Legislative odds and ends: Energy, catfish analogues, casual racism and the coming Arkansas-California trade war | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Legislative odds and ends: Energy, catfish analogues, casual racism and the coming Arkansas-California trade war

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 6:53 PM

THIS MEANS WAR: Catfish-like species from Vietnam, wine from California.
  • THIS MEANS WAR: Catfish-like species from Vietnam, wine from California.

I've spent most of the workday watching the House of Representatives from afar. Here are a few other sundries:

*ENERGY BILL PASSES: HB 1633 by Rep. Warwick Sabin was one-half of an energy package intended to promote cleaner power through market-based reforms. Its companion legislation was killed in committee earlier this week, but Sabin won passage of HB 1633 today in the House, 87-0. The bill permits longer-term power purchasing agreements for large energy producers. (Sabin's other bill would have focused on small producers that feed electricity back into the grid.)

*ELECTIONEERING RESTRICTION PASSES: Rep. Clarke Tucker's bill to prevent "coordinated communications" in election season was approved by the House, 56-14. It's a shame it had to be amended to placate opponents — originally, it contained broader disclosure and reporting requirements for campaign ads bought by outside groups — but its narrow passage illustrates that it wouldn't have stood a chance in stronger form. Here's an explanation of the amended bill.

*THINGS YOU SHOULDN'T SAY FROM THE WELL: I'll be honest and admit that — due to my own flagging energy — I wasn't closely following the debate over Rep. Vivian Flowers' HB 1982, a bill to "create a uniform data collection system to locate veterans in Arkansas to ensure appropriate services are provided for veterans and military families." But something said by Rep. Marcus Richmond pierced through the mental haze. As part of a rambling speech in which the Harvey Republican speculated that Flowers' bill would infringe on veterans' privacy rights, he took issue with the vagueness of the word "appropriate" in the bill title. Then, musing about the subjective nature of what is and isn't "appropriate," Richmond (himself a veteran) appeared to reminisce about dropping a bomb on an enemy combatant and "blowing his goat-smelling behind to kingdom come." Huh. Whatever that meant, I guess it was convincing — Flowers' bill failed, 40-24.

*TRUTH IN CATFISH: Speaking of battle: I was ignorant of the catfish wars before reading about HB 1854, Rep. Michael John Gray's bid to require labeling of Vietnamese fish sold in Arkansas as imported. Certain species of Vietnamese fish once considered "catfish" were designated by the U.S. Congress some years ago as merely "catfish-like species"; Gray's bill requires that such fish be clearly labeled as "imported." I'm not sure how to make a value judgment on this one, so I'll stay out of it. (The bill passed 85-0.)

*CALIFORNIA, FEAR OUR WRATH: But the real agricultural trade war is with the hostile nation of California. Rep. Dan Douglas's HB 1934 would regulate the importation of wine from "certain states" in retaliation for California's new rules governing eggs sold in that state: As of the beginning of this year, eggs sold in the Golden State's grocery stores must comply with animal welfare standards that require laying hens to be provided with a minimum amount of space — enough to extend their wings and turn around freely. That's usually not the case in chicken houses in Arkansas and other states, where hens are confined to small cages for most of their lives

To Douglas, the California law (which passed by a popular vote) is sheer lunacy. Where does it stop, he asked? "Do they tell us we have to have more square feet per chicken for our broilers? ...Or could it be that they determine they don't want our rice unless our tractors meet their clean air standards?... We have to put a stop to this. We have to show the state of California they cannot force their standards on us."

"Any state that imposes agricultural standards on us — we do not want their wine," he declared.

The bill passed, 57-19, but it caused some soul-searching among legislators trying to figure whether their greater loyalties were to Arkansas parochialism or free market principles. Rep. Charlie Collins urged a No vote, while also panning California's attempts to not torture animals less. "Even when a state makes such a horrific decision, such an egregious mistake," he said, setting up trade barriers is a dangerous precedent.

"Their consumers want to eat Arkansas eggs. Let's show them we're the bigger state," he said. Rather than ban California, he said, we should let them "suffer from their own stupidity ... not force Arkansans to suffer." Excuse me, suffer? I think Charlie Collins is insulting Arkansas wine country (which is where I grew up, by the way). What does he have against premium Altus vintage?

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