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Courage, stress seen on solons in 93rd session

February 17, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

The tenor and tone of several issues before the Arkansas General Assembly has been less than cordial of late.

In fact, one state senator, Stephanie Flowers of Pine Bluff, lost her cool and was later reprimanded for calling a fellow senator "a dumbass" while on the floor of the upper chamber in Little Rock.

And that is just one instance worth mentioning in this space at this mid-point in the 90-day political experiment known as a legislative session.

The spate of education bills on seeking to levy penalties against school districts that chose to include a curriculum on slavery or allow any public debates or forums on such topics not found in the three "Rs" of education also caused some hard votes for legislators.

Take for instance a Facebook message from Gayla Hendren McKenzie.

"Today, in the education committee meeting, I cast a very difficult vote against HB1231. This bill would have prohibited K-12 public schools from teaching the Project 1619 Curriculum. HB1231 failed to make it out of committee," she wrote.

"This was a difficult vote for a couple of reasons. First, I don't believe that the 1619 Project is suitable as a history curriculum in K-12 schools. I have heard from many constituents with similar concerns.

"However, even though I believe Project 1619 is not an appropriate history curriculum for schools, this bill contained a provision that would reduce funding to public schools that choose to teach the curriculum. How the funding reduction would be calculated and the almost certain litigation that it would invite caused me enough concern to cast a no vote."

Other politicians in both political parties have expressed the same sentiments.

Rep. McKenzie did what most even-tempered legislators will do, but not all, and it produced a good outcome -- even though the sponsors of the bill did not have their desired outcome.

"After speaking with folks on both sides of what is a very divisive issue, I was thankful to see there was still some common ground."

And some respect for others' opinions and others' proposed legislation.

Most of these narrowly targeted bills, trying to get the state to enter into legislating local curriculum, are thankfully defeated.

What most reasonable elected officials really want is to see parents be informed about this curriculum and encourage all to be engaged and be an active part of local control of the schools.

And that's the best outcome for a state with too many needs in places to try to force teachers and school districts into a one-sized box.

• • •

Some good things have come out of the 93rd General Assembly. The first winner of the Arkansas National Guard Association's "Legislator of the Week" was state Rep. Charlene Fite of District 80 in Western Washington and Western Crawford Counties. The award was presented to Fite for her continuing service to the National Guard and other military units in the state of Arkansas.

• • •

State Rep. Megan Godfrey of Springdale received some kudos from the state's largest newspaper for attempting to try to overcome a state law not allowing non-citizens to become policemen. But the House committee didn't like her bill and it was rejected. She was attempting to clarify the status of the Marshallese populations in Springdale (one of the largest in the nation). The Marshallese people have resident status in the U.S. but are not technically citizens and, under state law, ineligible to become policemen.

• • •

State Rep. David Whitaker, in committee this past week, took those who wanted to make voting absentee even harder than it is to task with a strong challenge to their bill. Rep. Whitaker's rejection of the bill as necessary made the framers of the legislation pull it back for a second look.

And the session continues ...

-- Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at [email protected] Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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