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Legislative low points 

Here is a prejudiced summary of some of the work of the 84th Arkansas General Assembly: LOAN SHARKS: The interest charged by outfits that make quick loans is the seventh highest in the U.S.A. — 57.7 percent and sometimes as high at 300 percent. Rep. Jay Martin of North Little Rock and Sen. Tim Wooldridge of Paragould wrote a bill that would have set a maximum no higher than 17 percent, but it never got out of committee. SUPERANNUATED: Rep. Bob Mathis of Hot Springs complained that legislators get retirement pay only after they have served 10 years, whereas other state “employees” draw retirement after only five years. Mathis tried to fix this with a bill but it got nowhere. After all, legislators are paid $14,067 a year and they work only about 90 days every two years. JEFFERSONIAN: Rep. Buddy Blair, a Methodist from Fort Smith, presented the House with a resolution to reaffirm the principle of separation of church and state. Blair said churches seemed to be telling legislators how to vote instead of voting their conscience. But the senators rejected it 44 to 39, with 17 not voting. PLAYING COPS: Upset by young people and immigrants buying liquor with phony drivers’ licenses, Sen. Shawn Womack and Rep. Johnny Key of Mountain Home drew up a bill that said that the stores’ employees should call the police and “detain” those people in their store until the police arrived. It was approved by both houses. STRONG ARMS: Sen. Jim Argue of Little Rock presented a bill that would raise the piddly taxes on farms, timberland and pasture property. The popular and powerful lobbyists got busy, and, of course, the bill went nowhere. FIREWORKS: As he has done since 1997, Rep. Jay Bradford of Pine Bluff asked for the passage of a law that would prevent the sale of bottle rockets, which often blow out kids’ eyes. He went before the Senate Committee on Public Health, which must be filled with July 4 fans because they blew the bill to pieces. NO MOVIES: When an 87-year-old woman was beaten to death in a Fordyce nursing home, Rep. Stephen Bright of Maumelle decided to try to pass a law that would allow video surveillance cameras installed in patients’ rooms. The nursing home industry rewrote the bill, which was named the Willie Mae Bryan Patient Protection Act for the woman who died in Fordyce. Around the Capitol it was called “the granny cam bill,” but many lobbyists and the senators didn’t like anything about it. GRATEFULNESS: By Senate tradition, Sen. David Bisbee of Rogers, the senior senator who has led the movement for better education in Arkansas, should be the president pro tempore for the next session on account of seniority. However, some Democrats couldn’t tolerate the idea of a Republican ever holding that office, so in a secret vote, a majority of senators voted to dump Bisbee and appoint Sen. Jack Critcher, a Democrat from Grubbs seldom heard from. ECONOMY: Sen. Ruth Whitaker of Cedarville went before a House committee and presented a bill that calls for only one school superintendent for every county. So instead of the 254 superintendents we have now, we would just have 75. It would save $40 million a year. It didn’t take but a minute for Jimmy Cunningham, a superintendent and a lobbyist for the others, to go to work, and her bill was lost. MAN EATERS: Apparently there are lots of people in Arkansas who have lions, tigers and bears for pets, according to Rep. Phillip Jackson of Berryville, who thinks they are dangerous. He wants those with the pets to keep them but he wants a law passed that no one else can have such pets around the house. His colleagues laughed and said a pet’s a pet. PRIGGISH: Rep. Joyce Elliott of Little Rock worked hard to get the Senate to give state-funded scholarships to children of illegal aliens. However, the Senate, uneasy about Mexicans, said no. Elliott, a school teacher, probably will tell her students that most Americans are not like that, especially the Pilgrims. A hundred years after they arrived, three out of four Americans had come to this country from England, Germany, Ireland, Holland, France and Switzerland without passports and built this country. THE FUTURE: Two House members, Dwayne Dobbins of North Little Rock and Charles Ormond of Morrilton (who wanted the legislature to allow casino gambling and put him in charge of it) introduced a proposal to keep senators and representatives longer than the eight years for senators and six for representatives. But the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee paid no attention to it, largely because of the whipping a similar term-limits extension amendment got at the polls last year. After writing and reading all this, I now think we ought to wait three more years and try to get rid of term limits altogether. After all, six of the 21 term-limited states have gone back to no limits for the people elected. The six states decided they had gotten better lawmakers with the old way.
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