The regular session of the 93rd General Assembly is in the rearview mirror. And while there is plenty to celebrate from our last four months of work – aside from having finally crossed the finish line – I find myself troubled by some of the bills that have become laws and their inevitable consequences on our state and her people.
The “Arkansas Sovereignty Act” immediately comes to mind as one such needless action that will undoubtedly cost Arkansans in numerous ways. I hate to see hard-earned Arkansas tax dollars wasted, as we will certainly see in defending the Arkansas Sovereignty Act. Knowing full well the consequences of overriding the Governor’s veto of Senate Bill 298, 21 of my Senate colleagues chose to override at the risk of dismissing over 800 active court cases, the loss of $18 million in federal dollars to the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, and the criminalization of our local law enforcement officials simply for doing their jobs. They knew those would be the consequences, and they proceeded with their override of the veto because they were afraid of being primaried for not appeasing some within their base that did not understand those consequences. They were scared of being seen as not tough or conservative enough, and they would instead put our state in jeopardy to protect their right-wing bona fides than do the responsible thing.
The bill we ended up with that has become law was aptly named House Bill 1957. That’s because the last time our state decided to stand in defiance of the federal government was in 1957 to disastrous results. This partisan farce will certainly end poorly, too.
I have close friends across the aisle, and I’m both shocked and amazed to hear them say things like, “They’re coming for our guns.” I must wonder if they genuinely believe what they are saying or feel they have to say these things to get re-elected. Do they really think the federal government is coming for our guns, or do they say these things to curry favor with the NRA?
There has not been one single piece of significant gun legislation in the United States since 1994. In those 27 years, no one has “come for our guns.” But what we have seen, though, during that time is the effective use of scare tactics to drive up gun and ammunition sales any time a Democrat moves into the White House. From the time Obama took office in 2009 to when he left office in 2017, the total economic impact of the firearms and ammunition industry in the U.S. increased from $19.1 billion to $49.3 billion. Americans purchased more than $29.1 billion in firearms and $16.6 billion in ammunition during his two terms in the White House. When President Trump took office, gun and ammunition purchases decreased significantly. Nobody’s coming for our guns, but manufacturers are coming for our wallets. And they’re using these phony threats and scare tactics, peddled by state lawmakers like the ones who passed the Arkansas Sovereignty Act, to do so.
And while the consequences of HB1957 may not be as harsh as they would have been under SB298, we will still most certainly see taxpayer dollars thrown away defending a piece of legislation that lawmakers knew was unconstitutional when they drafted and voted for it. With the help of my friends Sens. Chesterfield and Hendren, I tried to pass a bill that would provide some transparency to the people of Arkansas on how their tax dollars were being spent to defend legislation lawmakers knew would be challenged. These individuals wouldn’t waste their own money so recklessly, but they have no problem wasting tax dollars on their partisan crusades. I borrowed the same language used in a similar bill that called for transparency in reporting the impact of federal mandates. But apparently, some lawmakers only care about transparency when it is politically expedient for them and their next race. The bill was killed in committee.
The same folks bemoaning federal mandates on state governments have also passed down needless, unwanted mandates of their own on local governments within our state.
In this legislative session, we had such a tremendous opportunity to do great things for the people of Arkansas. We are on the verge of defeating COVID-19. COVID numbers have been falling. Our unemployment numbers or falling. And we did manage to do some good over the last four months. But instead of being remembered for how we secured the state’s rainy-day fund for years to come, this session will be remembered for the folly of the Arkansas Sovereignty Act. Instead of being remembered for saving Arkansan’s millions in taxes, this session will be remembered for how we forced through needless voter restriction laws. Instead of being remembered for giving our teachers substantive raises, this session will be remembered for how we allowed vulnerable transgender children to become victims of a shameful culture war. This session will be remembered by the foolish solutions searching for imaginary problems that resulted in issues that never existed.
Shame on us.