There needs to be an "ivory bill" sighting in the Arkansas General Assembly as they fight, bicker, contrive and connive their way on these silly covid-19 personal rights bills and try to spend the federal funds in any way thwarting public health and safety during this pandemic.
This past week, the U.S. Wildlife Service released a news release saying that, among 22 endangered species in the nation, Arkansas' ivory-billed woodpecker is no doubt extinct and does not exist anymore.
My case in point, dragging the saintly bird into the recessed and now open session of the Arkansas Legislature is the terrible barrage of bills from wayward Sen. Trent Garner of El Dorado.
Sen. Garner hates any form of public health suggestion or statement on the science of this pandemic. He just throws a fit -- often in the case of filing page after page after page of bills to "free" his people from the constraints of public policy. Sen. Garner and others, like Sen. Bob Ballinger of Hindsville, see themselves as modern-day eagles fighting for the rights of anyone except those in authority.
They would and do expend more energy in fighting over a bad bill than drafting one that will be upheld when shown the constitutional light of day. They are both the authors of bad legislation and, by that, I mean bills that not only trample on the rights of others but simply deny the rights of officials in cities, counties, school boards, etc., who have been elected by voters and have sworn an oath of office to obey the laws of the state of Arkansas and its constitution.
Just like the beloved but yet declared extinct last week ivory-billed woodpecker, once thought to inhabit Arkansas's most dense swamplands, there is not a single member of the state Senate, or apparently the state House, willing to fly up into this fray to bring common sense to this topic.
I think the last "ivory-bill" bravery on the House floor was almost five years ago when State Rep. George McGill of Fort Smith, an unashamed Democrat, took to the well of the House to calm the members and challenge them to do the right thing and vote for a bill against hatred and bigotry with a stem-winding speech straight from the heart.
Last week, State Sen. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, did try to wave down the reckless onslaught to expend the federal covid funds to ensure that every anti-vaccine holdout who might lose his or her job by refusing to take the vaccine and then work in a hospital, nursing home or other critical position (yes, even schools for our children) can seek financial remuneration for the huge federal stockpile in the Arkansas treasury.
Sen. Ingram and his fellow senator, Ronald Caldwell, R-Wynne, both told those quick to seek a pile of cash from the federal funds that federal rules prohibited such expenditures from the stockpile of cash.
But yet, somehow, eight bills were spawned from these conservative forces in both houses of state government to cause disruption and chaos.
I will always fight for the right of a citizen to appear at any legislative hearing and be heard because these bills are proposed as laws for the people, not just the legislature.
A lone pharmacy tech, who doesn't want the vaccine because her faith is her line of defense against covid, was allowed to speak. She decried she may lose her job at the hospital if she refuses the vaccine.
I can say I heard her, but I don't think any state law can help her decide between her faith and her job -- no more than her divine belief can help her divine between her faith and getting the covid infection.
We need, yes, and it is a stretch, some state senator or state House members to stand up and be an "ivory bill" and take on this larger issue of what is right for our state -- not what is politically expedient for re-election to a badly held public seat which happens to be the legislator's livelihood and income.
"Ivory bills," I think, still do exist.
-- Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.