KASU

Bobby Ampezzan/ Arkansas Public Media

Bobby Ampezzan is a native of Detroit who holds degrees from Dickinson College (Carlisle, PA) and the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville). He's written for The Guardian newspaper and Oxford American magazine and was a longtime staff writer for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The best dimestore nugget he's lately discovered comes from James Altucher's Choose Yourself (actually, the Times' profile on Altucher, which quotes the book): "I lose at least 20 percent of my intelligence when I am resentful." Meanwhile, his faith in public radio and television stems from the unifying philosophy that not everything be serious, but curiosity should follow every thing, and that we be serious about curiosity.

 

A crowd of perhaps 200 supporters, protesters and counter-protesters gathered Thursday in front of the Arkansas Capitol for the unveiling of the much-publicized Baphomet statue.

The statue is the showpiece of a group calling itself The Satanic Temple. It’s reportedly about 8 feet tall and bronze. Baphomet is a pagan or occult idol; this one is pictured seated before a little boy and a little girl bearing curious, eager expressions.

A growing number of Arkansas moms who can't breastfeed are finding milk donors in online communities. Some are turning to online classifieds, where not all of the buyers are new moms.

In a Chick-fil-A parking lot in Maumelle, 30-year-old Mary Catherine Fortier hands Glenda Nielsen, 27, more than $500 for about 1,500 ounces of Nielsen's breast milk.


Jerrika Longueville is a 28-year-old mother of two in Fayetteville who'd "always known I was planning to breastfeed — never crossed my mind I wouldn't be able to."

 

But Longueville has hypoplasia of the mammary glands. She doesn't have all the glandular tissue needed to produce sufficient milk.

So Longueville has become pretty savvy at finding donated breast milk on social media pages, like the Facebook-based group pages for Human Milk 4 Human Babies and Eats on Feets.

The 91st General Assembly of 2017, in a decision that brought Supreme Court Chief Justice Dan Kemp over to the old Supreme Court chambers in the Capitol — now the scene of Senate committee meetings — decided to put to voters this November a big cap on lawsuit awards as well as a legislative power grab.

As it approaches 100 degrees, the roofline of Stickyz Rock 'n' Roll Chicken Shack shades about 2 feet of the sidewalk along President Clinton Avenue in downtown Little Rock.

That's where canvasser Cynthia Ford sets up. She's carrying signature rolls for three ballot items.

The Arkansas Supreme Court today overturned a lower court's ruling, and thus, an appointed commission and a state agency may resume rollout of the state's medical marijuana program, stalled since March.

But the court's majority opinion hewed closely to a procedural consideration, and its chief justice appears to be cautioning the Medical Marijuana Commission to re-evaluate its procedures.

The whole scene may end up back in court before long, says one lawyer close to the process.

In Pine Bluff, Levon Lee sits at a table in his garage, the centerpiece of which is a decorative tin filled with marijuana cigarettes. “Matter of fact,” he says, toward the end of an afternoon, “it’s time for me to get to one now. I ain’t had me one all day!”

Lee is one of many Arkansans who would qualify for the state’s legal medical marijuana program but isn't waiting for legal marijuana. In his case, he flies to southern California, to where he had been legally acquiring medical marijuana through a doctor before that state made all marijuana legal Jan. 1. He wouldn’t say how that supply makes its way to his tabletop tin.

Jack Cross in Eureka Springs is a medical marijuana patient in Illinois, but he lives in Eureka Springs.

Today the state Supreme Court takes up the matter of the state’s medical marijuana program, stalled since March. If it upholds Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen’s decision nullifying the Medical Marijuana Commission’s top five picks for marijuana growing licenses — indeed the very selection process the Commission used — it could push the forecast for available medical marijuana into 2019.

That would mean money out of the pockets of many early investors such as entrepreneur Brian Teeter.

Arkansans seeking a medical abortion with the aid of mifepristone or misoprostol will have to find them in another state.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this week not to hear an appeal from Planned Parenthood paves the way for Act 577 of 2015, and conservatives in the state are applauding the court’s decision.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction. Arkansas is a pro-life state, and we will continue to be so,” says state Rep. Andy Mayberry (R-Hensley), president of the Arkansas Right to Life board.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson won his Republican Party primary with room to spare Tuesday, beating challenger Jan Morgan by a margin of more than two-to-one.

Likewise, roughly 200,000 Arkansans chose a GOP ballot — almost twice the number who voted in the Democratic primary.  

Hutchinson didn’t extend any appreciation to his opponent in his election night speech or so much as mention her by name. And for her part, Morgan said afterward she would maintain her campaign promise and not endorse her party's nominee in the general election.

Just minutes ahead of a scheduled hearing in Pulaski County Circuit Court, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge asked a federal court to take up a lawsuit against her that alleges she’s obstructing ballot initiatives.

It did, and the hearing was postponed.

In a statement afterward, her office said the attorney general “removed this case to federal court because the plaintiffs asserted claims under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, the federal court is the proper forum to hear the case."

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is expected to appear in court Friday before Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen. She’s being sued by Alex Gray, a lawyer representing two ballot measure groups, who says she’s not letting the state’s voter-initiated referendum process work.

“Our claim is that the specific subsection the attorney general is using to reject what is now 70 of 70 proposed ballot measures, that provision is unconstitutional,” Gray says.

Actually, another subsection of Article 5, Section 1 of the state constitution — subsection B — allows for the attorney general to rewrite ballot language in anticipation of certification. Rutledge has not done that, Gray alleges in the suit.

The state's two leading constitutional office holders — Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge — have had very different springs. Both face re-election contests in November, but only one has a GOP primary challenge May 22.

That may explain why he was on his knees, hands cupping an amphibian, waiting for the start of a toad race at the annual Toad Suck Daze in Conway.

The Arkansas Public Service Commission is expected to close a docket soon that could substantially lower a cash incentive for Arkansans (and Arkansas companies) who invest in solar and wind energy production.

The commission is the representative authority over investor-owned utilities, sanctioned monopolies. The commission can affect utility rates — that is, bills. The docket’s been open for three years.

At issue is something called “net metering,” the act of sending electricity (generated by solar power system or windmill) out onto the grid from home or business and getting bill credits from the electrical utility. Created by Act 1781 of 2001, Arkansas’s net metering rate structure currently is 1-to-1. 

Arkansas school students are expected to join thousands around the country March 14 in a national school walkout at 10 a.m. (local time). Billed as “Enough,” the demonstration is a coordinated public response to the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

It’s expected to last 17 minutes — one for each victim.

In Fayetteville, school officials are helping students coordinate a walkout at 10 a.m., though a district document also recognizes that some students have obtained a permit from the city to march on the Washington Count Courthouse — a demonstration the district has gently warned against.

State Sen. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale) cast the decisive 27th vote in favor of granting Gov. Asa Hutchinson's appropriation to the Department of Human Services funding the state's health care coverage for low-income Arkansans called Arkansas Works. 

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for a vote, and then on to Hutchinson, who's expected to sign it.

Days after Arkansas's biennial fiscal session began last month the CSPAN bus rolled into Little Rock, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson hopped aboard. The very first question moderator John McArdle put to Hutchinson was about a balanced budget — specifically, does Arkansas have one?

"Oh, absolutely. We don’t have a deficit in this state. It’s mandated by the [state] constitution to have a balanced budget, which means that we forecast the revenues, then we spend according to that forecast, and if during the course of a year, we don’t meet forecast then we reduce spending. ... We call it the 'Revenue Stabilization' law, which is a toggle, if you will, but it makes us control spending, reduce spending as needed, to make sure it mirrors our revenue picture.  There’s a few things the federal government could learn from this."

When the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration announces its five highest scoring applicants to own and operate a marijuana cultivation facility for the state's germinating medical marijuana industry, it will be a surprise to the Medical Marijuana Commission who scored the 95 applicants.

"These 95 applications were scored individually by each commissioner. They were then brought back to the Alcoholic Beverage Control office [and] turned in individually; so at this point the commissioners are also going to learn along with everyone else those top five scores," Scott Hardin, spokesman for the department, said Monday.

There was a time when Anthony Freeman wanted to be a Razorback. Arkansas’s original land-grant university was the very picture of "college" he held in his mind. He visited and applied and, he says, got in.

That's as far as it got.

A North Pulaski High running back and a Christian youth minister, Freeman had worked to become an Academic Allstar, a best-of-the-best, at the state’s second-biggest community college, Pulaski Technical College (now UA-Pulaski Tech), and he was preparing himself to be an architecture major, a degree field with comparatively few African Americans.

"My mind was set on UA. My heart was set on UA. I'm going to get to UA."

On the steps of the Arkansas state Capitol today supporters of ending legal abortion gathered for a rally. Yesterday, another march with very different ralliers called for keeping abortion legal — as well as grooming female political candidates for office, gun control and other liberal aims.

Both marches enjoyed passionate speakers and considerable turnout, but only one enjoyed the presence of the state's most powerful constitutional officeholders, from Gov. Asa Hutchinson down.

The Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission’s unanimous vote today not to enforce any immediate action following a decision earlier this month to deny C&H Hog Farm an operating permit was a win for the beleaguered and controversial swine operation, but a slight and temporary one.

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality announced on Jan. 11 its decision to deny the permit after more than 21 months. The hog operation has been operating on a lapsed permit until now.

It’s a small part of Arkansas's overall budget, but Gov. Asa Hutchinson's proposed $400 million dollar appropriation for the Department of Health next year got a strong review and a rebuke today by legislators at the capital.

"There are not enough votes to cut" the budget, complained state Rep. Doug House (R-North Little Rock), "therefore, I’m going to vote for the ER [executive recommendation], in which case the budget gets drafted, and we’ll fight this battle another day."

"Amen, brother," said Sen. Larry Teague (D-Nashville), Joint Budget Committee co-chairman, after roughly an hour's worth of motions, discussion, voice votes and roll calls.

Arkansas’s spending on prisons and community corrections got a lengthy examination before a select committee of the state legislature Wednesday, but no legislator took serious issue with the more than half-billion dollar budget.

The Joint Budget Committee took aim at the 2018 budget for the state’s corrections departments, examining everything from health care and prison farms, to the cost of a phone call behind bars.

“If a guy gets put in prison, not only do we put him down there, we fix it to where he can’t even afford to call his family," said state Rep. Kim Hendren (R-Gravette).

 Prompted by the Phoenix scandal three years ago, a team of journalism professors and students at the University of Arkansas took a hard look at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks, and they're giving it a good grade.

But the semester-long investigation does highlight two devastating trends surrounding veterans' and their quality of life.

As part of an ongoing collaboration, students and professors in the Walter J. Lemke Department of Journalism have teamed up with Arkansas Public Media and partner radio station KUAF to publish a series of reports and broadcast the findings.

Bill Essert hasn't lived in Arkansas in years. He's a businessman for an agriculture technology company in Cotati, California — BioTherm.

"What we do, we’re showing two things, the O2 Tube, which is all about dissolved oxygen and enhancing the amount of dissolved oxygen by infusing oxygen into your irrigation water, and the benefits of this is enhancing growth, plant growth, higher yields, less fungus and more yield for the amount of bud as well as higher levels of THC."

His parents still do, though. Live in Arkansas, that is — Conway. 

For interested onlookers like Arkansas Energy Office program manager Chet Howland, the filing today by the Net Metering Working Group is a not-unexpected, slight disappointment.

The group is the creation of the Public Service Commission (at the request of the General Assembly) to examine net metering: the practice of pushing the electricity generated by windmills or solar power systems back onto the grid, and getting credit for it from energy utilities.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today has asked Gov. Asa Hutchinson to set the next execution, this after the state made international news for scheduling eight executions in 11 days in April in order to make use of a lethal injection drug set to expire May 1.

Arkansas's three-drug execution protocol calls for midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride, in that order. The state's supply of midazolam expired May 1. The state doesn't have any alternative protocol to execute anyone sentenced to death. 

CLARKSVILLE — Before a gathering of Rotarians enjoying corn on the cob and barbecue pork, inside a cool room at the University of the Ozarks, the state’s former lieutenant governor and the city’s utilities manager explain the prescience of a 20,000-module solar array in 20 slides.

 

It's a roughly $10 million investment, or about what the city itself spends in just eight months for power, since it doesn’t generate any itself, according to the manager, John Lester.

The relationship America's Baby Boomer generation has with marijuana cannot be explained by teenage infatuation, followed by early adulthood ambition, followed finally by later-life acceptance, says Brookings Institution senior fellow John Hudak.

"I think that one of the important things to caution about when thinking about the Baby Boomer generation is that they are often characterized as a bunch of hippies smoking weed and having sex. In reality, marijuana use always was and continued to be something that is done by a small percentage of the population."

The state of Arkansas today begins accepting applications for marijuana licenses, both to grow it and sell it commercially. It becomes the first so-called Bible Belt to do so, and the 29th state nationally to have a state-regulated marijuana cultivation and retail industry.

Of course, it’s still a  Schedule I narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act and illegal under federal law.

On the eve of this Independence Day weekend, Arkansas Public Media offers you this interview of John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of Marijuana: A Short History, by managing editor Bobby Ampezzan. 

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