Coun­cil re­jects panel on race

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - MICHAEL R. WICKLINE

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives on the Arkansas Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil on Fri­day re­jected a pro­posal to cre­ate a race re­la­tions sub­com­mit­tee.

The pro­posed sub­com­mit­tee would have con­ducted a study of race re­la­tions “with the goal of pro­vid­ing rec­om­men­da­tions on ways to ad­dress his­toric and cur­rent di­vi­sions within the state.” The panel was to have submitted a fi­nal re­port to the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil by Dec. 1, 2018. The panel would have had four Repub­li­cans and four Democrats and was to have ex­pired on Dec. 18, 2018.

Nine House mem­bers on the coun­cil — five Democrats and four Repub­li­cans — voted for the pro­posal, while 13 Repub­li­can rep­re­sen­ta­tives voted against it, ac­cord­ing to records of leg­isla­tive staff. Be­cause it failed on the House side, sen­a­tors on the coun­cil didn’t vote.

Foes of the pro­posal said they agreed with the aim of the pro­posed sub­com­mit­tee but main­tained there are other ways to ac­com­plish that.

To amend the coun­cil’s rules takes votes of ap­proval by two-thirds of House and Se­nate mem­bers. That would be 22 of the 32 House mem­bers on the coun­cil, said Bureau of Leg­isla­tive Re­search Di­rec­tor Marty Gar­rity.

A coun­cil co-chair­man, Sen. Bill Sam­ple, R-Hot Springs, said he didn’t ask sen­a­tors on the coun­cil to con­sider the pro­posal be­cause the vote would have been ir­rel­e­vant. The votes of 19 of the 28 sen­a­tors on the coun­cil are re­quired for a pro­posed rule change, Gar­rity said.

Pro­po­nents of the race re­la­tions sub­com­mit­tee — pro­posed by Se­nate Repub­li­can leader Jim Hen­dren of Sul­phur Springs and Demo­cratic Sen. Joyce El­liott of Lit­tle Rock — said it would re­quire law­mak­ers to be­gin dis­cussing and tack­ling mat­ters that haven’t re­ceived much at­ten­tion.

“We are get­ting ready to com­mem­o­rate the [1957] cri­sis,” Sen. Ja­son Rapert, R-Bigelow, told fel­low law­mak­ers dur­ing a de­bate last­ing about 40 min­utes over the pro­posal. It took more than three years in Lit­tle Rock and else­where to im­ple­ment the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court rul­ing that struck down the “sep­a­rate but equal” doc­trine to end school seg­re­ga­tion with “all de­lib­er­ate speed.”

“I can’t find any­thing wrong and see a whole lot right with the Leg­is­la­ture tak­ing a lead role in dis­cussing th­ese is­sues,” Rapert said. “There’s prob­a­bly never been a time in my life­time, 45 years, where I have seen more dis­con­tent that has been voiced in dif­fer­ent places.

“It is in­ter­est­ing to me that with all that we’ve gone through here in the state that we never had a Leg­is­la­ture com­mit­tee that ac­tu­ally took time to lead on the is­sue and lead in a pos­i­tive man­ner,” Rapert said.

Rep. Lane Jean, R-Mag­no­lia, said he views the pro­posed sub­com­mit­tee as du­pli­cat­ing the Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Com­mis­sion’s mis­sion.

“I think we can en­cour­age them to do more on this front, but we al­ready have a state com­mis­sion that I sup­port and we all vote for their fund­ing to do this,” said Jean, who is a co-chair­man of the Leg­is­la­ture’s Joint Bud­get Com­mit­tee.

“We also have in the De­part­ment of [Arkansas] Her­itage the Mo­saic [Tem­plars Cul­tural Cen­ter], which helps people un­der­stand the plight of African-Amer­i­cans. That’s very im­por­tant to this state. We fund that. We also have a Mi­nor­ity Health Com­mis­sion, which their mis­sion is the health of mi­nori­ties, be it the same stan­dard as ev­ery­body else in this. We fund that and I sup­port that,” Jean said.

In re­sponse to a ques­tion from Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lons­dale, Hen­dren said he and El­liott dis­cussed pos­si­ble leg­is­la­tion dur­ing this year’s reg­u­lar ses­sion, but they didn’t get it done by the fil­ing dead­line.

“We didn’t know for cer­tain how it would be struc­tured and what it should do,” Hen­dren said.

Hen­dren said he and El­liott met with Gar­rity, the leg­isla­tive staff di­rec­tor, after the ses­sion and asked about op­tions.

“We were told this is re­ally the only mech­a­nism that you have to do what you are in­ter­ested in do­ing,” Hen­dren said. “The fact this [pro­posed rule change] takes two-thirds vote of both houses, and Joyce and I are very aware of the fact that this may fail be­cause it is a very high hur­dle to get over and we may have to come back and find an­other method that is either a lower bar or suc­cess­ful,” he said.

Hen­dren said the pro­posed sub­com­mit­tee would be funded through the Bureau of Leg­isla­tive Re­search’s bud­get.

Clark said that “fund­ing is a is­sue for me” be­cause as a for­mer co-chair­man of the Joint Per­for­mance Re­view Com­mit­tee, “I had to fight tooth and nail to get the fund­ing that we needed and … Sen. Hen­dren was a huge help.

“Sen. El­liott and I have worked on a lot of things, but she found the fund­ing for that com­mit­tee to be a prob­lem, a stand­ing com­mit­tee that is tasked with in­ves­ti­gat­ing with­out cre­at­ing any­thing new,” Clark said. “How we have this money to waste here when we didn’t have money to waste then, I’m cu­ri­ous about.”

Hen­dren replied, “I would dis­agree with the char­ac­ter­i­za­tion that this [pro­posed sub­com­mit­tee] is a waste of money.”

Clark coun­tered, “I dis­agree … I am us­ing the lan­guage that was used when I was looking for money” for the Joint Per­for­mance Re­view Com­mit­tee.

El­liott said she didn’t ob­ject to the Joint Per­for­mance Re­view Com­mit­tee “hav­ing fund­ing. My ques­tions were over how much that fund­ing should be in­creased, so that’s a very dif­fer­ent thing.” The Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil “makes th­ese [fund­ing] de­ci­sions, not the people … who make up the com­mit­tee,” she said.

Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, said El­liott is co-chair­man of the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil’s Char­i­ta­ble, Pe­nal and Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tions Sub­com­mit­tee and “prob­a­bly ev­ery­body in here would agree that those those type of [crim­i­nal jus­tice] top­ics would be good ones for her to share.”

Ballinger, chair­man of the House State Agen­cies and Govern­men­tal Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, said he would be happy for that com­mit­tee to ad­dress race re­la­tions is­sues, too.

Hen­dren said to re­porters after the coun­cil’s meet­ing that, “We chal­lenge them to do what they said they were go­ing to do, which is to be­gin to work on this is­sue in stand­ing com­mit­tees and in cur­rent com­mit­tees, and we’ll see if they do it or not.”

“I hope that they do, and if not we’ll try some­thing in the ses­sion,” he said.

El­liott said the vote “was a deep dis­ap­point­ment.”

“When you get nine votes for some­thing that is this im­por­tant, I think that shows as much as any­thing how des­per­ately we need to have th­ese con­ver­sa­tions. We have this much dis­con­nect,” she said to re­porters.

Pro­po­nents of the race re­la­tions sub­com­mit­tee — pro­posed by Se­nate Repub­li­can leader Jim Hen­dren of Sul­phur Springs and Demo­cratic Sen. Joyce El­liott of Lit­tle Rock — said it would re­quire law­mak­ers to be­gin dis­cussing and tack­ling mat­ters that haven’t re­ceived much at­ten­tion.

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