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OPINION: Veto Victory For Governor Looms Big In This Session

March 31, 2021 at 5:24 a.m.

In the end, Governor Asa Hutchinson, aided by "cooler heads" in the Arkansas House of Representatives, won a crucial legislative policy issue last week.

It was indeed a good win for Gov. Hutchinson -- a lame-duck governor -- who has needed a win, against some negative and uncooperative right-wing members of the Arkansas State Senate, many of whom have morphed themselves into legislative mavericks during this the 93rd General Assembly.

Maybe the best thing about the House stalling an attempt to override Hutchinson's veto was it fell just a day shy of the three-day recess for Spring Break that solons took last week.

The often historic and traditional roles for reversing a gubernatorial veto of legislation were indeed reversed last week.

Normally, it is the older, wiser, cooler and smaller 35 heads found in the Upper Chamber who stall a veto override.

Not this time, it was the 100-member Arkansas House of Representatives that came up short of the needed simple majority of 51 votes to reverse Hutchinson's veto.

The vetoed bill, Senate Bill 301, was to return $69,560 in fines the state Alcohol Beverage Control agents had levied against a litany of violations found during the state's pandemic. Also at risk of being returned was more than $4,100 in fines given by the Arkansas Department of Health for violations found under the same time period.

The $73,660 in fines would not break the state's bank if the state decided to return the fines -- and these fines in no way closed down any small Mom and Pop stores, bars or restaurants, suffering from these fines in our state.

It was a rancor-filled State Senator from Jonesboro, Sen. Dan Sullivan, who has never been a Hutchinson favorite -- who wanted to usurp the Governor's authority to enact the Emergency Powers Act, lock the state down and send in agents from the ABC and investigators from the Arkansas Health Department to ensure rules for the pandemic were being followed.

Sen. Sullivan also recruited state Rep. Brandt Smith, also from Jonesboro, to aid in his filing.

The bill was passed, narrowly by both chambers back on March 15th, and Gov. Hutchinson, when the measure reached his desk, "vetoed" the bill, causing it to be revived by its sponsors for the veto reversal.

The final count for reversing the veto was 19-for the reversal and 13 against the reversal in the Senate. Another 2 state Senators did not vote. And one state Senator was excused from voting on that day. So the measure passed to reverse the governor's veto in the Senate.

Over in the 100-member House, the reversal issue went differently. Needing 51 votes to join the Senate in a veto override, the count was 40-for the override, 39-against; nine House members voted present (the same as voting against the override) and most importantly -- 11 House members did not vote. One House member was excused from voting that day.

Calls to area state representatives who did not support the veto override have been ugly and threatening. These are the same people who support a mask override and opening all restaurants and bars at 100 percent capacity -- and I have to assume many of these same folks will not accept the vaccine shots.

In a nutshell: agents from the ABC were sent to ensure the rules during the pandemic were followed. When the rules were not followed, warnings were given and beyond that -- fines were levied. The same with the Health Department.

No one -- not a single bar owner, or restaurant owner, has appealed these fines with the commission.

Gov. Hutchinson, upon learning the House vote upheld his veto, quickly and appropriately said: "I am grateful the General Assembly sustained my veto."

Those local state lawmakers who helped sustain the governor's veto should be looked at as law and order types -- not weak and not protecting of small businesses.

Only those bullies who want all the power, even to give back fines to those found flouting the laws and rules, are in the wrong on this issue.

--Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at [email protected] Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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