Law enforcement officers in Arkansas will be trained annually in their duty to intervene when they see another officer using excessive force. The bill was signed into law the same day a jury convicted police officer Derek Chauvin for the killing of George Floyd. It didn’t get as much attention as some of the Legislature’s other activities this past session. But it was one example that the process can still work.

Act 792’s sponsor, Rep. Justin Boyd, R-Fort Smith, told me the training will be added to other types of annual training already required of law enforcers in firearms certification and racial profiling.

The bill was drafted long before the legislative session started and underwent many shapes and forms. He said the final product displeased some on the left and the right, but law enforcers themselves saw it as a chance to send the right message. It passed 94-0 in the House and 34-0 in the Senate.

Boyd is a pragmatic, thoughtful legislator who doesn’t seek the spotlight or court controversy for controversy’s sake. In a wide-ranging interview Wednesday – the day the Legislature recessed and went home – I asked him what it’s really like to do his job.

He told me legislators have “primarily two sets of relationships you have to manage.” One is their relationship with their constituents. The other is with fellow lawmakers and other players in the Capitol, including the governor.

Boyd said his constituents aren’t particularly engaged on most issues and expect legislators to analyze the situation and make their best decisions on those.

Then there are what he called the “issues of the day” where constituents have definite opinions – such as on gun rights – and expect legislators to vote a certain way.

Boyd pointed out that President Trump won 60 percent of the vote in his district. People voted for Trump for reasons Boyd must consider when making his own decisions at the Capitol. At the same time, he pointed out that Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has been critical of Trump, won a higher percentage of the vote in Boyd’s district than Boyd did.

“Don’t think I didn’t notice that and that doesn’t affect the way you perceive things,” he said.

Boyd also pointed out that the same percentage of voters in his district who voted for Trump also voted for medical marijuana. Legislators can amend those types of voter-approved initiatives, but he would hesitate to do so with that kind of support in his district.

“We have the legal authority to do it, but we’re looking at that going, you know, 60 percent of my voters said they want this. That’s the best poll there is, right, on Election Day,” he said.

This was a controversial session, with lawmakers passing or proposing many bills related to social issues. Those included outlawing most abortions in Arkansas, restricting transgender students’ medical treatments and sports participation, and opposing federal gun laws.

One bill that Boyd co-sponsored allowed medical providers to decline to participate in treatments that violated their consciences. He said it was mischaracterized as an anti-transgender bill, when it was actually about many issues, including euthanasia.

“I’m a Catholic pharmacist. This is an important issue to me,” he said.

The social issues got a lot of attention, and Boyd said he was uncomfortable with some of the press the state received. But he also pointed out that the Legislature was pushing back against actions that are happening at the federal level that are leading to real concerns among constituents.

He said that most of what the Legislature did was nonpartisan and not controversial. We talked about the fact that lawmakers budget conservatively and successfully. Officials believe the state’s long-term reserve fund could be on a path to reaching $700 million.

He didn’t want to bash the press, but he said that we in the media tend to ignore the kinds of actions that unify rather than divide.

“I had a bill that was duty to intervene, and it’s like nobody cared because we all voted for it, right?” he said. “Nobody was looking for the story because if it’s not an us versus them story, who the heck cares?”

Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist published in 16 outlets in Arkansas. Email him at Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.

Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist published in 16 outlets in Arkansas. Email him at Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.

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