By Representative Vivian Flowers
The Arkansas ACLU is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year – an incredible achievement – and I'm so privileged to be a legislative partner. I first became involved in the early 90s, when I worked for the Bureau of Legislative Research and spent time watching long-time Executive Director Rita Sklar's work. I was almost on the ACLU board in the late 90s, and since then I have relied on the ACLU as an advocacy leader for the non-profit sector. They provide amazing assistance to legislators who, at the core of their mission, are advocates for individuals.
The ACLU of Arkansas’s role supporting good legislation is close to my heart. In the future, I plan to bring bills focusing on criminal justice reform to the House floor, and I’ll fight hard for them. There are many areas of concern that could be improved with strong legislation, like curtailing the use of excessive force and abolishing the death penalty for mentally ill individuals. Whether we make gains in prison reform, or make improvements in agency policy and advocacy to benefit individuals and their families, I’m going to keep pushing these issues forward, and I can do so with the confidence that the ACLU will be extremely supportive.
Recently, the ACLU helped win a legislative victory with a transparency bill that expanded Arkansas' Freedom of Information Act. From now on, State Senate committee’s audio can be recorded and made available to the public for one year—a huge win for transparency. Additionally, it’s a huge win for the press because they can do their jobs better and more thoroughly. Audio recorded sessions, not just a recording of minutes, is also a win for elected officials because it's harder to take wording out of context when anyone can go and hear it live. These are the kinds of critical issues with a broad impact the ACLU gives guidance and support for.
For the average citizen, the ACLU offers a legal voice and advocacy for those who can't afford a lawyer to protect their rights. There is not anther organization specifically focused on the constitutional rights of people. While the NAACP focuses specifically on racial or civil rights, the ACLU advances and protects the full spectrum of rights for everyone.
And Rita Sklar has been at the head of these fights for decades now. Did you know that Rita is not a lawyer? She's just an incredible person. When we were a one-party state, policy and agenda all happened in back rooms and closed-door meetings. Rita gave our whole state government a run for their money every time they tried something that would infringe the rights of others, and that takes courage. Rita spent most of her career with the ACLU and has made such a difference over the years.
The ACLU of Arkansas is going to be even busier in the future. In times like those we are in today, knowing the ACLU is here fighting on our behalf is comforting. I hope to see the ACLU’s membership expand beyond legal professionals because I believe every person should be a card-carrying member of the ACLU. When you need them, they will be there. Our civil liberties are precious and unfortunately, they are also vulnerable. The ACLU needs support from average people just as much as those people need the ACLU.
Going forward, we all have to remember that our rights are under attack. They will continue to be under attack, and we will continue to fight to protect those rights. I look forward to seeing the ACLU of Arkansas expand their message and get the stories of their victories out to the masses. The work they do is so important, and while I know it's hard to toot your own horn, the large role they play in our democracy is something every person should know about and be grateful for. Support the ACLU. Congratulate them on 50 years of advocacy. And stay ready to fight!