Council rejects panel on race
Representatives on the Arkansas Legislative Council on Friday rejected a proposal to create a race relations subcommittee. The proposed subcommittee…
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  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.
Metro on 09/16/2017
Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Council rejects panel on race