Nicotine is cool again. Now what?

Jim Hendren, tobacco tax
Sen. Jim Hendren is sponsor of Senate Bill 571.

By Steve Brawner, © 2019 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Remember how we all woke up and realized the country faces an opioid crisis? Another health crisis is brewing: the skyrocketing use of e-cigarettes by young people. For the next few weeks, the question will be, what should Arkansas do about it?

First, the crisis.

For decades, society has successfully reduced tobacco use. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last year that 14 percent of American adults smoked cigarettes, down from 42.4 percent in 1965. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, only 7.6 percent of high school students nationwide smoke. In Arkansas, it’s 13.7 percent.

Then these vaping products – which contain nicotine and other harmful chemicals – were introduced. They’re new and sleek and have fruity flavors, and a lot of kids are using them. More than 3.6 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days last year, according to the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration. About 1.5 million more American young people used e-cigarettes in 2018 than in 2017. Continue reading Nicotine is cool again. Now what?

A Facebook star and a star on the flag

LegislatureBy Steve Brawner, © 2019 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Race was the issue that made the most news at the Capitol this past week. And it will make more news with another attempt to change a star on the Arkansas flag that commemorates the Confederacy and was placed there in 1923 and 1924 through bills sponsored by a Ku Klux Klan member.

The big news this past week was an impassioned speech by Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, opposing a proposed “stand your ground” bill in committee. The bill would have changed the state’s current statute, which says a person may use deadly force if he or she can’t retreat safely.

When members of the committee were voting to limit debate, Flowers, its only African-American, delivered a stemwinder of a speech, telling them their son doesn’t “walk the same path as yours do.” Her frustration boiled over with those “d—- guns” – her sister was killed in 1969 – and with a pro-gun Legislature where she has had limited influence. She told the sponsor, Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Berryville, who’s kind of a big white man from Northwest Arkansas, that just as he probably feels threatened by her, she feels threatened by him. There was a lot of emotion and some bad words. The chairman, Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, quietly asked her to “stop the profanity,” but the last two words were obscured. One widely viewed online video said a “white lawmaker” was “trying to silence her.”

Two things happened as a result of that committee meeting. Continue reading A Facebook star and a star on the flag

Coming soon to a ballot near you

vote, Mark Moore, 16-year-olds, Arkansas primaries, Goodson, photo IDBy Steven Brawner, © 2019 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

We’re getting a pretty good idea of some of the choices you’ll have on your ballot in 2020: definitely a sales tax extension for highways, and potentially legislative term limits and a proposal to make it harder to amend Arkansas’ Constitution.

Let’s start with the highway tax.

When the legislative session began, Gov. Asa Hutchinson made highway funding a priority. One relatively easy way to do that is to ask voters to continue paying a tax they’re already paying. In this case, it would be a half-cent sales tax voters approved in 2012 to fund the Connecting Arkansas Program for highways.

It’s due to expire in 2023. Voters can make it permanent next November through a constitutional amendment referred by the Legislature. It would provide about $205 million a year for the state’s highways and another $88 million for city and county roadways. Continue reading Coming soon to a ballot near you

Sort of Arkansas’ prime minister

LegislatureBy Steve Brawner, © 2019 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Government in the United States isn’t designed to be like Great Britain’s, but that’s how it often functions. In Arkansas, that’s just a reality. In Washington, D.C., it’s a problem.

Political parties structurally are part of the British system, and the executive and legislative branches are interconnected. There are two major parties, Conservatives (Republicans) and Labor (Democrats), and also minor parties that do win seats in Parliament. The party that wins control in parliamentary elections forms a government. It’s headed by a prime minister, Theresa May, who is an elected member of Parliament who represents the town of Maidenhead.

May along with her Cabinet are really who chart the country’s direction. Her primary worry regarding Parliament is maintaining her Conservative Party’s support. If she doesn’t, she’ll lose her job. This could happen if she can’t manage Brexit, the politically impossible divorce from the European Union. Continue reading Sort of Arkansas’ prime minister