Favorite

Here, kids, is how to make a law 

Today we offer a legislative tale. It illustrates the inordinate power of private interests at the state Capitol. It also touches on the lack of forthrightness and accountability in the legislative process. Rich landowners by the name of Deltic Timber, well-known for upscale development west of Little Rock, want to develop company land next to Lake Maumelle, which happens to be the water supply for much of Central Arkansas. The regional water system, Central Arkansas Water, asserts that it must protect the watershed from the potential harm of development. It aims to exercise eminent domain to condemn the property and prohibit the development. Deltic Timber hires lobbyists and public relations people and does what rich private interests sometimes do when they meet resistance: They try to make their own state law. The company persuades key senators to file a bill that, when read without the context just provided, sounds like an environmental protection measure that the Sierra Club might embrace. It’s nobly entitled the “Water Quality Protection Act of 2005.” It says that in order to protect watersheds from pollutants, the state Soil and Water Conservation Commission may negotiate stewardship agreements with developers. While intentionally obscure to the casual observer, the real purpose is crystal clear to the self-interested. It is to remove Central Arkansas Water’s right of eminent domain and substitute oversight by this pliable state agency — pliable because Soil and Water’s budget is controlled by the very legislators who would pass this measure. To remove opposition, the bill gets amended to make sure it would apply only to the kind of water system of which Central Arkansas Water is currently the state’s only example. Everywhere else in the state, developers could be stopped by the eminent domain of water systems. You would think that such a bill would require extensive public debate. You’d be wrong. Deltic Timber pre-emptively co-opts six of the seven senators of the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee, to which the bill is assigned. It does so by lining them up as co-sponsors. This is a common power play. A special interest selects a senator in a key committee spot, in this case Bob Johnson of Bigelow, as its point man. He explains the innocent virtue of the matter to his committee colleagues. His version prevails with these colleagues, thanks to their courtesy and the fact that there is no competing version. That’s because the other side has no idea what’s being done to it in legislative back alleys. This assures that the bill will be out of committee and on the Senate floor before you can say, “This water tastes funny.” Meanwhile, there is Sen. Shane Broadway of Bryant. He is becoming known for his mix of occasionally strong leadership, as on school facilities, and his occasional straddling of controversial issues, as on much of everything else. He goes to Benton for a chamber of commerce breakfast. A reporter for the Little Rock paper, working on a profile of Broadway, attends. A man in the audience pipes up that he works for Central Arkansas Water and asks Broadway why he won’t let the water company protect the water supply. Broadway tells the gentlemen that he respects people on both sides and sees both sides. What Broadway fails to mention, according to the article profiling him, is the little fact that he is one of 21 co-sponsors of the bill — enough to pass it in the 35-member Senate. I send an e-mail to Broadway to ask if the newspaper account is accurate. He replies that it is, although the fuller context is that man knew he was a sponsor of the bill. Broadway agrees to meet later with the man. Maybe the senator will change his mind on his own bill. Dealing with the public in the light of day sometimes can take some of the grease right off the skids.
Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by John Brummett

  • Obstruction is the preferred conservatism

    Is there greater conservative virtue in opposing federal health reform, period, or in saying it ought to be implemented locally instead of from Washington in the event we are unavoidably laden with it?
    • Oct 5, 2011
  • A fate not quite as bad as prison for Lu Hardin

    There is no crime in being overly and transparently solicitous for the purposes of aggrandizement and personal political advancement. That's simply acute neediness, a common and benign human frailty.
    • Sep 28, 2011
  • Can we talk? Can we get anywhere?

    Dialogue is good. It would be even better if someone would venture off script every once in a while.
    • Sep 21, 2011
  • More »

More by Max Brantley

  • Ad man Heathcott sues CJRW for damages in ouster

    Gary Heathcott the long-time ad and PR man who now lives in San Antonio has sued CJRW, the major ad and PR firm, over its severing of a consulting deal with him last year and asks $1.3 million in actual damages plus unspecified punitive damages.
    • Dec 18, 2018
  • Court dismisses ethics complaints against Kavanaugh

    The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has dismissed numerous judicial ethics complaints against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh because the law exempts Supreme Court members, even for acts committed as a judge covered by the law. In short: Bart O'Kavanaugh is above the law.
    • Dec 18, 2018
  • In face of blowback, state will slow down assisted living cuts

    Brett Rains of 40/29 is tweeting from the Capitol that the Department of Human Services is slowing its push for cuts in reimbursements for home health aides that critics have said could force many people into more expensive nursing home and force companies that provide the services out of business.
    • Dec 18, 2018
  • More »

Latest in John Brummett

  • Gone to the DoG

    We're now longer carrying John Brummett's column in this space.
    • Oct 12, 2011
  • Obstruction is the preferred conservatism

    Is there greater conservative virtue in opposing federal health reform, period, or in saying it ought to be implemented locally instead of from Washington in the event we are unavoidably laden with it?
    • Oct 5, 2011
  • A fate not quite as bad as prison for Lu Hardin

    There is no crime in being overly and transparently solicitous for the purposes of aggrandizement and personal political advancement. That's simply acute neediness, a common and benign human frailty.
    • Sep 28, 2011
  • More »

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: No leash

    • I used to believe I wasn't a cat person, till I had my first cat…

    • on December 18, 2018
  • Re: No leash

    • I once had a cat -- Earl was his name -- who loved to ride…

    • on December 17, 2018
  • Re: Beware of 'unity'

    • I like this opinion piece of yours published on my 71st birthday. My best friend…

    • on December 17, 2018
 

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation