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Capitol Access is an online column by Jacob Kauffman. His column aims to give people unique insights into the Arkansas legislative session.

Capitol Access: Stepping Toward School Prayer, Violence and Mental Health, and Banter on the Floor

Stepping Toward School Prayer

Earlier today the House Education Committee passed through legislation that mandates a “one (1) minute period of silence at the beginning of each school day.” The bill suggests students use this time to, “reflect,” “pray,” or “engage in silent activities.”

However, it does not give additional authority to teachers to lead a public prayer or to tolerate students leading public prayer during this minute of silence.  This legislation may not explicitly sanction school sponsored prayer, but it does imply that the state should be required to set aside collective time and space for private observances.  One wonders if the intent of this bill is to normalize prayer in school by requiring that teachers foster a climate that allows for prayer. 

Violence and Mental Health

Yesterday the House passed a bill allowing mental health professionals to reveal information regarding patients who may be a threat to individuals or the public at large. Notably, it does not require a mental health professional to disclose this information. Similar legislation has passed in 27 other states. Most recently, the state of New York included such a provision in gun legislation crafted in the wake of the school shooting in Newton, Connecticut.

I asked Representative Ann Clemmer (R) if this bill was a response to the recent spate of mass shootings throughout the country. She distanced herself from mass shooting prevention by noting, that the bill was given to her last May by two of her constituents, before the shooting in Aurora, Colorado.

Unfortunately, our collective memory of mass shootings precedes Aurora.

Banter on the Floor

Lt. Governor Mark Darr (R) couldn’t make it to Wednesday’s session so Senator Teague (D) got a chance to fill in as chair. Teague, an endearingly, uncouth ball of energy, seemed to thoroughly enjoy the temporary spotlight.

When a group of Central High Students could not deliver a book to Lt. Gov. Darr as planned, Teague remarked, “That’s okay, I’m never sure he could read anyway.”

“You don’t need to read it. Just trust me.”-  Senator Teague asking Sen. Sample to speak for his bill in his stead.

“I imagine someday I’ll see a woman sitting up there, right?” –  Sen. Linda Chesterfield after Sen. Jason Rapert (R) filled in as chair for Teague.