For the last several years, I've been writing about things in our fair state that I think need changing, or that need to be added to our state's statutes, regulations and laws. So now I'm going to be specific.
The 15 items listed below contain many of these needed changes, most of which would require legislation, or direct action by the Governor. I believe that if all or part of the list below were enacted, it would be a positive addition to our state's guidelines and regulations, and make our state more responsive to its citizens.
I know most of these ideas would require legislation, but if a Governor pushed them, they would have a good chance of becoming law.
In addition, I think many of these recommendations would save a significant amount of money, improve our quality of life and some of the fifteen would enhance our Natural State's image.
Of course, this is just a wish list, and the odds of most or even some of them being quickly enacted are exceedingly long. However, several of these suggestions are already on the books in other states and western European countries. If we are ever going to gain in improving our quality of life here in Arkansas, sooner or later we will adopt all, or at least most, of these suggestions.
(1) Pass a bill in the legislature to make all state and local elections non-political. In other words, there would not be a party affiliations on the ballot. There would be a top two runoff if none of the candidates received greater than 50% of the vote. The person with the most votes would be the winner.
Running without any party affiliation is already being done in some Arkansas cities, and it serves to ensure the person who receives the most votes wins the election. This would go a long way in cooling the partisan bickering in making decisions, and it would ensure a truly citizen's election, which would separate the state from any political party's national agenda.
(2) Make complete gender equality a mandate for all state, local boards and commissions. This is already the law in a number of European countries, and various states have taken steps toward that goal. How can you oppose giving half our citizens an equal say? And yes, we do have plenty of qualified women. Surveys have shown boards and commissions are more productive if they are gender balanced. California has already passed a law that mandates corporate boards registered in the state to have equal representation.
Equal gender representation is as important as the right to vote, and without a doubt it will happen here in Arkansas in the years ahead. Why wait?
(3) Set as a goal to make complete ecological restoration a primary consideration of the Game and Fish Commission, which would include the restoration of apex predators as an overriding addition to balance the state's wildlife. In order to have the best wildlife management programs, we must have a diverse wildlife population. Without apex predators it is impossible to ever eradicate CWD, and have plentiful quail and turkeys.
(4) Create a Frivolous Bill Commission empowered to reject worthless legislative bills, such as: making the Red Wasp the Official State Wasp. With as many as 1,500 bills filed each session, hundreds should never even make it to a committee. The saving of time and money would be substantial.
(5) Make Daylight Saving Time year round. Surely, you don't like it being totally dark at 5:30 in the afternoon. There is already a bill in congress which would do this, and Arkansas should step up and join the attempt to mandate year-round daylight saving time. The time change started to allow more productivity in World War II, and that need passed decades ago.
(6) Pass a comprehensive environmental bill, which would phase out over five years plastic straws, one-use plastic bags, and non-returnable soft drink and beer bottles, and over ten years replace coal with natural gas as the fuel for electrical generating plants.
(7) Enact a 1-cent sales tax to be used strictly for improvements in education. If we can give 500 million dollar tax cuts to the top bracket earners, and run a 500 million surplus in tax revenues, surely we can pay our teachers a proper wage, and make a two year community college education available to Arkansas high school graduates.
(8) Enact legislation to prevent the Arkansas Attorney General from joining federal lawsuits by other states. It seems to me that joining other states' lawsuits is just political posturing, and outside of gaining political exposure, it is worthless. Let's put an end to that waste of time and money.
(9) Make the author or sponsor of any bill, which is ruled by the Federal Courts as unconstitutional, pay for the legal fees incurred when the bill is challenged.
Most of these bills are just another round of political posturing, and the folks who file these worthless bills should have to pay the legal fees. A lot of these bills are obviously unconstitutional, and they are so obvious the sponsor or sponsors of these bills surely know it.
(10) Double the size of our state parks.
Well, we are calling our state The Natural State, so what could be more of a natural statement than to increase the size of our state parks? I've visited most of our state parks, and I have never been to one that wouldn't be better or more accessible if its size were doubled. There are also numerous areas of significant natural or historic importance, which should be added as state parks.
(11) Raise the penalty for roadside littering to $2,500 per offense, increase the warning signs and demand the State Highway Department add enforcement personnel to be sure the offending individuals are charged.
12) Put a $10 per tail bounty on feral hogs, and add apex predators to our state's wildlife mix. If we don't control feral hogs, the decline in our wild turkey population will continue until it reaches the quail level.
Australia has more feral hogs than any country in the world, and their research has documented the feral hog's destruction: "....feral hogs have disseminated ground nesting birds" -- a quote from their detailed study.
13) Create an incentive anti-littering program for roadside litter. The program would pay an individual $10 for every large bag of litter turned in. The state already spends thousands to fight the litter problem and this would help. Make it similar to the Adopt a Street Program already in effect in several cities.
14) Increase the environmental focus of the Arkansas Highway Department with a non-political committee, which would recommend additional trees, shrubs and sidewalk development along Arkansas highways. Expand the current sidewalk program on Highway 167 South and Highway 82 East to a statewide program where highways are in the city limits. Plant shrubs or crepe myrtle in the green strip between the sidewalk and the highway.
15) Have a State sponsored grant program to plant 100,000 downtown street trees in our towns and cities. Chicago has recently completed a one million city street tree planting program.
Get busy Governor!
Richard Mason is an author and speaker. He can be reached at [email protected]