Lawyers vs. legislators

By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

It could be argued that two of the three most important votes this year in Arkansas state politics occurred Feb. 16 and Feb. 27, and the third will occur this Friday.

The first two votes are when the Arkansas Senate and Arkansas House advanced a proposed constitutional amendment limiting lawsuit awards. We voters will decide its fate in the November 2018 elections.

The third will be in Hot Springs June 16, when the Arkansas Bar Association’s House of Delegates votes on whether to pursue a dueling proposal barring such lawsuit limits that also would appear on the November 2018 ballot.

Math beats myth, this time

By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Wednesday saw the triumph of math over myth, in one state.

That would be Kansas, where the Legislature overrode Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of tax increases made necessary by his previous tax cuts. We’ll see how this applies to Arkansas later in the column.

What happened in Kansas was in 2012, Brownback pushed through the Legislature huge tax cuts that weren’t accompanied by sufficient spending decreases. He said the tax cuts would spur big economic growth. They didn’t.

The state ever since has been a fiscal mess, and a cautionary tale for other governors. This year it faced a $900 million budget deficit along with an order by its state Supreme Court to increase funding for public schools.

The return of recess?

By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Can more time in recess and less time in class help students learn better? That’s a question some schools in Arkansas will try to help answer.

Under state law, elementary students must have 40 minutes of physical education each week and 90 minutes of additional physical activity, such as recess. That’s 18 minutes per day.

Act 1062 sets up a pilot program for the 2018-19 school year that basically triples that amount in some schools. In addition to physical education, students in grades K-4 will get 60 minutes of “unstructured and undirected play” each day, while students in grades five and six will have 45 minutes. Two schools in each of the state’s 15 education service cooperatives – groups of school districts that share resources – will participate, along with two more schools not involved in cooperatives. The Arkansas Department of Education will write the rules. The results will be studied and used to enact future policy.

Could Paul Spencer give Arkansas Democrats a shot?

By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Arkansas’ 2nd Congressional District just got more interesting, perhaps even almost competitive, and it might point the way for Arkansas Democrats in other parts of the state.

Paul Spencer is forming an exploratory committee to run for that congressional seat as a Democrat. It’s currently occupied by Rep. French Hill, a Republican.

Spencer was a founder of the group Regnat Populus, which tried in 2012 to get an ethics reform measure on the ballot that would limit campaign contributions. The effort failed to collect enough signatures, but legislators did respond by placing on the 2014 ballot a wide-ranging “ethics” amendment passed by voters. It did limit campaign contributions as well as gifts by lobbyists to legislators, but it also snuck in a provision weakening term limits, a measure Spencer later criticized.