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The Arkansas legislature coined a new controversy on Wednesday as a bill was filed to make a change to the state quarter.
HB 00.25 by Rep. Jon Hubbard — the “Quarter For Your Thoughts” bill — would alter the language on the back of the state’s official quarter to read “Arkansas: The Natural State” instead of its current look, “Arkansas – The Natural State.”
The change from a dash (-) to a colon (:) is significant, says Hubbard, to bring Arkansas into the 21st century and to recognize health care’s role in the economy.
“I’m no expert on numbers or money or nothing, but it seems to me that a dash just ain’t right in this here day and age. A colon makes more cents — I mean, sense — because I’ve been having some lower G.I. problems like many Arkansans and think we ought to represent doctors and the people on our money,” Hubbard said.
When it was explained that his bill was simply a grammatical change, Hubbard said, “Oh. Well, we cain’t let Mississippi one-up us on this. It could cost jobs, and doctors are good people.”
Rep. David Sanders said he would likely object to the bill because the change from the dash to the colon did not also include rephrasing the state motto to “Arkansas: The Natural Land of Opportunity State.”
“I should have been the one to file this bill,” said Sanders, explaining that it was drawing a lot of media attention, and he was better dressed than Hubbard for purposes of conducting interviews.
Sanders also was clearly miffed that the word “opportunity” wasn’t in the bill or on the coin.
“As a protest, I may use the word ‘opportunity’ in every committee question I ask, every floor speech I give, and every media interview I take part in for the rest of the session. There seems like a real ‘opportunity’ for me to do that — see how I worked that in there?” Sanders grinned.
Speaker of the House Robert Moore said he had one concern about the bill, but was generally supportive of Hubbard’s efforts to alter the state quarter.
“I’m not sure we’ve ever had a bill that has a decimal point in it,” explained Moore in reference to HB 00.25. He said he may seek a parliamentary ruling on the issue. “I’ll channel my grandfather who served in 1911 and see what Big Daddy would do.”
Moore said he hoped that all of the quarters issued through the bill, if it is successfully passed, could be used for a roads program in the state.
“You may think 25 cents won’t go a long way, but heck, we’ve been digging in the couch cushions in the House lounge to find money to pay for new roads,” Moore said. “We’ve even toyed with the idea of putting ‘road cans’ at pay counters in convenience stores, cleaners, and other retail establishments to ask the general public to give their change for better roads.”
The Speaker also suggested putting “road cans” for quarter collections around the coffee pots in committee rooms at the state capitol.
“I’ve been watching the live-streaming of committee meetings, and I see a lot of lobbyists drinking state-purchased coffee. This could kind of be the Wal-Mart rule in reverse!” he said.
Moore said that if the effort only raised a few hundred dollars, it could still make a significant contribution to improving highways in Arkansas.
“It might help pay for pencils for engineers to conduct environmental studies once the cost of inflation is factored in,” Moore said. “Every option is really on the table, and those pencils could be a financial boon for the state’s timber industry, too. More pencils means more jobs.”
Gov. Mike Beebe said he was philosophically opposed to the concept of the quarter change. Beebe claimed that monetary policy of this magnitude was a federal issue not a state issue, and he worried about a potential lawsuit for the state.
“This is Con Law 101, but when did that ever matter to these jokers?” Beebe said.
When asked if he would veto the bill if it reached his desk, the Governor stopped short of a commitment.
“I’m not going to be a backstop for legislators who act irresponsibly. They have to know that there are consequences to their actions. Besides, changing the back of the state quarter doesn’t really give me much chance to talk about education and economic development, so it really doesn’t interest me,” Beebe said.
Despite Beebe’s public nonchalance, Rep. David Meeks said the Governor was in fact privately “threatening” legislators who didn’t agree to stop the measure.
“Jeannie Burlsworth with Secure Arkansas, who apparently is a liaison for Beebe, told me this bill was part of a new world order and was being proposed as part of a secret U.N. mission,” Meeks said.
“I’ve had one constitutent — a coin collector in my district — say that this was going to be good for his business. He was very excited and animated about this, so I’m for the bill,” Meeks added.
Beebe responded to the “threat” accusation and said, “These guys haven’t seen a real threat. When I stick this quarter up their @$$#$, they’ll know what a threat is.”
For now, HB 00.25 sits in the House Public Health Committee, where it was assigned because of Rep. Hubbard’s insistence that it was about honoring a body organ, not fiscal policy.
Hubbard said he planned to run the bill on Saturday when Chairwoman Rep. Linda Tyler told him he could have a “special order of business.”
“She told me the calendar would be pretty light on Saturday and I could have the whole room to myself,” said Hubbard. “She’s a real nice lady for doing that.”