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Big Ideas for Arkansas

Big Ideas for Arkansas

January 26, 2017

Vol 43 • No 21

Read the print version

Big Ideas for Arkansas 2017

Readers and experts suggest ways to change Arkansas for the better.

Too late

Now that the horses have left the barn, trotted out the front gate and are galloping headlong down the county road, editors at the New York Times have taken to public bickering about who left the stalls unlatched.

Big Piph comes to South on Main

Also, the 7th annual Rally for Reproductive Justice.


The first step is admitting you have a problem, so here goes: Since the election, The Observer has been in a bit of a funk. If you watch this space, you have no doubt noticed it.

Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase kicks off

Also, Intimate Apparel, Ansel Adams, Rachmaninoff, High Plains Jamboree, Black Oak Arkansas and more.

A 5.7 earthquake away from destruction

I woke up recently to tragic news: A 5.7 magnitude earthquake in Italy triggered an avalanche, burying a resort hotel filled with vacationing families, causing loss of life and devastation across the region.


'Elle' is the latest by director Paul Verhoeven.

Top chef

Scott Rains continues to wow at Table 28.

The man who changed the course of Arkansas history

Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation

For more than 40 years since his death, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation has continued Governor Rockefeller's legacy to improve the lives of all Arkansans.

An open book: the Winthrop Rockefeller Collection

Winthrop Rockefeller was an enormous force for change in the state, and the materials he created before, during and after his 1966 inauguration are preserved and available for use at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's (UALR) Center for Arkansas History and Culture (CAHC).

Phony oaths

he quadrennial and biennial swearing-in ceremonies, where men and women place their hands on a Bible, or a stack of them in President Trump's case, and swear allegiance to the constitutions of their nation or states, are always inspiring theater, if you can overlook the sanctimony. It's getting harder.

The life of Winthrop Rockefeller

Fifty years ago, the inauguration of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller contributed to a legacy of transformation in Arkansas.

'Fabulous, Baby!'

'Sister Act' coming to The Rep.

Charlie Collins vs. everybody

Farm-to-International leader

Winrock International began as a humble farm atop Petit Jean Mountain and has grown into a leading organization in international development.

No room for error

I don't do this very often within the parameters of "Pearls," but this will be a segmented column addressing two issues on the Hill.

Never stop asking the big questions

The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute keeps the conversation going in a picturesque setting.

Here to stay

The Women's March for Arkansas drew thousands from around the state to the Capitol on Saturday, Jan. 21, as a counterpoint to Friday's presidential inauguration.

'We are here, and we are here to stay'

Hotter and hotter, tax cuts sail through the ledge and more.

Season 32 line up for Arkansas Public Theatre announced

Classic and modern-classic plays and musicals fill out Arkansas Public Theatre's 32nd season

Neighborhoods angry over Poore's school closings

Wilson and Franklin elementary schools scheduled to be shut down.

Let them eat cake

An unproductive and harmful bill attempting to curb obesity passed easily out of committee last week at the state legislature. House Bill 1035 attempts to address this serious public health issue by preventing poor families who rely on SNAP (the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps) from purchasing certain items such as candy and sodas.

In passing: Darrell Glascock

Darrell Glascock, 72, a Louisiana political consultant and former political candidate in Arkansas, died shortly after Christmas while he was in Bogota, Colombia. His time in Arkansas was, to put it mildly, colorful.

School choice bill draws criticism from superintendents, governor

A bill that would establish education savings accounts in Arkansas is breaking new ground in school choice legislation, according to its sponsor. But critics — including the state’s influential school superintendent association — say it could pose major fiscal problems for Arkansas if passed in its current form.

New tenant at Tech Park: Ritter Communications

Ritter Communications, a technology company based in Jonesboro, has signed a five-year lease for 1,328 square feet on the fifth floor of the Little Rock Technology Park, becoming the largest tenant to date in the Tech Park's first building at 417 Main St.

Bryan Borland's "Dig" receives Stonewall Book Award

Bryan Borland of Little Rock's Sibling Rivalry press has received accolades from the American Library Association by way of a Stonewall Book Award, "given annually to English-language works of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience."

Legislature approves anti-abortion measure

The Republican-controlled state Senate voted 25-6 to ban dilation and evacuation, the safest abortion procedure in the second trimester (used in 95 percent of all second-trimester abortions in the United States), AP reports.

Effort to preserve punishing landlord-tenant law continues

A Senate committee advanced Sen. Blake Johnson's bill that seems designed to dodge court challenges to the state's unconstitutional landlord-tenant laws, but would maintain the state's cruel system, keeping Arkansas as the only state in the nation that criminalizes a failure to vacate.

Up in smoke? Governor open to plot to circumvent medical marijuana amendment

Nanny state Republicans target medical marijuana patients.

Trump's approval ratings tanking

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted over the first five days of Donald Trump's presidency found that just 36 approve of the job he is doing, while 44 percent disapprove.

Tax break for retired military sails through House committee

The House Revenue and Tax committee this morning approved a bill to create a tax exemption for veterans' retirement pay. Rep. Michael John Gray noted that the bill also included an unrelated giveaway to the soda industry, paid for with tax hikes on unemployment benefits and digital downloads.

Trump's pipeline promise

Do you know who said this?"I also think that if the Keystone XL pipeline is built, it should be built with American steel from our American producers."

Buffalo River advocates to press PC&E Commission on issuance of hog waste permit

The Pollution Control and Ecology Commission will hear oral arguments tomorrow morning (Friday, Jan. 27) regarding a permit which would allow a farm in the Buffalo River watershed to distribute up to 6.6 million gallons of hog waste on its property.

Trump's inhumane plans on immigration and refugees

Various outlets have been reporting on draconian policies on immigration, terrorism, and refugees that the Trump administration plans to pursue.

Circuit Judge Pearson suspended after arrest for DWI and fleeing

The Supreme Court today issued a temporary suspension, with pay, for Circuit Court Judge William Pearson, who has served as judge for the 5th judicial district (Pope, Johnson, and Franklin counties) since 2008.

The Thursday line

All you.

Rumor mill: French Hill to Treasury?

A little birdie in D.C. tells us that rumors are floating among Republican lobbyists that U.S. Rep. French Hill is going to be tapped by President Donald Trump for Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, the number two slot and typically a powerful role.

Rapert files bill to delay medical marijuana amendment until federal law changes

On a Sunday morning sidewalk, Sen. Jason Rapert is NOT, Lord, wishing he was stoned.

Medical marijuana rules approved by Board of Health would limit program to Arkansas residents

The Arkansas State Board of Health this morning approved draft rules governing medical marijuana registration, testing and labeling. The board also asked the legislature to restrict a qualifying patient's ability to give marijuana to another qualifying patient.

Legal Aid sues DHS again over algorithm denial of benefits to disabled: Update with DHS comment

Legal Aid of Arkansas filed suit today in Pulaski County Circuit Court to stop the state Department of Human Services from using a computer algorithm to determine Medicaid benefits for people with severe disabilities.

Arkansas filmmaker Abbasi's 'Dayveon' sells after Sundance premiere

North American distribution rights to Arkansas filmmaker Amman Abbasi's debut feature "Dayveon" have sold to distribution company FilmRise after a Jan. 19 premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Little Rock School District millage vote to be postponed

No new date for the election was announced, although Poore emphasized in a statement that the postponement is temporary.

Governor signs bill to reduce developmental disability waitlist

HB 1033 will use a portion of Arkansas's tobacco settlement proceeds to expand the Alternative Community Services Waiver Program, which provides home- and community-based services to individuals with developmental disabilities.

Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase: Meet Our Judges

We think it's high time you meet our panel of four judges, to be supplemented each week with a surprise fifth guest judge. Catch them at our three remaining semi-final rounds at Stickyz Feb. 2, Feb. 9, Feb. 16 and at our final round at Rev Room, March 10.

Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase Round 1: The best and the freshest

A recap of the 25th Anniversary of the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase, Round 1.

State senator proposes amendment to end state Supreme Court elections

State Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Little Rock) has introduced a proposed constitutional amendment that would provide for the appointment of Arkansas Supreme Court justices by the governor, rather than their election.

State trooper describes Women's Marchers as 'big ol heifers' on social media

A reader passes along a screenshot of a Facebook post made by State Trooper Todd Harris about the Women's March on Washington. The State Police are reviewing the post to determine if code or conduct were violated.

The Confused About Soda Taxes Edition

This week on the podcast: legislative doings, including the passage of a $50 million tax cut and an anti-abortion measure, the return of voter ID and a major school choice bill.

Judge drops city, former chief from Hastings suit

Federal Judge Brian Miller has issued a summary judgment in favor of the city of Little Rock and retired Police Chief Stuart Thomas in Perkins v. Hastings, a suit claiming that the city and the chief failed to train, discipline and supervise Officer Josh Hastings. Hastings was the officer who was tried twice for manslaughter in the shooting of Bobby Moore; both trials ended in mistrials.

The end of line open line

Over to you.

Excessive force lawsuit settled

A man who alleged a Blytheville police officer used excessive force against him has settled a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Blytheville. James Harris, who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit last year on behalf of Chardrick Mitchell, confirmed the $35,000 settlement to KAIT.

Saturday line

It's an open line.

Fight for reproductive rights fires salvo at Capitol

Another good crowd turned out at the state Capitol today, this time to make wide-ranging case for reproductive rights, health care and equal treatment of transgender people, all issues that the Arkansas Legislature has shown a cavalier attitude toward. Why are women still having to protest to be considered fully grown humans who can make decisions for themselves? Because it remains politically expedient in Arkansas to deny women the right to a safe abortion at 12-weeks-plus pregnancy.

Under Trump, these renowned Fayetteville neurosurgeons would have been banned from coming to the U.S.

There are stories all over the web and TV about the people who are being detained. It's also worth remembering the folks who're already here, but wouldn't have been allowed in under a Trump administration. Those include Dr. Mahan Ghiassi and Dr. Mayshan Ghiassi of Washington Regional Hospital in Fayetteville, two of only about 100 doctors trained in minimally invasive endovascular neurosurgery and conventional neurosurgery.

Rally for immigrants and Muslims planned for Capitol on Sunday

There's a planned rally at the state Capitol at 2:30 p.m. Sunday to show support for the local Muslim and immigrant community.

Steven Bannon to be part of National Security Council

So now White House chief strategist and nativist Steve Bannon is a member of the National Security Council. And his influence was clearly all over the travel ban. This is bad, bad, bad.

Trump immigration protest at LR: Quick and fierce

It was not even 24 hours ago that Sophia Said, director of the Interfaith Center; City Director Kathy Webb and others decided to organize a protest today of Donald Trump's executive order that has left people from Muslim countries languishing in airports or unable to come to the US at all — people with visas, green cards,a  post-doc graduate student en route to Harvard, Google employees abroad, families. I got the message today before noon; others didn't find out until it was going on. But however folks found out, they turned out in huge numbers, more than thousand men, women and children, on the grounds of the state Capitol to listen to speakers from all faiths and many countries.

The Sunday line

It's an open line.

No shortage of fun this February

It may be a short month, February...but it's not short on things to do in the Arkansas Delta!

Cotton and Boozman back Trump's travel ban

No surprise: Sen. Tom Cotton and Sen. John Boozman are backing Donald Trump's controversial executive order — rolled out chaotically, incompetently, and arguably unconstitutionally over the weekend — enacting an immediate 90-day ban on entry into the U.S. from citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations as well as a 120-ban on entry for all refugees.

Pizza tales from Rep. Stephen Meeks

Unlike some legislators who cash in with shady consulting gigs (or out-and-out corruption), Rep. Stephen Meeks is out earning an honest living.

More on the Ecclesia scandal; at least ten legislators directed GIF money to college

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette has more on the GIF scandal — though the central Arkansas D-G edition hasn't published it.

Gov. Hutchinson's scam to slip giveaway for soda industry into military retirement tax exemption bill

Gov. Asa Hutchinson's scheme to bamboozle the public on tax policy appears set to succeed. Hutchinson is backing a pair of tax increases on unemployment benefits and digital downloads in order to pay for a giveaway to the soft drink industry. He's sneaking it in via stuffing it into an unrelated tax cut for military retirement benefits.

Bill filed to require unemployment beneficiaries to work toward GED if no high-school diploma

Sen. Eddie Joe Williams today filed a bill to require anyone receiving unemployment benefits to either have a high school diploma or be enrolled in classes working towards a GED.

LRPD: pedestrian stuck and killed on Stagecoach Road last night

The Little Rock Police Department issued a report today in an accident yesterday that claimed the life of a man pushing an empty wheelchair on Stagecoach Road.

Sen. Elliott files bill to require racial impact statements for criminal justice bills

Sen. Joyce Elliott filed a bill last week to mandate the creation of a racial impact statement for certain criminal-justice bills filed in the Senate or House of Representatives.

Military benefits tax exemption passes House despite complaints that governor using bill to "shove through" other policy

The House today passed a bill to create a tax exemption for military retirement pay, 75-14. The bill was larded up with some unrelated policy, leading Rep. Bob Ballinger to complain: "We're going to use the veterans to do some hard things because it gives us cover."

The Monday line and video roundup

Over to you.

Remove two LR high schools from 'academic distress' list, Education Dept recommends (updated)

The Arkansas Department of Education has recommended that two Little Rock School District high schools — J.A. Fair and McClellan — be removed from the list of campuses the state deems to be in academic distress.

Fire crews dispatched to Central High, principal reports smoke but no fire after equipment malfunction

Little Rock Fire Department fire crews responded to Central High School this afternoon after reports of smoke caused by an equipment malfunction at the school, Principal Nancy Rousseau said there were no flames during the incident.

$50 million low-income tax heading to governor's desk

The Arkansas Senate voted 33-0 and the House 92-0 to pass bills enacting the governor's proposed tax cut on those who make less than $21,000.

Bob Ballinger and other Tea Partiers file alternative bill exempting military retirement benefits

Today Rep. Bob Ballinger and other right-wing Republicans filed an alternative bill to create a tax exemption for military retirement benefits. It's not a revenue neutral bill; it's a revenue negative tax cut.

Funding formula change for higher ed passes the House

The House passed Governor Hutchinson’s plan to alter the funding formula for higher education by 80-10, with 3 voting present. The bill, filed by Rep. Mark Lowery (R-Maumelle), would send state dollars to public colleges and universities based on performance. The state now awards colleges and universities money mostly based on enrollment.

Bentley's bill restricting use of food stamps passes House

Rep. Mary Bentley's bill to limit the use of food stamps, which she says is aimed at combating rising obesity and discouraging food stamp fraud, today passed the House 55-39.

French Hill backs Trump's travel ban

Arkansas Republicans continue to line up behind Dear Leader.

Anti-immigrant legislation likely to run in House Education committee Tuesday

Update, Jan. 31, 2017, 3:40 p.m.: HB 1042 did not come up for a vote in committee this morning after all. Rep. Smith told the committee he would be amending the measure before bringing it back for a vote.

Bill filed to stop Arkansas dispensaries from growing marijuana would increase clout of big growers

If dispensaries are stripped of the ability to grow their own marijuana, that would concentrate more economic power in the hands of the five big cultivators. Such legislation has been rumored for weeks.

Bills would prohibit smoking marijuana and allow local governments to ban dispensaries without consulting voters

HB 1391, which would allow an Arkansas municipality or county to ban dispensaries or cultivators without holding a local election. All that would be needed to prohibit placement of such a business is "a majority vote of a city council or county quorum court," HB 1391 states.

Boy Scouts of America will allow transgender children to join

The Boy Scouts of America announced yesterday that it will allow transgender children to participate in scouting programs

State reaches tax agreement with Airbnb

KARK reports that Airbnb, the online site facilitating short-term vacation rentals of residential properties, reached a tax agreement with the state of Arkansas yesterday.

Trump will keep Obama's executive order protecting federal LGBT workers

The White House announced yesterday that President Donald Trump will continue to enforce his predecessor's 2014 executive order requiring all companies who contract with the federal government not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity

Bill to preserve punishing landlord-tenant law routed to committee friendly to realtors lobby

Noted: SB25, which appears to be an effort by the Arkansas Realtors Association to preserve the status quo, isn't heading to House Judiciary this week, as you might expect. Instead it's being re-routed to a committee likely friendlier to the realtor lobby.

Obama issues first statement since leaving White House

In his final press conference, President Barack Obama said that he might speak up after leaving office if he was concerned that "our core values may be at stake."

French Hill speculation game continues

More on the rumors that French Hill may be in line for a job in the Trump administration. And if he goes — who might run to take his place?

Universities issue statements in response to Trump's executive order; many students potentially impacted

The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock have both issued statements in response to President Donald Trump's controversial executive order. UA Fayetteville has more than 100 people on campus from the affected countries who have visas to study, visit, and work in the U.S. There are  55 UA Little Rock students from those countries.

Collins' campus carry bill passes out of House committee

Rep. Charlie Collins bill to to force public universities and colleges to allow staff members to carry concealed handguns passed out of House committee this morning.

McCullough new Democratic Party county chairperson, with update

Central High School teacher Tippi McCullough was elected chairperson of the Pulaski County Democrats last night along with a slate that included First Vice Chair Sam Kauffman, Second Vice Chair Kendra Johnson, Treasurer Dillon Hupp, Secretary Miguel Lopez and Election Commissioner Leonard Boyle. (Voting is not done by slate, but the slate was an informal group of like-minded Democrats that McCullough described in a Q and A with the Times last week as diverse. "It felt right and felt comfortable to support each other," she said. The terms are two years.

Military benefits tax exemption (plus soda industry giveaway and tax hikes) passes Senate 30-0

The Senate today passed a bill to create a tax exemption for military retirement pay, 30-0 (one didn't vote and four were present). A similar bill passed the House yesterday; once they have flip-flopped, they'll be on the governor's desk.

Voter ID passes House 74-21

Rep. Mark Lowery's bill to reinstate a voter ID requirement Arkansas today passed 74-21 in the House. It's on to the Senate.

Congressional Republicans seek to defund Planned Parenthood

With Trump in office, Gov. Asa Hutchinson may get his wish to bar funding for all medical services to Planned Parenthood, with an assist from the GOP Congress.

The closed door open line and video

Over to you.

AG Rutledge copacetic with Trump's travel ban

Noted: Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge tells the D-G that she is just peachy with President Donald Trump's executive order, enacting an immediate 90-day ban on entry into the U.S. from citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations as well as a 120-ban on entry for all refugees.

Cotton office cancels meeting with citizen group, sparking protest

The citizen group Ozark Indivisible has a protest scheduled for 10 a.m. this morning outside of Sen. Tom Cotton's field office in Springdale. The group has been hoping to raise concerns about the future of the Affordable Care Act, the president's recent executive order enacting a travel ban, and other issues — but they say that Cotton and his team won't meet with them.

Cotton's Little Rock office: field offices won't meet with constituents because of "recent threats"

A staffer at Sen. Tom Cotton's Little Rock office told a small group of constituents that Cotton field offices are not allowing any constituents in the office "because of recent threats we have had."

The Hill: Arkansas native Tolliver booted from DNC chairman race for criticizing Rep. Ellison's Muslim faith

The Hill is reporting that the Democratic National Committee has booted Arkansas native Vincent Tolliver out of the race for DNC chair after he wrote an email criticizing the Muslim faith of Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota). Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, is a leading contender in the DNC chairman's race.

Camden real estate agent indicted over alleged scheme to fake will of Deepwater Horizon survivor

Wild, wild story in Arkansas Business about a Camden real estate agent accused of faking the will of a survivor of the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

Appropriation for War Memorial Stadium passes (cuts still loom)

The House today passed the appropriation, for the fiscal year ending in June of 2018, for War Memorial Stadium.

Pulaski Tech merger with UA system official; new name: UA-Pulaski Tech

Pulaski Technical College, effective today, is University of Arkansas – Pulaski Technical College, or UA – Pulaski Tech.The college's merger with the UA system was signed into law by Governor Hutchinson on Monday.

When Jason Rapert stops talking, he sounds great!

Rapert plays us a tune.

AG Rutledge backs Jeff Sessions for U.S. Attorney General in editorial


The video and open line

Trump's hiring freeze halts IRS job training programs for students at World Services for the Blind in Little Rock

Ten students who are blind or visually impaired were preparing to interview for federal jobs last week, as part of job training program with the World Services for the Blind, when word came that President Trump 's 90-day hiring freeze on civilian federal workers would put the program on the chopping block and those students in limbo.

Bill filed to shed light on campaign donations by requiring searchable electronic reports

At the moment, most candidates in Arkansas file contribution reports on paper, despite the existence of an online option. This makes the documents all but impossible to search if one is looking to discover who donated money to whom in a given election.

Protesters demonstrate outside Sen. Tom Cotton's Springdale office

The citizens group Ozark Indivisible protested outside Tom Cotton's Springdale office this morning. According to group members, between 150 to 200 protesters showed up to demonstrate.

Legislature continues effort to chip away at ethics law

The House Rules committee yesterday passed a bill codifying an exception for travel junkets to the laws prohibiting gifts from lobbyists to public officials and creating an explicit exemption for swag given out to legislators at fancy balls. Really.

Racing on the Cossatot

Unique whitewater event on the horizon

Florence Price, groundbreaking composer

Little Rock native Florence Price was the nation's first major African-American female composer. Lesser-known than her male counterpart, William Grant Still, Price is experiencing a renaissance.