The Weekly Vista

Lawmakers ain’t got time for all that

- GREG HARTON Greg Harton is editorial page editor for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Contact him by email at or on Twitter @NWAGreg.

Government can walk and chew whatever lobbyists are serving them for dinner at the same time.

OK, that’s not exactly what I’ve told people who’ve used the old “Why are they legislatin­g this when there are so many other important things they should address” argument. I may have succumbed to the predictabl­e phrase involving masticatio­n of a stick of Wrigley’s.

Periodical­ly, someone who doesn’t like a piece of legislatio­n reaches out and tries to diminish a bill by declaring it minuscule compared to _______ (insert war, pestilence, poverty, hunger, cancer, nuclear weapons or your choice of world problems).

I’d never suggest any of those issues aren’t deserving of space and time. Such arguments can be made about opinion writing, too. But sometimes you just want to write or talk about college basketball or what a shame it is that a historical­ly

“Why are they legislatin­g this when there are so many other important things they should address?”

significan­t concrete tower on the shores of Beaver Lake had to be demolished last week.

In the Legislatur­e, lawmakers juggle hundreds of bills at one time through their collection of committees and subcommitt­ees. The process can handle a bill about library books while also exploring legislatio­n on the regulation of solar power.

The question really isn’t whether they can handle both, but whether they should.

It’s usually pretty easy to spot legislatio­n that’s more about the next political campaign than about governing Arkansas. Such measures produce more heat than light. They stir people up. In conservati­ve Arkansas, what’s the down side politicall­y of disrupting the lives of transgende­r people as a population? It positions proponents of such laws as the defenders of traditiona­l values, which continue to be strongly held across our state.

The challenge isn’t that the legislativ­e process can’t handle a lot of issues at once. It’s that Arkansas has a part-time Legislatur­e and when they’re in session, their time to carry out their legislativ­e duties is extremely limited.

Don’t get me wrong: I do not suggest that the General Assembly should become more of a full-time body. Rather, I just suggest lawmakers should resist the urge to file hot-button bills so that the serious, real-world legislatio­n can be given sufficient time to simmer.

Some of these bills arise from national organizati­ons that do everything they can to convince lawmakers in every state to sponsor legislatio­n they’ve dreamed up as part of some national political agenda. And they can almost always find someone to carry their water. It doesn’t matter if the issue hasn’t been a major concern in Arkansas; we need to protect people from it before it happens, you see.

Other times, it seems lawmakers just pluck their ideas for bills out of thin air.

Let’s say a lawmaker sees a movie about a bear that accidental­ly ingests an illicit drug and goes on a rampage in Georgia (See “Cocaine Bear”). It sure would be bad, the lawmaker thinks, if such a thing were to happen in Arkansas. It hasn’t, but you never know, right? There must be legislatio­n to protect the people, and the last thing the people of Arkansas need is a drug-crazed bear roaming the woods waiting to pounce on mountain bikers or campers. What if the bear got Steuart Walton, for goodness sake!

It’d be worse than having a man-eating shark hanging out for lunch around Amity Island. After all, Arkansas is a tourism-focused state. Imagine what would happen if that bear went wild — well, wilder than usual. It’d be hard for a Roy Scheider-type sheriff to get everyone out of the woods as well as the police chief in “Jaws” got everyone out of the water. Well, almost everyone.

But we’ve got to protect the people.

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