The Arkansas Senate and House of Representatives meets on the second Monday in January of every odd numbered year. The first General Assembly was held in 1820 and since then pages have played a unique and necessary role in the legislature. Senate pages work is defined by the United States Senate (https://www.senate.gov/reference/reference_index.) as, “Senate page duties consist primarily of delivery of correspondence and legislative material within the Congressional complex. Other duties include preparing the chamber for Senate sessions, and carrying bills and amendments to the desk.” As president of my high school's Young Democrats club, I got to page during this year's Arkansas legislative session. The experience I had was individual due to the many changes we have had in leadership recently. Also because the senator from my region is quite notorious. My day was spent tending to Senator Dan Sullivan which would have never been my pick considering his track record and recent proposals. I have a different perspective than those from other places around the state because Senator Sullivan actually taught at my elementary school. I wish I could tell you this allowed me to be more open minded about his political beliefs but in all honesty my one on one interactions have left me disappointed and fearful. Going into my paging experience I felt it would leave me defeated and that I would spend much of my time watching policymakers further strip Arkansans of their rights. This was not my experience in the slightest. I left the capitol building feeling proud. My understanding of how beneficial our legislature is to democracy was genuinely restored.
My day at the capitol began early at 10 a.m. in a Forestry and Agriculture Committee meeting. I am sure you are thinking the same thing I did, “That is really really boring.” I definitely would not describe myself as excited but when I got on the elevator a group of Senators were sharing the hot gossip surrounding a bill being discussed in this committee. When we arrived the room was packed, it included many prominent politicians, doctors and lawyers who seemed exceedingly prepared. Many of them even had visual aids, which made my forensic kid's heart happy. The bill that can be blamed for all of this drama is what many would consider the “VetTech Bill.” In technical terms it is House Bill 1182. I will spare you the Short Title and give a quick summary: there are only 480 Veterinarians in Arkansas and almost none accessible to big cattle in the Delta region. In the status quo animals are dying and farmers are suffering. Veterinarians have limited the capabilities of Veterinary Technicians because they believe they are not educated enough to do surgery or prescribe medicine. Considering Vet Techs go through extensive school many believe the true reason veterinarians are against furthering their capabilities is due to greed. The committee meeting was intense with passionate speeches on both sides. Representative Vaught sponsored this bill which meant I got to watch her grace the room with several emotional speeches. Ultimately, the bill passed through committee with only one amendment. This is such an important bill for farmers and animals alike. When filling out my “Feedback Survey” I made sure they knew the committee meeting was the most impactful part of my day. My passion for government was reenergized after watching Arkansas politicians stand up for real, working Arkansans and not yield to the pressure coming from big name doctors and their lawyers.
The paging in the senate was much less eventful and only lasted around 25 minutes as many of the bills were inconsequential and passed unanimously. It was relieving to see that aspect of legislation run smoothly after the bills that have been passing in the Senate recently. My experience as a page was impactful in a positive way, despite my preconceived understanding of the Arkansas legislature. I advise all high school students to page during this year's General Assembly. Although your senator may be one of your least favorite people, only second to our governor, the experience is incredibly important to your understanding of our politicians and bills. I am inspired to further involve myself in our local government and not to give up hope on Arkansas legislation.
Jonesboro High School