Sunday, October 1, 2023

The streetlights just came on, and my mama’s in the street tellin’ me to come home

At last, Ewok-friendly legislation.

At the end of February, Rep. Stephen Meeks (R-47, Greenbrier) filed HB 1711, “AN ACT TO CREATE THE ARKANSAS NIGHTTIME ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION ACT.”  The bill included a number of findings, which are not to be codified, including, inter alia:

(1)(A) Energy is wasted when methods of illumination are used excessively and inefficiently


(2)(A) Light pollution has been implicated in disruption of the human and animal circadian rhythm and strongly suspected as an etiology of suppressed melatonin production, depressed immune systems, and increases in certain cancers’ rate.


(4) Light pollution reduces the ability for Arkansans to enjoy recreational or educational astronomical observations of the starry night sky;

Based on these findings, HB 1711 would require state agencies, public corporations, and political subdivisions of the state to only install outdoor lighting that met specific criteria in terms of light output and energy efficiency.  The bill would also impose similar restrictions on lighted signage, and it would allow ten years for already existing signage to be brought into compliance.  Furthermore, the bill would impose time-limit restrictions on when (for example) baseball fields could be illuminated if no game was going on.

The bill is incredibly comprehensive, I must admit, going so far as to define the angle above horizontal that lights may not illuminate and the number of lumens allowed in fully shield fixtures.  In fact, in a roundabout way, Meeks is taking proactive steps toward the same measures that President Obama has begun pushing for.1

I mention this bill for three reasons, I guess. First, because I like it, and I hope it passes. Second, because it is going to committee tomorrow, so the timing seemed appropriate. Third, however, is because of what it is not.

This bill is in no way, shape, or form a measure designed to reduce or limit government. It is not a law that small-government conservatives would support if it were proposed by a Democrat. Worse, when it comes from someone whose own press release about his candidacy says “government should not be expected to, nor can it, provide the answer to everyone’s problems” and who has railed about the evils of government overreach from day one, such a bill oozes with hypocrisy.

Again, I like the bill; I just think, given the rhetoric of the day, it’s worth noting when a Tea Party type eschews “small government” in order to propose something this far out of character.  My theory — and it doesn’t merely apply to Meeks — is that most “small government” conservatives are actually “no programs I don’t like” conservatives.2

Most seem more than willing, for example, to have government invading personal privacy, especially if it’s the privacy of a group unlike them. Likewise, while many profess to be anti-regulation, even that only goes so far: I can’t imagine many would say that the FAA needs to go and that airlines should not be regulated in their upkeep, pilot hours, and the like. And while nearly every one of them claims that his “small government” views are based on the U.S. Constitution, we’ve already seen this year that many of those same people are willing to propose bills that are clearly violative of that same document.

I realize that all politicians, at some level, are of the “only the programs I like” ilk. The problem I have with the disconnect on the conservative side of this paradigm is that, invariably, the programs they don’t like are the ones that do the most good for people other than themselves. If I am only supporting programs I like, there’s still a chance that everyone will have access to healthcare and that the poor will be taken care of, because I will support the programs and the tax policies underlying them; when a “small government” conservative (especially in the South) takes this approach, the myth of the free market as a panacea takes over, leading to privatization and tax cuts for the rich, and the Bible becomes the only acceptable basis for social policy decisions.

I don’t pretend for a moment like people are suddenly going to stop the “only the programs I like” approach to governance.  I simply wish they were a little more open about it.  Spare me the “small government” and “limited government” rants until you are willing to put your policy decisions where your mouth is.


1I doubt Meeks meant to do that; I am 99% certain that this bill is designed to reduce light pollution in Conway and Little Rock so that Meeks, who counts star gazing among his hobbies, can better view the night sky.  I’m fine with that; I, too, am an astronomy geek.

2 This is not true for all of them, mind you. Luke Hobbs, for example, seems very consistent in the application of his worldview to proposed laws. (See, e.g., his opposition to David Meeks’ ridiculous, failed healthcare bill.)

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