LITTLE ROCK Members of a legislative committee delayed work on a bill Wednesday that would change Arkansas’ nickname from the “Natural State” to the “Land of Opportunity” so its sponsor can back up his claim the change wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime.
Rep. David Sanders, R-Little Rock, said Arkansas’ return to a motto from its past would better portray the state as friendly to business, and that changing the nickname wouldn’t force changes on state stationery, brochures and license plates.
Skeptical members of the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee, however, seemed to borrow from Missouri’s state slogan by telling Sanders, in essence, “Show Me.” They told him to return with proof the change could be made cost-free.
“Common sense will tell you there will be some changes in where that motto will be placed,” said Rep. Tracy Pennartz, D-Fort Smith, who asked Sanders to produce state-certified numbers outlining potential costs. A review would take at least five days.
Rep. Larry Cowling, D-Cowling, who in 2009 sponsored a bill making the pecan Arkansas’ official nut, said, “I think there will be a financial deal down the line.” His nut bill did not require the state to reprint publications.
Arkansas was known as the “Land of Opportunity” from 1953-1995, when the Legislature adopted the “Natural State” as the state’s official moniker. Even before 1995, tourism officials already billed Arkansas as the “Natural State” because of its scenery.
“‘Land of Opportunity’ recognizes all that is good about this state,” Sanders told the panel. “It positions Arkansas not only as a vacation destination.”
Other states also have highlighted their natural features in their marketing, such as Colorful Colorado; Wild, Wonderful West Virginia; and Minnesota’s Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Richard Davies, the director of the state Parks and Tourism Department, said the “Natural State” name fits Arkansas. Hot Springs is considered the U.S.’s first national park because it holds the first land set aside by the federal government for preservation, and the Buffalo River was the first national river.
“We’d be going backwards,” Davies testified. He said that since the bill doesn’t direct any agency to change its promotional material, “We would not use ‘Land of Opportunity.”’
Skip Rutherford, who spearheaded local development of the Bill Clinton presidential library, recited a list of Arkansas business and political leaders who seized on their opportunities as he spoke in support of the old motto.
“It’s more reflective of our people,” he said. “I don’t think the “Natural State” is bad. I just think the ‘Land of Opportunity’ is more encompassing.”
Gov. Mike Beebe opposes the bill, saying the Legislature has more important things to worry about it.
Arkansas also has been called the “Wonder State,” the “Bear State” and the “Toothpick State.”
Four House panels said Wednesday they’ll allow their proceedings to broadcast live on the Internet.
The committees voted to allow the live streaming of their meetings using equipment that was installed last year. They are the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee; the Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development Committee; the Insurance and Commerce Committee; and the Aging, Children and Youth Committee.
The previous House speaker and House Management Committee decided last year to spend more than $375,000 to equip four rooms with cameras and hardware to stream audio and video. Two other committees voted Tuesday to allow the online broadcasts.
The Senate does not broadcast committee meetings.
Also Wednesday, the Joint Budget Committee removed the 1.86 percent cost-of-living increases from the proposed General Appropriation Act. The bill sets funding levels for the executive, legislative and judicial branches for the coming fiscal year. The measure did not include pay raises for legislators or constitutional officers.
The bill was sent back to the budget panel last week after several lawmakers said they were concerned about the pay increases that included raises for members of the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.
Cutting the pay raise removes about $475,000, or a little more than 1 percent, from the $36.3 million bill. The bill now heads to the House for a vote.