Arkansas Counties, and then these special interest groups devote themselves to promoting the interests not of the people of Arkansas, but of government power and government officials.

Your tax dollars go to your city and county, and then they're used against your interests as cities and counties funnel the money to these Little Rock-based lobbying efforts.

Does that seem at all right?

Separate issue: I hate that Arkansas Republicans have dragged this state into legislation or policies, such as pronoun bans, simply intended to hurt people struggling to find their way through life as they were born and who chose to alter the gender by which they present themselves to the world around them.

My heart and, yes, my prayers go out to the brokenhearted people of Nashville, where one apparently mentally disturbed individual decided her need to express rage or frustration was more important than six people's lives. It could have been worse except for an exceptional response by Nashville police.

The shooter in Nashville had some gender identity challenges. Media last week struggled with how to handle that. One TV outlet seemed to give up pronouns altogether and use "the shooter" in every instance. The AP had gender identity issues of its own, saying the attacker hid the guns from "their" parents. Some outlets started out talking about how strange it was for a female to be a mass shooter. It seemed those stories faded once the gender identity issue came to the surface. Isn't that point still relevant?

More power to anyone who wants to debate pronouns. But in reporting and evaluating violence against a school full of kids and the loss of life, forget the culture wars and political correctness for just a little while. "The shooter" was a female who faced a struggle over gender. Dancing around pronouns isn't really a priority in reporting murders, is it?

Print Headline: The rush is on in the Legislature


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