Sarah Whites-Koditschek

Reporter, Arkansas Public Media

Sarah Whites-Koditschek is a Little Rock-based reporter for Arkansas Public Media covering education, healthcare, state politics, and criminal justice issues. Formerly she worked as a reporter and producer for WHYY in Philadelphia, and was an intern and editorial assistant for Morning Edition at National Public Radio in Los Angeles and Washington D.C.

Sarah is a graduate of Smith College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies. She was a student at the Stabile Center For Investigative Journalism at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

She has won awards from the Associated Press in Arkansas as well the Public Radio News Directors Inc.

Contact Sarah at sarah@arkansaspublicmedia.org or 501-683-8655.

This week lawmakers came to the capitol for a special session to discuss the budget. To vote on anything outside of the budget during a fiscal session, a two-thirds majority must agree, but that bar hasn’t stopped some lawmakers.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson called for a $180 million annual tax cut for the state’s biggest earners during his State of the State address Monday kicking off the 2018 fiscal session.

 

Hutchinson said the goal is to compete with other states for business investors. He said that at a recent meeting with the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, he was asked how much top earners pay in Arkansas state taxes.

"And I said, ‘Well, it’s 6.9 percent, and they looked at me and responded, ‘That is worse than Connecticut.’ That story emphasizes the competitive nature of taxes in a mobile society.”

The State Medical Board wants to tighten restrictions on doctors’ abilities to prescribe opioids in some instances, and one of the changes is that patients will be asked for a urine sample for drug testing.

 

Arkansas has the second-highest opioid prescription rate nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the proposed regulations are part of an effort to combat the deadly overdose crisis in the state.

Arkansas Drug Director Kirk Lane told the medical board at a hearing for public comments Thursday that opioid abuse, particularly heroin use, is going up, and overdoses are increasing.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked Arkansas the most obese state in the nation in 2014, the state’s weight epidemic is now leveling off, and health officials hope obesity rates will start to go down.

As U.S. Senate Democrats consider blocking budget funding to push for immigration legislation, Arkansas advocates are asking U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) to support legislation that would protect young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, so called “Dreamers.”

The Trump Administration announced plans to end the program this fall.

Public Education funds in Arkansas are meeting bare minimums set under law and not getting any extra money in the governor’s proposed budget for next year.

Education Commissioner Johnny Key fielded lawmakers’ questions and concerns about the proposed budget at a Joint Budget Committee hearing on education funding Wednesday in advance of February’s fiscal session.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson presented his $5.6 billion budget proposal to state lawmakers Tuesday ahead of this year’s fiscal session and outlined his longer-term vision for reducing taxes.

Hutchinson says there is a projected surplus of $64 million in the new state budget, partly because of higher than expected revenues. He says he’s using the majority of the extra money to create a reserve fund that only the legislature can tap into.

The Arkansas Plant Board has doubled down on its plan to ban Dicamba, the agricultural weed killer. The vote Wednesday was a slight rebuke of state Rep. Bill Sample (R-Hot Springs) and colleagues on a legislative subcommittee that last month asked the board to reconsider the ban, specifically the April 15 cutoff date for spraying Monsanto’s controversial herbicide.

As Congress hashes out the final details of its tax bill this week, a $250 tax credit for teachers who buy classroom supplies has been returned following a public outcry over an earlier draft that had removed it.

 

Kyla Lawrence is a high school Social Studies teacher at the North Little Rock Academy. She buys extra pencils, paper, binders and basic school supplies for her students throughout the year.

State lawmakers took a step toward enhanced concealed carry on college campuses Friday in spite of some pushback from firearm trainers who don’t want to be required to teach the new class for compensation they say is too low.

 

State Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville) was among the majority of lawmakers who voted to approve the plan anyway.

“You know, when this is done, there will be less gun-free zones which are soft targets in Arkansas. There will be more people, carrying in more places, being able to protect themselves and others in more places when this rule is implemented. That’s called liberty,” he said at Friday’s legislative council meeting.

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