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Adoption ban proposal qualifies for ballot

LITTLE ROCK – A proposed ballot initiative to ban unmarried couples who live together from adopting or fostering children in Arkansas qualified for the November general election Monday, setting up a likely legal challenge by opponents to keep the measure from going before voters.

The secretary of state’s office announced a second batch of petitions submitted by supporters last week pushed the number of valid signatures of registered voters pushed the proposal past the 61,794-signature threshold for certification to the Nov. 4 ballot.

Signatures submitted by the initial July 1 deadline fell about 4,000 short, and supporters of the measure got another 30 days under state law to make up the difference. They turn in about 24,000 more last Thursday. A total of 85,379 signatures were certified as valid, according to the secretary of state’s office.

“We’re trying to put this measure in the hands of Arkansas voters and let them decide whether they want to protect children,” Jerry Cox, president of the Arkansas Family Council Action Committee, the Christian conservative group pushing the measure, said Monday.

However, even before the supplemental round of signature-gathering, opponents of the proposal said they would go to court to try to keep it off the ballot.

Debbie Willhite, spokeswoman for the group Arkansas Families First, said Monday a lawsuit challenging the proposed initiated act could be filed as early as next week, possibly alleging canvassing irregularities, discrimination against a class of people – unmarried, cohabiting adults – and that the ballot title is misleading.

“If we can’t keep it off the ballot, we’re going to put up a vigorous campaign to defeat this heinous proposal,” Willhite said.

Cox said he expects a legal challenge and believes the proposal will stand up in court. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, whose office certified the proposal’s name and ballot title but who has said he personally opposes it, said last week he believed the initiative had firm legal footing.

Challenging statewide ballot initiatives has had mixed results over the past two decades.

Four years ago, the Family Council won a legal challenge to the anti-gay marriage amendment it proposed and voters overwhelmingly approved the measure that defines marriage as only between and man and a woman. Two years earlier, the state Supreme Court turned back a legal challenge of a ballot proposal to eliminate the state sales tax on food and medicine. The measure failed at the polls.

In 1996, Arkansas’ highest court struck three of four proposed gambling amendments from the general election ballot. Voters rejected the one the Supreme Court left on the ballot.

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Charlie Daniels certified for the November ballot Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’ proposed constitutional amendment to authorize a state-run lottery to pay for college scholarships.

Two proposed constitutional amendments referred by the Legislature – one authorizing annual legislative sessions and the other removing outdated language from the constitution and loosening restrictions on who can serve as a poll worker – will appear on the ballot this fall, along with Arkansas Water Bond Act of 2008.

Posted in Arkansas News Bureau, NewsComments (0)

Lincoln or Halter? That’s the easy one

By John Brummett

I’m not seeking to exert influence here. I’m merely looking to shoot straight with readers. This is less an endorsement than a confession.

I stopped in for early-voting Monday. There was no one in line in front of me and the touch-screen devices were breezes. It was a thoroughly pleasant democratic exercise except for, you know, the choices.

It turns out that I need to bring you up to date on how I voted, only because I related in a column some weeks back that I’d told a pollster I was voting, with nose held ever more tightly, for U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

Discerning readers probably sensed what was happening over the last few weeks. I have related repeatedly — ad nauseum, nauseam, some say — my festering disenchantment with Lincoln’s cynically dishonest campaign.

In the end I simply could not reward her campaign with a vote.

Lincoln has persisted in vile mailers falsely accusing Bill Halter of out-sourcing jobs and wanting to harm Social Security when all he did was sit on a board of a company that placed a tiny percentage of newly created jobs in India and acknowledge a debate questioner’s premise that we need responsible spending increases and benefits cuts to make Social Security work in the long run.

Another mailer, this one creepy, smeared Halter as a participant in “shady drug deals.”

Lincoln’s excuse is that she’s taken special interest hits for two years over health care and labor issues, and is entitled to fight back.

She certainly is. But the better way — better than exploitation and misrepresentation — is called rapid response. The better tack is counter-punching.

You vigorously defend yourself and scoff at your attackers. You call their hand by making the election a referendum on you, a choice between what they say about you and what you say back in confident, authoritative defense of yourself.

But Lincoln obviously has not been confident enough in herself to call for that referendum.

She has pandered to some voters by distancing herself from Barack Obama and to others by embracing the president. She apparently assumes that neither of these groups is smart enough to see what she’s doing. That is to say she insults us.

She moved left on financial reform only for electoral purposes and then, according to a national business publication, had to rely on a more vigorous and committed colleague, Maria Cantwell of Washington, for defense of her new-found liberal position at a Senate Democratic caucus meeting.

Lincoln feigns liberalism on financial reform in Washington while a mysterious Republican group runs ads in her behalf attacking Halter.

Why would a Republican group back her now with John Boozman waiting for November? Is it that she’s approximately as good a Republican investment as Boozman? Or is that Republicans fear the outsider message of Halter?

So I went with Halter, who is smarter, supremely competent, superbly qualified by academic and work experience and perhaps more progressive.

I suspect, my little vote aside, that Lincoln might win without a runoff next week.

Anyway, all we’re doing here is picking someone to get beat in November.

Lincoln will be fine. She has big-time special interest lobbyist written all over her.

The Senate vote was hardly the most difficult on the ballot. It was a snap compared to my deliberations between John Fogleman and Courtney Henry for the Arkansas Supreme Court.

I’ll tell you all about that one in a weekend column and explain why I did what I did.

But what I remain forever certain of is that we need to get these judges nominated by the Arkansas Bar Association, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.

A voter deserving of no more respect than Blanche Lincoln extends is hardly qualified to pick a Supreme Court jurist.

John Brummett is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. His e-mail address is jbrummett@; his telephone number is (501) 374-0699.

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Oh, and Marion Berry retired, too

By John Brummett

Madness so pervades Arkansas politics that the announced retirement of an entrenched 14-year Democratic congressman who sits on the Appropriations Committee is the least of it.

Marion Berry has been getting tired of the grind for several years. I’m told he nearly retired two years ago.

He’s 67 and there have been health issues. He has an uncommonly expansive rural district, Arkansas’ 1st, stretching from the southeastern Delta nearly to Central Arkansas and all the way up to the north-central hills, and he has insisted on traveling it extensively.

Redistricting after this year’s census will gain the district yet more territory as it loses population share. Maybe it will pick up White County, where Republicans are popular.

There is the farm. There are grandkids.

Being a member of the House of Representatives isn’t all that. It’s pretty much drudgery if you’re in the minority in the current polarized climate.

Being in a big majority this year has been no cakewalk either, not when you represent a district that drubbed a president of your party by 20 points and while the woman who got you on Appropriations leans on you to give her just one vote, on health care.

Most likely this seat will remain Democratic. Even Republicans begrudgingly admit that. The region has not been represented by a Republican since Reconstruction, which is not to say stranger things haven’t happened. The district did, after all, favor John McCain over Barack Obama by 20 points.

The biggest theme right now in Arkansas, the 1st District aside, is a potential seminal shift. It’s an angry mood nationwide for incumbents, yes. But it seems potentially a little more than that in Arkansas.

It’s as if the perception of the Obama tilt of the national Democratic Party has threatened the comfortable conservative Democratic culture of the state. The extreme right in Arkansas is galvanized; the center is defensive; the left is irrelevant.

It begins with U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s extraordinary vulnerability, which has to do with Obama, and its domino effect.

She polls with such consistent and overwhelming weakness that there is open talk among Democrats that maybe she’d pull a Chris Dodd and do the party the favor of stepping aside so that Wes Clark or Mike Ross would run.

She seems highly unlikely to do that, having raised $5 million. She’s not very appreciative of this lack of respect from a party she’s worked hard to oblige while tending to a unique constituency with more diligence and competence than she gets credit for.

If Ross were to run for the Senate, that would send a half-dozen Southern Arkansas politicians into a race for Ross’ congressional seat from the 4th District of southern Arkansas. The district also likely would remain Democratic, though with less certainty than the 1st. Jay Dickey, a Republican, did, after all, represent it not too many years ago.

It seems fairly certain that U.S. Rep. John Boozman, the state’s only Republican congressman at the moment, will announce any day now for Lincoln’s seat. That’s mostly because of general dissatisfaction with the weakness of a nine-man Republican field and specifically with state Sen. Gilbert Baker’s inability to solidify himself as the establishment frontrunner.

Baker will have to decide whether to stay in a race for which he’s raised more than a half-million dollars. He vows he won’t try to drop down to Congress for the vacancy created by Vic Snyder’s retirement. I almost forgot to mention that development, since it was last week’s news. Republicans lead the polls for that vacancy.

If Boozman goes for the Senate, Asa Hutchinson will presumably want to go back to Congress, for some reason. And he’d win. Northwest Arkansas is staying Republican. There’s that certainty at least.

A congressional delegation stable through the 2000s at 5-1 Democratic conceivably could be 3-3 this time next year. I’d think 2-4 is very unlikely. But we’ve been 3-3 before, in the late ‘90s when when Dickey was in Congress and Tim Hutchinson was in the Senate.

The only other thing certain is that Democrat Mike Beebe will run for re-election as governor and win to keep the ship steady over choppy waters. I think. But I probably ought to hold on to this column until shortly before deadline, just in case.

John Brummett is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. His e-mail address is jbrummett@; his telephone number is (501) 374-0699.

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Is this cynicism run amok?

By John Brummett

In the recent Democratic primary, U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln sent out a mailer putting challenger Bill Halter’s face inside a pill bottle and accusing him of “shady drug deals.”

This was based on Halter’s membership on the board of some pharmaceutical venture that got sued over its promotion of a cancer drug.

I wrote day after day of my outrage over such a dishonest and vicious tactic. So an aide to Lincoln tried to calm me by saying I obviously had a problem with negative attacks in primaries — you know, against one of one’s own party.

It wasn’t obvious to me. I don’t think I object to negative attacks in primaries, though I did admire Republican Gilbert Baker for modulating his against John Boozman. Actually, I rather enjoyed Halter’s broadsides on Lincoln.

But I’m quite sure I’d object anytime to incendiary lies, smears and near-libel.

So, anyway, Halter got up at the state Democratic convention a couple of weeks ago and mouthed his obligatory endorsement of the party ticket, including the candidate who suggested he was a drug dealer.

Apparently the thing about vicious lies in primaries is that they are to be forgiven perfunctorily.

That brings us to the 2nd Congressional District. The Democrats had a runoff there a few weeks ago.

In it, House Speaker Robbie Wills of Conway put out a mailer accusing state Sen. Joyce Elliott of “extreme views” on guns, school prayer and abortion that would render her unelectable in November against the looming Rovian nominee on the Republican side, Tim Griffin.

Elliott and her supporters came nearly unglued that Wills would do such a horrid thing. Ironically, their high offense seemed to entail an implicit denial of the previously proud liberalism by which Elliott commanded this very level of devotion.

I got myself in a crack with the liberal base by writing that, unlike Lincoln’s charges against Halter, Wills’ accusations at least were relevant to issues and, well, kind of true.

Anyway, Elliott, who won the nomination, announced the other day that Wills will be her general election campaign chairman in his home Faulkner County.

So let me explain everyone’s motivation, after which I’ll leave to you any judgment about whether this is all cynicism run amok:

—Lincoln loves being a U.S. senator and was frantic because she was about to get beat by Halter’s labor money. She had such high negatives herself that she had to drive some into him. Halter didn’t have much of a public record for her to lie about or criticize. All she had to go on were his obscure business associations. She never really believed Halter was a shady drug dealer and doesn’t want to be held accountable for such obvious nonsense now that the voting is done.

—Halter wants to keep open his political options. One loss doesn’t end a career. So he had to climb out of the pill bottle and mouth a few rote and hollow words reflective of a loyal Democrat.

—Elliott is afraid Wills was right that she is unelectable. But one thing that might enhance her electability would be an alliance with Wills among moderates in Faulkner County. So now she partners up with that bad man who did such bad things.

—Wills also might want to seek office again. He wants to rehabilitate himself from his utter reeling over the harsh backlash against his tactics against Elliott. So he goes happily to work for the election of the one he so recently pronounced unelectable.

There’s a common denominator here: It’s that no one should pay much attention to anything any of them says.

John Brummett is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. His e-mail address is jbrummett@; his telephone number is (501) 374-0699.

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Supporters submit 31,000 more signatures for adoption ban measure

LITTLE ROCK – Supporters of an initiative that would ban unmarried people who live together from adopting or fostering children turned in another 31,012 signatures Thursday in their effort to get the proposal on the November general election ballot.

“I am confident the secretary of state will find enough valid signatures in this supplemental filing to ensure our place on the ballot,” Jerry Cox, president of the Family Council Action Committee, said at a state Capitol news conference after turning the additional signatures over to Secretary of State Charlie Daniels’ office.

Cox said the additional signatures bring the total number gathered to 96,911. The committee had 30 days extra days to gather additional signatures under state law after the more than 65,000 names submitted by the July 7 deadline fell about 4,000 short of the 61,794 required for certification.

Cox also said he is confident the proposal will withstand any legal challenge. Arkansas Families First, a group opposing the measure, has said it would file a lawsuit to try to keep the proposal off the ballot.

“This is such a heinous law for the children who need loving parents,” Arkansas Families First spokeswoman Debbie Willhite said, adding that the measure would reduce the number of people eligible to adopt or foster children in the state.

“This ballot initiative is detrimental to children,” added Aimee Berry, executive director of the Arkansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “I think we should be expanding the pool of perspective parents instead of shrinking it.”

She said decisions on who can or cannot adopt should be left up to those trained to do so, such as social workers and juvenile judges.

Both opponents attended Thursday’s news conference.

Posted in Arkansas News Bureau, NewsComments (0)

Sacrificed on altar of deficit reduction

By John Brummett

“I’m going to reduce your influence in Washington. I’m not going to lift a finger to help you when you get in trouble.

“My job will be to tell all of you unemployed people of Arkansas that you can’t have extended unemployment compensation benefits. And it will be to tell all of you Arkansas farmers that you’re not going to get any special flood relief out of me.

“And, oh, by the way, I’d sure appreciate your vote in November.”

All right, I admit it: I’m doing a bad thing there. Sorry.

Those quotation marks are inappropriate. John Boozman, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, did not actually say that.

The quotation marks represent, instead, a verbatim account of the words occurring inside my head as I provide my paraphrase for the apparent theme of Boozman’s general election campaign thus far.

Take what happened Tuesday.

Because Boozman leads widely in polls against the Democratic incumbent, Blanche Lincoln, the Republicans are targeting you, the Arkansas voter, for the fall.

In that regard, the Republicans sent the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, to the state to make a campaign appearance for Boozman, as if McConnell could be of any help, which I seriously doubt.

It would be fair to say, though, that he doesn’t hurt Boozman as much as Barack Obama or Harry Reid would hurt Lincoln if she were to invite them, which, I am fairly certain, she would not.

So McConnell promised while here that he would name Boozman to the Senate Agriculture Committee the minute Arkansas voters send Boozman to the Senate.

In other words, he asked Arkansas voters to throw out the chairman of the Agriculture Committee in exchange for a freshman member of that committee, and, most likely, a minority freshman member. That’s because, while Republicans will make significant gains this fall, it is not a good bet that they can overturn the Democrats’ 60-40 59-41 majority.

If service on the Agriculture Committee is so important that McConnell wishes to assure us that he would install Boozman there instantly, then we might be given to ask ourselves why we would rid ourselves of the very chairmanship of that committee that we have already.

Anyway, what good would service on the Agriculture Committee be if Boozman continued the essence of his decade’s House membership by voting a strict, reflexive party line against everything?

Is McConnell, who would be Boozman’s puppeteer, asking us to be so noble as to replace a spending Agriculture Committee chairman with a nonspending Agriculture Committee member, one who would only pursue fair and objective national agriculture policies without regard for any special regional needs confronting his own constituent farmers?

As Lincoln’s press person was all too happy to point out, Boozman is against Lincoln’s special disaster relief program for Arkansas farmers. This press person also threw in that Boozman has voted nearly two dozen times against extending or expanding unemployment compensation benefits for Arkansans long out of work.

Here’s what Republicans are betting on in this midterm election cycle, at least in Arkansas: It is that we are so angry about Obama, the accumulation of government authority and the exploding deficit that we will replace a veteran senator often allied with Obama and positioned to spend in our behalf with a freshman senator of the other party who tells us it’s in our greater long-term interest to stop spending.

At some point Lincoln probably is going to say this: I’m for getting the deficit down, too. But I don’t think we need for Arkansas, with all its needs, to offer itself up unilaterally as a sacrificial lamb on the altar of reduced federal spending. There are a lot of ways to get the deficit down, but I don’t think the place to start is with flooded Arkansas farmers and the Arkansas unemployed.

As I said last week, this race will tighten quite a bit.

John Brummett is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. His e-mail address is jbrummett@; his telephone number is (501) 374-0699.

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House narrowly passes bill to allow guns in church

House narrowly passes bill to allow guns in church

By John Lyon and Rob Moritz
Arkansas News Bureau

LITTLE ROCK — The state House on Wednesday narrowly passed a bill to allow concealed weapons permit holders to bring their guns to church. Its fate will now rest with the Senate.

The Senate Wednesday approved measures that would prohibit drivers from texting, ban cell phone use by drivers under 18, and require drivers 18 to 20 to use only a hands-free cell phone while driving.

House Bill 1237, the church-guns bill, won approval on a 57-42 vote. The bill by Rep. Beverly Pyle, R-Cedarville, would amend state law to remove churches and other places of worship from the list of places where people with permits are not allowed to carry guns.

“Due to many shootings that have happened in our churches across our nation, it is time we changed our concealed handgun law to allow law-abiding citizens of the state of Arkansas the right to defend themselves and others should a situation happen in one of our churches,” Pyle told House members.

If the bill becomes law, churches could decide whether to allow guns, Pyle said.

Several legislators spoke on both sides of the issue. Rep. Steve Breedlove, D-Fort Smith, a Church of Christ minister, said he did not want to have to post signs or people at his church door to keep guns out.

“Having guns in church will not stop some lunatic from coming into your building and shooting somebody,” Breedlove said. “Ronald Reagan was completely surrounded by armed guards, but he was still shot. That is why we must put our faith in God and not in something else.”

Rep. Lindsley Smith, D-Fayetteville, spoke for the bill. She said bars and churches are the only places where the current law bans guns, and if churches are on the list for religious reasons, that may be unconstitutional.

“I knew it was going to be close,” Pyle said after the vote. “I just didn’t know how close.”

Pyle said she will now focus on winning over members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the bill goes next.

“I know that there’s several on there that support Second Amendment rights, but I also know that there’s some that will have problems with it,” she said. “We’re just going to have to work through that if we can move it forward.”

In the Senate, House Bill 1119 by Rep. Allen Kerr, R-Little Rock, which would ban cell use by drivers under 18 and limit drivers 18 to 20 to using only hand-free cell phone devices, was approved 35-0.

Under the bill, a person would receive a warning on first offense and could face up to a $50 fine on second offense, said Sen. David Johnson, D-Little Rock, who presented the measure on the Senate floor.

He said the bill was an amended version of bills filed by Kerr and Sen. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette.

The measure goes back to the House for approval of Senate amendments.

The Senate also approved HB 1013 by Rep. Ray Kidd, D-Jonesboro, which would prohibit drivers from texting.

The bill, which was approved 27-2, also goes back to the House for approval of amendments.

Sen. Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith, said the measure was filed in honor of Paul Davidson, who was killed last year in a wreck in which the other driver was sending a text message.

A driver caught texting would face a warning on first offense and a fine of up to $100 on second offense.

During brief debate, some senators questioned how an officer would be able to tell if someone was texting, or simply dialing a number on their cell phone.

The House also approved:

  • HB 1046, aka The Freedom to Farm Act, by Rep. Roy Ragland, R-Marshall. The bill would prevent Arkansas animal owners from being required to register or enroll in an animal electronic identification program.
  • HB 1148 by Rep. Clark Hall, D-Marvell, which would authorize the state Highway Commission to issue a special permit to allow vehicles transporting certain products to exceed maximum weight allowances.
  • HB 1372 by Rep. Johnnie Roebuck, D-Arkadelphia, which would grant subpoena power to the state Department of Education and the Professional Standards Licensure Board.
  • HB 1382 by Rep. Barry Hyde, D-North Little Rock, which would increase fines for misdemeanor offenses and allow cities and counties to collect an additional fine of $20 from a defendant upon conviction, to support jails and defray the cost of incarcerating prisoners.
  • SB 33 by Sen. Robert Thompson, D-Paragould. The bill would prohibit the state Court of Appeals from issuing “unpublished” opinions, or opinions that lawyers are not allowed to cite in a filing or oral argument.

Posted in Arkansas News Bureau, Legislature, NewsComments (5)

Regulators allow power plant construction to continue

Regulators allow power plant construction to continue

By John Lyon
Arkansas News Bureau

LITTLE ROCK — Construction of a coal-fired power plant in Southwest Arkansas can continue, the state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission ruled today.

The commission rejected a petition by the Sierra Club and the National Audubon Society to halt construction of Shreveport, La.-based Southwestern Electric Power Co.’s $1.6 billion John W. Turk Jr. Power Plant near Fulton in Hempstead County.

Construction was halted last year after the Sierra Club and the National Audubon Society challenged state regulators’ decisions to grant permits for the plant, but In December the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission granted a request from SWEPCO to resume construction while the appeals were pending.

The groups opposing the plant argued today that the commission should reinstate the stay of construction because of recent events that they said changed the circumstances of the case, including a June ruling by the state Court of Appeals that overturned the state Public Service Commission’s decision to grant SWEPCO a permit for the plant.

The petitioners also argued that an federal Environmental Protection Agency order issued in August, concerning a coal plant in Kentucky, defined requirements under the federal Clean Air Act that SWEPCO has not met.

SWEPCO attorney Kelly McQueen told the commission that SWEPCO has asked the state Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeals’ decision, and permits for the plant will remain in effect until the Supreme Court either makes a decision or declines to take up the case.

McQueen also argued that claims SWEPCO did not follow the Clean Air Act were without merit and were not raised in a timely manner.

If construction were halted, 920 construction workers would be out of a job, McQueen said. Another 440 people the company planned to hire would not be hired, she said.

If construction were halted and SWEPCO later received permission to go ahead with the plant, “it would take SWEPCO two to three months to get back where it is today in terms of remobilizing, getting the people back, getting the people back-trained and starting up again,” McQueen said.

Richard Mays, attorney for the petitioners, countered that the commission should base its decision on environmental issues, not on the economic impact on the area. He also said SWEPCO should not be allowed to use the fact that construction has already begun as an argument for continuing construction, saying ratepayers will have to cover the cost of SWEPCO’s investment if the plant is not built.

“Economics is present in all of these cases. If you are going to be persuaded by arguments that people are going to be unemployed if you don’t grant permits, then you might as well close up shop,” Mays said.

The commission also allowed several members of the public to speak for and against the petition before voting 10-2 to deny it.

Venita McCellon-Allen, executive vice president of Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power, parent company of SWEPCO, said after the hearing she was “delighted that they (the commissioners) saw the strength of SWEPCO’s commitment to the environment and to the Southwest Arkansas economy. We’ve got a lot of people who are pulling for the plant.”

Ken Smith, director of Arkansas Audubon, said he believed Mays made a good case for halting construction, but the decision was “not unexpected.”

“We’ll see what happens now from the Supreme Court,” he said.

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Farm Bureau Opposes Annual Legislative Sessions

SPRINGDALE – The Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation will oppose the annual legislative sessions proposals on November’s ballot, the group’s president said Tuesday.

Proposed Referred Constitutional Amendment 2 would continue holding regular sessions every other year, in odd-numbered years. The proposed amendment would add a “fiscal session” in even-numbered years. Only appropriation bills could be considered in fiscal sessions without a two-thirds majority in each chamber agreeing to allow consideration of a nonbudget bill. Each nonbudget proposal would require a two-thirds approval for consideration.

The executive board for the federation, the state’s largest rural advocacy group, made the decision Monday, said president Stanley Reed of Marianna. Reed made the announcement during the group’s 60th annual Officers and Leaders Conference. The meeting was at the Springdale Holiday Inn and Convention Center. The federation represents about 227,000 families throughout the state.

Opposition to extending the Legislature’s time in session or the frequency of regular sessions is a long-standing federation policy, Reed said. The group believes the current system, which allows the governor to call special sessions, is adequate, he said. The infrequent regular sessions are an important check and balance on government power, Reed said.

“Of course I’m disappointed but I’m not surprised,” said Rep. Eric Harris, R-Springdale, a chief legislative sponsor of the proposed amendment, citing the bureau’s long-standing opposition to similar measures.

“I hope Farm Bureau members will see past this and imagine what it would be like for them to run their own farms by budgeting two years in advance,” Harris said. The state budget is huge, complex and in need of more frequent revision than it gets, he said. Term limits also mean that lawmakers have too few opportunities to develop a clear understanding of the budget process, he said.

Opponents complain that the measure would help create a “full-time Legislature,” Harris said. The Legislature was host of 332 meetings on 156 different days “averaging about two meetings a day” from May 2007 to May 2008, Harris said, citing figures provided by the Bureau of Legislative Research. “There’s meetings going on in Little Rock all the time anyway,” he said.

In a related development, the federation probably won’t decide until September whether it will actively oppose Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’s proposed lottery amendment, also on the November ballot, but opposition to a lottery for education is also a long-standing policy of the federation. Supporting rural water and irrigation projects have been supported by the federation, so group approval of another referred act to issue bonds for such projects appears promising, Reed said.

The group is putting together a political action fund strictly for use in campaigns regarding ballot initiatives. The option to contribute to the fund won’t come around in time for a meaningful amount of money to be collected this year, but the new “issues fund” could have as much as $200,000 for campaigns in 2010, Reed said.

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News Briefs

Police to conduct sobriety checkpoints The Jacksonville Police Department will conduct sobriety checkpoints June 19-20. According to a press release, this is an effort to decrease the number of impaired drivers who put themselves and others at risk. The police department has increased patrol during weekends, and the officers are looking for drivers who have consumed too much alcohol.

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