COLUMN: "Applauding Leadership"



Applauding Leadership

By Lieutenant Governor Mark A. Darr
The 89th General Assembly has gotten off to a good start so far in Little Rock. The issue of whether or not to expand Medicaid will be a dominant one this session. I want to applaud the new conservative majority in the Arkansas Legislature for the approach they are taking. We shouldn't rush to implement something just because the federal government wants us to. We can't just keep spending money without reforming the system. We need tax reform as well and as a taxpayer, I am glad to see that on the legislature's agenda.

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I want to congratulate Judge Preston Scroggin from Faulkner County who was just appointed to lead the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission. I know Preston and have respect for his public service and leadership. I have no doubt he'll do a great job in his new position. As a fifth-generation rancher having grown up on farms, he will bring a knowledgeable and experienced perspective to the Commission.

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The Governor also just appointed Ricky Belk as the new Director for the Department of Labor. Prior to this appointment, Mr. Belk served as a registered lobbyist for the AFL-CIO. As a right to work state, people are free to either join or abstain from joining a union and it is against the law to discriminate based on someone's union affiliation. However, the way the law reads, it seems that the Director job itself discriminates on whether someone was in a labor union or similar organization. It reads, "The director shall be a person who, on account of his or her previous vocation, employment, or affiliation can be classed as a representative of employees." It appears to have been carefully written, but the implication is clear. I think this law needs to be changed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Arkansas has the second lowest percentage of union members in the country. In 2012, only 3.2 percent of the workforce were members of a labor union or employee association similar to a union. I think if we are going to appoint someone to represent all workers in the state, we shouldn't have to look for the union label to find a candidate.

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As the national debate over our constitutional right to bear arms continues, I am glad to see that several bills have been filed at the Capitol to reinforce this right at the state level. Rep. Richard Womack has put forth House Resolution 1003 encouraging federal, state, and local officials to continue to defend our Second Amendment rights. This resolution, if passed, will be transmitted to state and federal leadership in Washington and to the leadership of every state legislature in the country.

Senator Bryan King has also introduced gun rights legislation (Senate Bill 71, The Church Protection Act) and an essential voter identification bill (Senate Bill 2) that I hope will pass this session. Senate Bill 2 would require each voter to present proof of identity when voting. Voter ID cards would be issued at no charge to those who need one. The integrity of our election process is sacred and protection against fraud should be something that everyone should be in favor of.

Senator Jeremy Hutchinson is taking the lead on Senate Joint Resolution 2, also known as The Tort Reform Amendment of 2013. We need meaningful legislation to address frivolous lawsuits and I am glad that it has strong bipartisan support.

As I have previously supported, I remain hopeful that an accurate study of our state's lignite resources can be funded to aid the economic development of this vast energy resource in South Arkansas.
These are key issues that I am both passionate about and supportive of. I intend to speak out on these things in more detail as the session progresses.