Washington news in brief
By Frank E. Lockwood
WASHINGTON -- A busload of Arkansas FFA members was on Capitol Hill meeting early Thursday morning with all six members of the state's congressional delegation.
The youths and the elected representatives called the Hogs on the steps of the Capitol building and posed for photos.
For nearly all of the students, it was their first trip to Washington.
"Those 45 students literally come from all corners of the state and all sizes of schools," said Kevin Barenberg, an agriculture teacher and FFA adviser at Lincoln High School and one of the group's chaperones.
Although the letters originally stood for Future Farmers of America, the organization's official name now is National FFA Organization.
The timing of the trip was fortuitous, coinciding with debate and passage of the Senate version of the farm bill.
"That was a very important topic we visited about. It's a historic day when things like that happen," said Barenberg.
While in town, the group visited iconic presidential monuments as well as war memorials and Arlington National Cemetery.
"I have been here prior [to this], but it's still awe inspiring to see the foundation of our nation's history, to see where the roots of freedom have sprung. It's pretty impressive, and it definitely allows you to reflect upon the things we have and where they came from," Barenberg said.
Members of Associated Builders and Contractors from Arkansas traveled to the nation's capital last week to consult with other industry officials and to meet with members of the state's congressional delegation.
The four Arkansans spoke Wednesday with U.S. Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton, and with U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, along with staff members for the state's other three U.S. representatives.
"Our tour was not so much hard-core lobbying as it was just saying, 'thank you,' for their support of the construction industry in Arkansas," said Bill Roachell, the group's state chapter president. "Also, we thanked them for the tax cut. Our members have seen a benefit from that."
In addition, they urged lawmakers to support workforce development and career and technical education.
With U.S. unemployment falling to 3.8 percent in May, its lowest level in nearly two decades, demand for skilled workers is outstripping supply.
"Our members are telling us all the time, 'Hey, I can't find employees,'" Roachell said.
One piece of legislation they favor would allow students to use federal financial aid dollars to help pay for apprenticeship programs.
Hill talks up state
housing to Carson
When U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson appeared before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday, a congressman from Little Rock was there to highlight the Natural State's lower-than-average cost of housing.
"Arkansas is very affordable. We encourage all people to come live and work in Arkansas where housing is affordable," U.S. Rep. French Hill told the Cabinet secretary.
The Republican lawmaker, who serves on the committee, encouraged Carson to tackle barriers to affordable housing in other states.
"In certain places, I hope you'll speak out against excessive costs, regulatory costs, development costs that drive up the cost per unit of housing, like in southern California, for example," Hill said.
"That's one of the big issues," Carson replied. "There's the zoning restrictions and the regulatory costs that have driven things out of sight."
During Hill's three-minute time allotment, they briefly discussed Carson's May 1 visit to central Arkansas, which included stops at a homeless shelter and at public housing.
"It was very impressive, some of the things that were going on there," Carson told the committee.