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OPINION: Her words may bounce back on ‘law’ very quickly

by Maylon Rice | May 17, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

Somehow, I do not have the same self-assurance of our youthful governor when it comes to knowing that the Arkansas Legislature did not make a mistake on these "emergency clauses," on so many bills of the recent 94th General Assembly.

The words are words, all to be read, all to be followed and as the judges often rule: "The black-letter of the law," was meant to be obeyed.

There are few legislative "short cuts" allowed by the courts – be they local district courts, circuit courts or, yes, the final arbitrator of all things legal in Arkansas – the Arkansas State Supreme Court.

Following the exact legislative procedure, set in the rules and laws on the way to pass legislation, it seems to me, is the paramount issue here.

What brings all this to light is a sad court case over in eastern Arkansas. The Elaine and Marvell School District is in distress, both academic and financial distress. The district is struggling with declining enrollment and in an economically poor, poor area of our state. The district needs to be taken over by the state and hopefully be under closer care and away from the local school boards of its past, where it can thrive and pick itself back up and into the mainstream of the public schools of the state.

The Arkansas Department of Education, under its new leadership brought into the state by Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, sees this as a "test case" for her new LEARNS Act. There is a lot of pride riding on getting this Elaine-Marvell School trouble put right and put right quickly, almost before the ink can dry on the 140-page omnibus bill, known as the LEARNS Act. Gov. Sanders, touting her first 100 days, is insistent the sweeping changes her bill has made will "cure such educational ills."

But wait, Governor. Not so fast.

There is a group representing the Elaine-Marvell folks who quickly uncovered the fact that the Arkansas House of Representatives, did NOT (my emphasis) enact an "emergency clause" on the LEARNS Act, speeding up its implementation. And in failing to enact that emergency clause by taking another and separate vote – even though the act passed by a super majority of those 100 House Members – the bill has yet to become law.

The state is, and at our Governor's insistence, arguing the emergency clause, does not matter. But others seek to disagree.

Already, the new education folks had admitted there is a mountain of new rules and regulations to be discussed, written and then placed into the bill to make the overhaul of the educational system function under the LEARNS Act.

In the legal suit over the Elaine-Marvell School District woes, the passage of the emergency clause is a legal conundrum at best.

If there is no LEARNS Act until the typical 90 days after the bill is passed and signed by the governor, then the new provisions on school consolidation are not in play yet.

If it does not matter if an emergency clause was needed, then the LEARNS Act may apply quickly.

Sanders, as I will point out, is not an attorney. She does, at times, talk like one, but that is not the point. If she says she is depending on the attorney general and others in the state's employ to find out about the validity of the emergency clause, she could be wrong – embarrassingly wrong.

But to say it was not needed? Well, that may be a time she will have to reach back in history and pick up a line from former Governor Orval E. Faubus. His classic quote on being caught in a misquote or saying something later found to be wrong was: "Just because I said it (as governor) doesn't make it so."

The courts, if needed, will possibly decide if Sanders needs to utter that Faubusian line as an apology or to clarify her thinking. And I will wager, if she needs to say it, just like her former boss, she might still not find those words coming out of her mouth - on purpose.

She may need to trust the courts, not the court jesters in her administration, for a legal interpretation worth spouting on what's legal or not legal.

Print Headline: Her words may bounce back on ‘law’ very quickly

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