Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Animal Cruelty

The long awaited legislation making first offense cruelty to animals a felony will be voted on in just a few moments. Although I predict 75-80 yeas today, I also predicted the Patriots would win last years Super Bowl. You never know. I'd be surprised if it doesn't generate some debate, but I don't see any major roadblocks.

I expect we should get Rep. Sample's immigration bill in Judiciary next week, and other than the cigarette tax, nothing has produced quite as much e-mail as this issue. I'm looking for lively and passionate debate on this one.

Also, we will be getting a bill related to concealed handguns. The bill, filed by Rep. Beverly Pyle (R)-Cedarville, allows you to carry a concealed weapon into church while attending services. I'm sure everyone recalls the tragedy in Tennessee last year, and I suppose this is a reaction to that event. I'm not sure where I stand on this, and there should be some interesting back and forth here too.

The vote is in, and and with 88 yeas, 9 nays and 1 present, animal cruelty will be a first offense felony once the Governor affixes his signature. Congratulations to the Attorney General, Senator Madison, Rep. Adcock and all those who had a hand in getting this important legislation passed.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stuff Going On

I'm a bit behind in the blogging because so much has been going on around here. Saturday I was in Texarkana celebrating with the Governor, Congressman Ross and lots of local citizens, the Cooper Tire announcement that they were staying in Texarkana. Even though this was announced a few weeks ago, it was a good opportunity for the state and the community to get together and thank everyone who had a hand in saving several hundred good paying jobs.

Vigi and I drove to Dallas early Sunday morning to visit our niece, Michawn Davis, who is in the Baylor Medical Center. Michawn has an extremely rare intestinal disease and this was her 54th admission to Baylor in the past 13 years. This child has undergone 36 major procedures in that time, and frankly, we are fortunate she is still with us. But she is as tough as anyone I've ever known and a true inspiration to our family. She was admitted the day we were sworn in and this was my first chance to see her since that day. She seems to be doing better and we hope for her return home soon.

Monday was my Daddy, Leland Powers, 86th birthday. Even though I didn't really get to celebrate with him, he knows and understands how much I think of him. And by the way, I think it's a good thing to call your father Daddy. Even though I'm 54 years old and twice the size of him, this decorated Navy veteran of WWII will never be a Dad, a Pop or a Father. He's always going to be Daddy, and rightfully so. Congratulations on your 86 years Daddy.

The felony animal cruelty bill came through Judiciary this morning and passed out easily with only one no vote. Rep. Terry Rice (R)-Waldron was the lone dissenter in referring this to a full house vote. As I've said before, this is legislation long past due and should sail out of the house, awaiting only Governor Beebe's signature.

Even though the weather was getting yucky pretty quick, we had a reception last night hosted by the Texarkana Chamber of Commerce. Good friends were all over the place, and I can safely say the barbque meal was quite a treat. As I write this, the weather report is gloomy and several thousand, particularly the northwest, are already without power. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Hero Laid To Rest

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Carlo M. Robinson was buried with full military honors yesterday. Vigi and I, along with an overflow of mourners, attended the services at First Baptist Church in Hope. Military personnel presented Sergeant Robinson's mother, Jennifer, a bronze star for her son's heroic service and ultimate sacrifice in defending his country. By every account, Carlo was a fine young man who was a true patriot and family man. He will always be remembered by those who knew and loved him the most. May he rest in peace, and may none of us ever forget.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Funeral Arrangements

Services for SSGT. Carlo Montel Robinson, who was killed last week in Afghanistan, will be held Monday, January 26th, at 1:00 pm at the First Baptist Church in Hope. Sgt. Robinson, who died as a result of an IED explosion, was 33 years old, and leaves behind two daughters, Carneshia and Destiny, along with a 10 year old son, Da'Karia. He was a 13 year Army veteran who was serving his first tour of duty overseas. SSGT. Robinson will be buried with full military honors. The Governor's office notified me this morning that flags will be lowered to half staff on Monday, in honor of our fallen soldier. I, along with a representative from the Governor's office, will be in attendance Monday afternoon. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the Robinson children and remaining family members.

It is unfortunately ironic that Rep. Roy Ragland introduced a bill before my Aging, Children, Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs committee this morning that speaks to this very situation. He introduced legislation that would require all public buildings to lower the state flag to half staff anytime an Arkansas serviceman or woman is killed in action. The bill received a unanimous do pass, and will be introduced to the full house as non-controversial.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sad Day

The death of a Hope soldier brings a sober reminder that the war on terror still rages. Army Sergeant, Carlo Montel Robinson, was killed Saturday by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan He graduated from Hope High School in 1993 and was a former Hope Bobcat football player. His mother, Jennifer Robinson, still resides in Hope. Our heartfelt prayers go out to the loved ones left behind, and our sincere gratitude for Sergeant Robinson's heroism and bravery in his ultimate sacrifice for our country. Arrangements are incomplete at this time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Back To Work

After a short recess we are back at it, although a light agenda awaited us today. Rep. Fred Allen, (D)-Little Rock, passed his bill out of the House requiring all health care providers to pay for prostate screenings. Rep. Allen Kerr, (R) Little Rock, who spoke against the bill, ran into a hostile group of legislators, with the end result being overwhelming support and passage of the bill. This wasn't really a hot button issue, but it did generate our first real debate on the floor. Speaking of hot button legislation, Rep. Bill Sample (R) Hot Springs, will bring his immigration bill before my Judiciary committee either Thursday or next Tuesday. Immigration questions have always brought a great deal of passion from both sides, and this one will certainly fill that bill. By the way, I want to thank UACCH Chancellor, Chris Thomason, for inviting me out to the college yesterday to watch the inaugural ceremonies with the students and staff. It was my pleasure to watch history being made and see how these young people responded. Also, Senator Teague and I attended the Martin Luther King celebration in Hope on Monday, and both of us had the honor of speaking to the packed house at Providence Baptist Church. My good friend and former Hope Mayor, Floyd Young, was the keynote speaker and he did a masterful job of expressing his thoughts on the past and his hopes for the future. Good job by a good man.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Inauguration Day Vote

A resolution from the Senate to take Tuesday off, in order for members and staff to attend and participate in inaugural activities, came before the House today. The resolution passed overwhelmingly by a voice vote, but Rep. Bryan King (R)-Berryville, requested a roll call vote. As a result, the vote was 69 yeas, 22 nays and 4 voted present. This is by no means a precedent, as the same resolution was presented and passed during the Clinton years. The argument by Rep. Dan Greenberg (R)- Little Rock, seemed to focus on the fact that since we didn't do it for the Bush inaugurations, we shouldn't do it for the Obama presidency. As you can probably tell, the vote fell along party lines. Although, Rep. Rick Green (R) -Van Buren, made the point that all it takes to determine whether or not to take off is a resolution from any legislator, and it could have been voted on then. To my knowledge, no such resolution was introduced during the Bush years. I voted with the majority for several reasons. First of all, many members and staffers have made plans to attend the festivities in Washington, and that in itself creates problems in conducting business. Secondly, whether you agree or not, the inauguration of our country's first black president is history. If missing a day of work is the problem, then I say let's work late, or on Saturdays, to make up for lost time.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Settled In

As we wait for the filed legislation to wind it's way to the appropriate committee, things are as slow as it will ever be around here. I'll have my first Judiciary meeting on Thursday, and probably Aging and Children on Friday. Both will simply be organizational in nature and the real work starts next week. We will adjourn on Friday and it looks as if we won't convene again until Wednesday the 21st. The MLK holiday, along with the inauguration proceedings will keep the chamber dark until then. So I'll be in Hope a few days to relax a bit and try to catch up on things at work. Although it's certainly possible I might end up at Oaklawn on one of those days. By the way, I gave out as many racing passes as possible before I left town, but if anyone needs passes in or around Hope, you can call my wife, Vigi at 777-4544 and she'll take care of you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Governor Speaks

Governor Beebe presented his State of the State address this morning to a joint session in the House chamber. As always, the Governor delivered a seamless speech, and I don't think there were really any surprises regarding his legislative proposals for 2009. He stated his number one priority as public education and proposed a $234.00 increase in per pupil funding, along with a one time fund enhancement of $35.oo per student. He also asked that we support an increase in the Department of Children and Family Services budget to improve resources and services in that area. The Governor tied Higher Education and Economic Development closely together for the future of Arkansas, and trumpeted the adjustment of the Higher Ed funding formula to increase the number of Arkansans receiving college degrees. He then moved to his plans for healthcare, and the much anticipated call for a tax increase on tobacco products. He suggested a 56 cents per pack increase on cigarettes and other tobacco products. Of course, much of that tax would go into funding the Trauma system and network of care. Community health centers and the AHEC programs would also realize increased funding from the tax. I don't have a crystal ball here, but I believe there is going to be a pretty good fight on this issue. It's an aggressive, and I believe, progressive move, but we'll wait and see how it comes out. Not much going on this afternoon, but this evening I'll attend a reception at the Governor's mansion being hosted by our Agricultural colleges from around the state.

Opening Day

Things got off to a good start when my friend, and Associate Supreme Court Justice, Jim Gunter administered the oath of office to all 100 members of the House of Representatives. Vigi was with me on the floor during the entire ceremony, and my niece and nephew, Elizabeth Davis and Aaron Easterling, had their view from the gallery. Liz is 15 and served as a page during the last session, so she is an old hand at the capitol. Aaron, who is only 10, was pretty amazed by all the goings on and he was especially mesmerized with all the marble floors. He seemed to enjoy the ease of sliding down the halls. It was really a nice day for family and friends. I was very pleased and honored to be appointed as Vice-chairman of the Aging, Children, Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs commmittee. Rep. Dawn Creekmore will be the Chairperson and I look forward to working with her on some very important issues concerning many of our most vulnerable citizens. My thanks to Speaker Robbie Wills for thinking of me for the job. Speaking of the Speaker, he made a fine speech today and challenged all of us to work hard and smart to tackle some tough and important issues coming our way. Afterwards we had a good meal and headed home for a good night's sleep in my own bed.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Packed and Ready for the 87th

I've said many times what an honor it is to serve our state in the General Assembly, and it's a responsibility I don't take lightly. Tomorrow gets things started when both the House and Senate get sworn in at noon. I've spent most of this Sunday packing and tying up loose ends at the office. The packing is about done, but I fear loose ends will remain. These next few months will be intense, and I suspect somebody's gonna get mad about a vote or position I take on any number of issues. It's the nature of the job and I'm ok with it as long as I've done my homework and reconcile my decisions with what I think is right. The economy, lottery, trauma centers, animal cruelty, grocery tax and so many other front burner issues wait to be turned inside out in the coming weeks; and I look forward to working with the newcomers, along with the veteran legislators, as Arkansas's 87th legislature goes to work. I'll also try to keep a regular update during my time in Little Rock.