LITTLE ROCK More than just lawmakers will be scrutinizing each bill that snakes its way through the legislative process this session.
Interest groups representing everything from industries to geographical regions keep a watchful eye on what the lawmakers in Little Rock areup to. The Crossroads Coalition, an organization that promotes development in the Delta counties of eastern Arkansas (including Jackson and Woodruff counties), is no exception.
The Coalition has been around in some form since the early '90s, but it wasn't until the last session, two years ago, that they put forth an organized effort to keep track of and influence state legislation.
Kay Brockwell, chairwoman of the Crossroads Coalition Economic Development Pillar Group, said that effort was only marginally successful, so it was back to the drawing board. This year, they're back with another long list of issues to watch for, but they've added more people to their plan.
"It's a proven fact, with any legislator that you talk to, that when they get those phone calls from home, it makes them pay attention," Brockwell said.
The Crossroads Coalition is looking for two volunteers from each of the counties they represent to serve as legislative chairmen. Through partnering with other development groups, the Crossroads Coalition already has plenty of eyes and ears tuned to the legislative session, what they need is people to rally the troops. That's what the legislative chairmen are for.
"We have this whole agenda that we're backing, but it doesn't do any good to just put it out there unless you have the plans to push it," Brockwell said.
The Crossroads Coalition will contact the legislative chairmen with a call to action on a specific bill, and the chairmen will in turn pass on the information to voters in their county about the nature of the bill, its status and whether voters should urge their legislators to pass it or defeat it.
In the coalition's December newsletter, Brockwell points out that there are five senators and 10 representatives responsible for the Crossroads region.
"If we can reach out to each of those lawmakers on critical issues, we will impact the entire Legislature and have a major impact on the critical issues that will affect us for the years to come," Brockwell wrote in the newsletter.
Brockwell said she's had a few responses so far, but she needs to get more volunteers and get them in place quickly. She expects things to jump into high gear at the Capitol pretty quickly during this session.
The Crossroad Coalition's legislative agenda is long, but Brockwell said one issue stands out above the rest.
"The single biggest thing that we're going to be looking for is the funding bill for the Arkansas Delta Training and Education Consortium, and that's one of the absolutely critical things we have to have," Brockwell said.
Last legislative session, Brockwell said the consortium got $2.3 million out of the surplus money for programs that focus on work-force training. For an organization whose goal is to improve the standard of living in the Delta, such programs are important, Brockwell said. She added that they want to make sure these programs keep getting funding.
"We have kids who can get four-year degrees now and not have to leave the Crossroads region, which has never, ever been the case before," Brockwell said. "And we need to continue that."
The Crossroads Coalition includes Crittenden, Cross, Jackson, Lee, Mississippi, Monroe, Phillips, Poinsett, St. Francis and Woodruff counties. Its Web site is www.crossroadscoalition.org.
Those interested can send Brockwell their name, phone and e-mail address to email@example.com.
Three Rivers, Pages 43, 44 on 01/22/2009