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OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: At the Capitol

by Mike Masterson | February 16, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

I try to pay attention to news of what our Legislature is concocting after they arrive in the capital city. While much of what elected public servants do can seem like irrelevant ego-stroking, I occasionally happen across potential laws that can actually make a difference in our daily lives.

That was the case the other day when four meaningful bills were under favorable consideration, including House Bill 1176, which would allow Medicaid reimbursement for telemedicine mental health counseling after the covid-19 pandemic.

Then there was HB1116; if made law, it would require the permission of one parent before a terminally ill child is placed on Do Not Resuscitate orders, similar to Missouri's so-called Simon's Law. To me, this humane approach is only logical.

A third proposed law, Senate Bill 247, would put the brakes on those who drag race on public streets by elevating that crime from a misdemeanor to a Class D felony on the second offense.

Finally, HB1017 would permanently adopt Daylight Saving Time upon determination of the secretary of state, provided the federal government approves it and all surrounding states pass such legislation.

Over the years I've seen some downright preposterous laws proposed by some legislators who apparently misunderstood their role in determining laws we must live by.

These four, however, seem rooted in some solid reasoning in the public interest.

Setting record straight

Not long ago, I wrote about the quandary within the state's 5A football programs where many believe two private high schools, Pulaski Academy and Little Rock Christian, remain at an advantage in perennially claiming state championships over Arkansas' 30 public schools that compete in that division.

In that column, I quoted prominent Harrison attorney Kelsey Bardwell, who provided statistics she garnered from FOIA requests and websites of those private schools to make her point about apparent inequities in student athletic participation and differences in student benefits between the private and public schools.

That column prompted a thoughtful response from Madison Taylor, the assistant athletic director at Pulaski Academy, who cited discrepancies in the numbers Bardwell supplied to draw her conclusions.

Taylor wrote: "Please share this with Mrs. Bardwell. AAA numbers are based on a three-year average of boys and girls grades 10-12. So the 300 number is based on the aforementioned figure. In grades 10-12 we currently have 151 males. On our football roster in grades 10-12 we had 52 players this year, which is well below 49% [Bardwell's figure].

"At the end of the season we moved up 21 freshmen. That's where she [Bardwell] got the number 73. We added the freshmen to our roster in November after their season. Like at most schools, some of them will not continue to play and none contributed to our season this year. Therefore roughly one-third of our boys do participate in football. That said, please remember that we had four players start for us out of 22 that were over 200 lbs.

"I say that to say we play differently and never go full pads in practice or full contact. Therefore we have a higher percentage of boys that play. They simply know we aren't going to beat them up physically every day in practice. You'd be amazed at how more boys will come out for football if they understand the coaches don't stress the physicality of the game and demand physical sacrifice. Our head coach believes in a healthy body, which is the precursor. That's how we play the game differently than anyone else."

In response to Taylor, Bardwell explained her original calculations: "I gathered statistics from the AAA via FOIA request, as well as roster numbers reported on MaxPreps. Both information sources ultimately come from the schools who self-report. I note the number reported was listed under "varsity" and there were two freshmen on that list. I assumed they played up.

"While I agree this [Taylor's figures] changes the percentage of males that play football at Pulaski Academy from 49% to 33%, that still almost doubles the 18% average of public school participants from much-lesser populated areas (Little Rock Christian Academy's is 31%).

"I respectfully note the assistant athletic director did not address these population disparities, nor the likely potential financial aid and scholarship's effects on private schools winning 100% of the last seven consecutive championships to the exclusion of public schools in 5A.

"HB1097 will fix that. I'm also happy for you to share my email address with the assistant athletic director. While many of us have strong feelings about this, I am committed to a respectful debate about the issue."

What remains is whether the Legislature and/or the AAA will act to finally bring equity to this long-standing controversy.

I appreciated how Taylor responded in an adult manner to the original column. In contrast, I get other messages rooted in negative, knee-jerk emotion rather than constructive thought.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly how you want them to treat you.

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Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

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