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The era of Big Government is supposed to be over, but state Sen. Denny Altes didn’t get the memo. He wants to grow government even bigger.

Altes, a Fort Smith Republican, is sponsoring a bill that would require the state Health Division to keep records on every Arkansan who takes certain prescribed drugs. The patient’s name, address, the amount of the drug, the name of the prescribing physician, the source of payment for the drug, and much more information that is none of the state’s business would have to be provided by pharmacists to the Health Division. The Health Division then would share the information – supposedly, with law enforcement agencies and professional licensing boards only, although whenever this information is kept it’s apt to fall into what are called “the wrong hands.” Actually, there are no “right hands” for this kind of data.

Patients, physicians and pharmacists all would be at risk under SB 20. Patients would be denied their privacy and perhaps their freedom. They’d suffer greater discomfort, too. Doctors who already under-prescribe pain medication for fear of harassment by prosecuting attorneys, medical licensing boards and various “drug warriors” would be intimidated into prescribing even less.

The alleged purpose of SB 20 is to stop the illegal sale of prescription drugs, but the danger from loss of liberty is far greater. As always, the ACLU is defending the individual against abuses by the government. Rita Sklar of the ACLU told legislators that the bill would create “just another giant government database, including sensitive personal information that could easily be leaked, sold or used for purposes not described.”

On Monday, the Senate referred SB 20 back to committee, after a discussion during which Altes graciously suggested that one of his colleagues might be a drug dealer. Hopefully, the bill will stay in committee. A vote for SB 20 is a vote to put Arkansans more firmly under the governmental thumb.

Lobby control

The Senate did more good work Monday, approving a bill to bar former legislators from turning lobbyist for one year after they leave office. A sizeable caucus could be assembled by the former legislators now using not-so-old acquaintances to influence state policy, often for the worse. Restraint is called for. Sen. Robert Thompson, D-Paragould, the sponsor of SB 16, notes that much of Arkansas’s existing ethics-in-government law was adopted not by the legislature but by popular vote. It’s time, he says, for legislators to show they can police themselves. Now the House of Representatives has a chance to make that showing.

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