Students Need to Watch Legislators
The first day of classes this semester coincided with the first day of the 89th General Assembly of the Arkansas Legislature. For the first time since Reconstruction, Republicans control both the House and the Senate in Arkansas, and all four U.S. congressional seats.
There has already been tons of drama that really only interests politicos and party insiders, but it is sufficient to say the state legislature will be acting on issues of great significance to UA students this year. Paying attention to what happens in the legislature is critical for students on campus, as a number of issues could affect the quality of life here in Fayetteville.
A number of legislative pieces relating to firearms on campus have been considered, ranging from allowing conceal-and-carry permit holders to bring guns to campus, to allowing professors to carry firearms. House Bill 1035 has already been filed by Rep. Denny Altes of Fort Smith to allow licensed staff and faculty to conceal handguns on campus. Rep. Charlie Collins from Fayetteville is expected to file other legislation allowing guns on campus.
This issue has already drawn the attention of many students, with groups formed both in support of and opposition to the allowance handguns on campus. A Facebook group I noticed over the weekend — Razorbacks Against Concealed Carry — had garnered over 300 likes by Saturday night.
In the past, you may have had to crack open the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette or listened to talk radio to keep up with the workings of the legislature, but new media has made our elected leaders much more accessible.
I’m an avid Twitter user, and the vast majority of our elected officials use the social media platform. The legislature even has its own hashtag — #arleg — and many of the legislators post daily, hourly or even minute-by-minute updates on committee activity and bills that have been filed. You can also find your elected leaders on Facebook, and both houses maintain websites at www.arkansashouse.org and www.arkansas.gov/senate.
On Friday, several local legislators attended a forum held by the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce at their office right off the Fayetteville Square. They answered questions and made comments on a wide variety of issues, from healthcare to eminent domain to abortion to partisan control of each chamber. I saw several students at the gathering and encourage more to attend the bimonthly meetings. The next one will take place Feb. 8 at the same location.
This is an exciting time for Arkansas politics. With new control of the legislature, bills are constantly evolving, and new issues emerge each day that affect student life and the overall economic environment we will emerge into upon graduating. Following the legislature and letting your legislators know what matters to you is an important part of being an engaged citizen.
We are lucky to have responsive and available state legislators who represent us in northwest Arkansas. In the state House, Rep. Collins, Rep. David Whitaker and Rep. Greg Leding have a very open dialogue with students on many issues. Veteran legislator Sen. Uvalde Lindsey and freshman Sen. Jon Woods have also made themselves available to students. I encourage you to find out which district you live in and let your legislators know when there is an issue that you feel strongly about.
Government isn’t a passive activity, even when you are a student. As young adults, we have a responsibility to become engaged and hold our legislators accountable. The very least we can do is pay attention to the issues and voice our opinions when they matter.
Will Watson is a contributing columnist for the Arkansas Traveler.