End the violence, not our freedoms

Very few events in our society produce the emotional reactions that school shootings elicit among us. Murdering innocents is something that ordinary people like you and I cannot relate to. Like a drowning victim, we seem to thrash about wildly trying to find the answer to our question: how do we save our children from a repeat of this horror?
We feel a compelling need to “do something now.” Our federal and state constitutions task government with the responsibility of apprehending criminals while protecting people and property. It seems logical to ask, “what can government do?”
Many people argue that if guns are used to perpetrate the violence, removing the guns from society would remove the violence. This narrow focus in the search for answers might be sufficient if we lived in a different world where men were angels, as the saying goes. Unfortunately, we do not.
As a legislator who believes in the value of our freedoms, I ask, how can we reconcile our solutions with the unalienable right of self defense? To get good answers, we must ask good questions. While we may ask what government cam do, we must also ask what we, private citizens, institutions, and organizations can also do. I believe the longterm answer we seek requires a fundamental societal change, not an increase in government.
Furthermore, if our society sanctions violence and barbarism, what delusion allows us to believe that as a people we will be spared the consequences of that glorified violence? Abortion, movies that feature grotesque violence and video games where teens and pre-teens compete to murder and decapitate their opponents are either a cause or a consequence of this violence in society. It is foolishness to pretend there is no corollary between violence itself and our willingness to blatantly profit from it.
In Parkland, Fla., we saw layer after layer of government institutions radically fail the children in that school. Why? How? These are not merely interesting questions, they are essential to determining causes and solutions. Many people who want to see guns removed from our society are also victims of myths and misrepresentations from the anti-gun extremists for whom the constitution and the Second Amendment are remnants from an earlier time and are outmoded. I believe they couldn’t be more wrong.
As your elected representative, know that I will continue to seek real answers to get real results that will offer effective countermeasures against those troubled individuals who would perpetrate this senseless violence on our children. I am convinced that Second Amendment protections are compatible with well-conceived defenses that end vulnerable “gun-free” zones (regrettably perceived as shooting galleries by lunatics). We absolutely can and will protect our children and end this terrible blight throughout our nation. And, we will do it while preserving our liberties.

A transparent government is a better government

The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was signed into law by Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller (R) in 1967 and is one of the strongest protections of open government in the country. This allows the citizen to know what its government is doing so that the people can truly rule (regnat populus: the people rule – motto of the State of Arkansas). I often say that an engaged public is the key to good government and if government is allowed to hide its activities, any effort of the public to be engaged is practically subverted.
I really do believe this stuff and know that protecting our Arkansas Freedom of Information Act is a vital part of fulfilling our state motto. So why would I, or any legislator, support any exemption to our state FOIA? A good question, and one I should have to answer, or I am failing in my service to my constituents.
In 2017, the Arkansas legislature dealt with many bills that, if enacted, would provide new exemptions to the state FOIA law. Many of them were extremely broad in scope and would have done real damage to government transparency. Almost all of them were motivated by good intentions, but many of them could have had real detrimental effect on the citizens’ effort to control their government.
Many of those bills came to the committee I have the privilege to chair in the House of Representatives (House State Agencies), and most of them never made it out of that committee. Not because they were ill intended, but because of a potential for ill effect.
So, coming back to the question I should answer: why did any of them make it out of that committee?
As technology continues to develop and society continues to change, we find ourselves in a situation where the release of some information would have a far greater impact on the safety of individual citizens than the protection it provides to the public by accountability. That’s a mouthful, so let me provide some examples.
Several of the FOIA exemptions that passed this last legislative session dealt with security plans for schools, the governor’s office, State Capitol grounds, and other high risk locations – places never considered high risk targets in the past, but today could all be the target of terroristic activity. These exemptions were attempts to prevent sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands.
There were also exemptions that dealt with body cameras worn by law enforcement officers. One exemption was designed to protect the privacy of citizens who may be accused, but not yet convicted, and the other exemption would protect the dignity of an officer killed in the line of duty.
All of these exemptions passed into law have at least one thing in common: they were reasonable, both in scope and impact, and were designed to protect the public and their public servants.
I would argue that making these types of amendments to our strong FOIA laws actually further strengthens transparency and does not degrade it. It allows records to be made, information preserved, and citizens’ privacy protected in limited and necessary situations, without attacking the direct purpose of our FOIA laws, which is government transparency and accountability.
If we cannot make these types of reasonable alterations to our FOIA laws, the types of alterations that keep sensitive information out of the hands of terrorists and protects the privacy of citizens, we will find ourselves in a situation where the public will demand a repeal of our FOIA laws, something that no person who understands the value of government transparency wants to see.
As a bit of a post script, I would like to say, let us not allow this line of reasoning to go too far. Every proposed exemption to our state FOIA should be thoroughly vetted and scrutinized closely. It is good that the media and other citizen groups see themselves as the protectors of the act and the transparency it provides. Without this diligence, something great we hold here in Arkansas could be lost.

Exploring options for Madison County’s jail issue

by Sarah Capp and Bob Ballinger State Representatives

The struggle of counties trying to find ways to fund the incarceration of criminals is nothing unique or new. In the last few years, many other counties have had to address funding issues concerning their county jails. Like Madison County, budgets have been hit hard by the costs incurred by having to house prisoners in jails in other counties. Not only is the county responsible for housing of those incarcerated, but also for the transportation to and from court and for healthcare services. These transportation obligations take law enforcement officers away from Madison County and off the streets of our towns and cities, making our communities less safe. So, how do we fix it?
The voters of Madison County have rejected a tax to pay for a new jail three times now. Currently, those arrested in the county stay for 24 hours before they are sent to the Washington County Detention Center at the tune of $62 a day per prisoner. The long-term viability of sustaining this protocol is heavy on the minds of local leaders and townspeople.
Recently, many counties have addressed these same issues and how to move forward, including Franklin, Logan, Marion, Phillips, Baxter and Woodruff counties. None of the aforementioned counties had the luxury of tapping into their general budget to fund constructing new facilities. Normally, the answer lies in capital improvement bonds and taxes.
As far as state funding availability, Madison County is eligible for a USDA Community Facility Loan with favorable terms, 3.5 percent fixed interest rate up to 40 years. Additionally, the county is eligible for a grant of 15 percent of the project costs up to a max of $50,000 through the USDA Community Facilities Grant Program. Every dollar from outside of the county helps, but it is clear that we will have to generate the bulk of the revenue ourselves. It’s important to develop a plan that is best for Madison County.
The answer may also be a regional jail shared by several counties or managed exclusively by Madison County. This would help the county in that we could enter into a longterm contract with the state to house state inmates in our unutilized space at a rate that would generate some revenue for the county. It is possible that we could collect enough from the state to pay back a bond and help fund the operations of our new jail.
This solution also has potential drawbacks. It would mean that the county would be constructing a facility that would be bigger and more expensive than we acutely need to serve the county. It would also mean that, longterm, we would be dependent on the state to continue to utilize the space or we would be stuck with the full costs associated with the jail’s operation. Regardless, the community should have the opportunity to weigh those risks associated with the state cooperation option.
Next week, we will be meeting with local leaders to share ideas and information and hopefully help develop a plan that would allow our county to move forward using a conservative approach that benefits the county and her people.
We’re committed to finding solutions and believe one is on the horizon.

Grateful for Modern Medicine

Polly Ann Ballinger
Healthcare is often a hot political football. Both sides fight over what government’s role should be in health choices and the financing of healthcare. I obviously have my opinion (like with most things, I don’t see more government as the answer to the problem, but the problem itself), but in this article I just hope to express my gratitude to live in a country with the best healthcare in the world. On Dec. 30 at 7:19 p.m., my wife and I were blessed with a new baby girl, little Ms. Polly Ann Ballinger. This was our eighth baby overall, so we thought we knew what we were getting into.

Labor was progressing slow and steady and momma and baby were both doing real well. Sometime shortly after 7, Polly’s heart rate dropped drastically and we couldn’t get it up. Dr. Lisa Bearden and the staff at Northwest Medical Center worked quickly to get Jessica back to the O.R. for an emergency cesarean. In the process, they discovered that Jessica’s uterus had completely ruptured and that she had lost a lot of blood.

A complete uterine rupture is a serious complication for both the mother and the baby where the lining of the uterus ruptures and the baby moves through the opening into the mother’s abdomen. This obviously requires immediate surgical intervention, without which the life of the mother and baby would likely be lost. Fortunately, complete uterine ruptures are extremely rare. But often, even with modern medicine, they are fatal.

Dr. Lisa Bearden and the hospital staff were professionals who were full of compassion. Without their close observation, through the instruments of modern medical technology, we may not have even been aware of the drop in Polly’s heart rate and the need for intervention. Without a skilled doctor and nursing staff, they may not have recognized the emergency and moved quickly, or may not even be able to carry out the procedures in a way that would preserve the life and health of my baby and my wife.

When faced with a rare and catastrophic emergency, Dr. Bearden and the staff stayed cool and acted with as much precision as possible in the situation. I am glad that God put us in a time and place where this type of care is available and an individual like Dr. Bearden could be there for my family. There is no doubt that the hand of God was involved in so many aspects of what led up to the events that occurred a little after 7 p.m. on Dec. 30, but it was the hands of Dr. Bearden and the staff that God used to save the lives of Jessica and Polly Ann that night.

As things get more and more crazy in this world, and we reminisce about how things used to be, I want to be sure that I recognize that we still have a lot to be grateful for. Today, I am grateful for a new healthy baby and wife. I am also grateful for the wonders of modern medicine and the hands of trained professionals who serve us in healthcare. 
See,  Grateful for Modern Medicine