eVersity advances; curb on phone use while driving doesn't; rare defeat of religion bill, too | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

eVersity advances; curb on phone use while driving doesn't; rare defeat of religion bill, too

Posted By on Tue, Feb 24, 2015 at 11:50 AM

The House Education Committee this morning approved bill that previously passed the Senate to allow the University of Arkansas System to establish an eVersity, a lower cost online means to get college courses. It was touted as a boon to rural counties far from colleges with low college-graduation rates.

Elsewhere:

* CAR SAFETY: The House Transportation Committee defeated a bill to prohibit use of handheld wireless devices while driving. It would have been nice. It would have been something, if not enough. Hands-free devices — when used for nonstop yakking — are equally damaging to drivers' attention. Don't tell this the uncountable drivers who talk, dial, text, surf and otherwise do everything but pay close attention to the road. You'd almost think the Bible requires use of phones while driving, so widely is it practice and so holy is it held by the legislature.

* RELIGION IN SCHOOLS: There's no limit to religion promotion in the legislature. Today it was, again, Rep. Justin Harris with a bill to allow voluntary religious expression in school — such as by wearing a T-shirt with a religious motto. He said it would apply to any religion. In practice, given that it is Arkansas, you have to wonder the consequences if a Muslim wore something promoting their religion in Arkansas. He also was questioned about deeply held religious beliefs that might be offensive to others. Imagine a Bart Hester T-shirt: "My Bible says gay people are going to hell."

Harris also was asked what the bill provided that the Constitution and other statutes might provide. It just provides stronger protection, he seemed to say.

Harris promised further legislation this session guided by a religious group that works to promote the presence or religion in schools.

Rep. Warwick Sabin tried to get Harris to say why the law was necessary. What about other forms of expression that aren't protected, not just religion. He said it was a reaction to districts being "hypersensitive." Rep. Mark McElroy asked whether this would protect someone who worshipped Satan. "That's a possibility," he said.

He said the bill was about what students "can do." He referenced his own state-subsidized daycare in passing, which has been corrected on open religious exercises for pre-schoolers. You got the sense that this was, as you might expect, about a bill to help advance religion in schools, not simply protect individual expression.

Peppered with questions by a committee split half and half on a partisan basis — and with even some mild questioning from Republicans — the bill failed. Small miracle in the current atmosphere.

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