Roby Brock / Talk Business & Politics

Roby Brock is the Editor-in-Chief and Host of Talk Business & Politics.

He can be reached by e-mail at: Roby@TalkBusiness.net.

Follow him on Twitter: @RobyBrock.

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A lawsuit was filed Tuesday by the League of Women Voters of Arkansas to alter the process for accounting for absentee ballots this fall. The lawsuit claims the state's requirements for accepting absentee ballots is unconstitutional, and seeks a court-ordered change before the Nov. 3 general election.

The lawsuit – League of Women Voter of Arkansas v. Thurston – was filed in federal court against Secretary of State John Thurston and several members of the State Board of Election Commissioners.

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a proposed initiated act to overturn a state law expanding optometric procedures does not qualify for the November ballot. The measure would have overturned Act 579 of 2019, which permitted optometrists to perform limited eye surgeries.

Safe Surgery Arkansas, which was supported by the state’s ophthalmologists, is the group that was pushing to overturn Act 579. Arkansans for Healthy Eyes, a group led by optometrists, had challenged the ballot initiative.

Talk Business & Politics

U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, launched a new ad in his Second Congressional District re-election campaign that raps Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, for her votes on taxes, particularly a cell phone fee that partially funds 911 calls.

University of Central Arkansas.
www.uca.edu

University of Central Arkansas President Dr. Houston Davis credits an early start on planning for COVID-19 as well as a rapid response in testing turnaround for controlling the coronavirus on his college campus in Conway.

Davis, who was installed as UCA President in 2017, said this challenge is unlike anything he’s ever dealt with in his decades in higher education.

“We’re roughly three weeks into residential operation at this point, and the top two things that we expect of students are to wear their face coverings and keep distance,” Davis said. “We have 3 million square feet of facilities on the UCA campus, and every square foot of those facilities have been reset with social distancing in mind. That’s from classrooms all the way through a mechanical room.

Tom Cotton
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., has been selected for a primetime speaking slot in the Republican National Convention. He will speak on the final night, Thursday, Aug. 27, just ahead of President Donald Trump.

Sen. Cotton, who is running for re-election in 2020 against Libertarian Ricky Harrington, discussed his speech ahead of delivering it with Talk Business & Politics Editor-in-Chief Roby Brock.

ROBY BROCK: You are delivering a primetime speech on the last night of the convention. What will be the essence of this speech, Senator?

French Hill
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, debuted his first TV ad of his 2020 re-election bid on Tuesday.

The ad, “Together,” is an on-camera appeal from Hill discussing COVID-19 and his efforts to bring funding to Arkansas families and businesses for relief.

“I’m so proud to call Arkansas home and that feeling runs deep throughout Arkansas’s Second District,” Hill said in a press release for the ad. “When disaster strikes, like the global pandemic, that’s when the spirit of Arkansas is on full display. We have a resilient work ethic unlike any other.”

Gretchen Hall
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Hospitality, travel, and tourism have been the hardest hit industries during COVID-19. Think restaurants, hotels, caterers, meeting facilities, trade shows and the cottage industries that support those businesses ranging from florists to event planners to lighting and banquet logistics companies.

Gretchen Hall, CEO of the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau, views it as the business challenge of a lifetime and the end is nowhere in sight.

A screenshot of Sen. Joyce Elliott's first campaign ad released Tuesday.
YouTube

Arkansas state Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock), the Democratic nominee for the state's Second Congressional District, released her first TV ad of the campaign cycle in her bid to unseat incumbent U.S. Rep. French Hill (R-Little Rock).

Fiocchi
Fiocchi of America

A 225-year old Italian company with a large North American presence is expanding manufacturing operations in Central Arkansas.

Fiocchi of America, the U.S. subsidiary of Italy-based Fiocchi Group, announced plans Wednesday to establish a new manufacturing facility in Little Rock. It will invest $15 million in a new facility and hire 85 skilled employees with plans to further increase its workforce as the facility reaches its full potential.

education schools
arkansas.gov

The Arkansas Education Association’s survey of members finds that a supermajority of respondents are concerned about reopening schools this fall in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey, released Wednesday, fielded more than 6,100 responses from members with more than 88% being from teachers. Of those teachers, roughly 44% are from the elementary level, 20% teach middle school, 27% cover high school grades, and 9% were classified as other.

Election Voters Voting
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The November election is less than four months away. In Arkansas, the marquee match up is for the second district congressional seat between incumbent U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock and State Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock.  The seat continues to be one Democrats, despite falling short over the last decade, hope to reclaim.

University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences UAMS
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson has been through a health crisis before. When he was entering the medical field in the late 80’s, the country was awakening to the HIV epidemic. Today, the COVID-19 pandemic is moving more rapidly and affecting many more people in Arkansas and across the globe.

With the state recording its highest one-day number of COVID-19 cases – 1,061 on Saturday – Patterson said it’s time for a statewide mask mandate.

Amazon
Amazon

Amazon announced Tuesday plans to open its first fulfillment center at the Port of Little Rock. The new fulfillment center, which is anticipated to launch in 2021, will create over 1,000 new full-time jobs.

The 825,000 square-foot distribution facility will be located on 80 acres at the port and will benefit from yesterday’s announcement of upgrades to road infrastructure.

Leslie Rutledge attorney general
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, the first Republican and the first female elected to the office, said Wednesday she will run for governor in 2022.

Wendy Kelley
Arkansas Public Media

Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Secretary of Corrections, Wendy Kelley, will retire at the end of July, it was announced at a Board of Corrections meeting on Monday.

Kelley has served as leader of the Department of Corrections, which employs more than 6,000 people, since 2015. Arkansas’ correction system had 18,181 inmates at the end of February, up from 17,846 at the same period in 2019. She was the first female leader of the agency.

Protesters demonstrate Tuesday evening in front of Little Rock City Hall.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in Arkansas stating that recent assemblies and protests across the state “have been overtaken by destructive and violent individuals, creating conditions of distress for the citizens and businesses of the state.”

Demonstrators block traffic on Interstate 630 Saturday evening near the Arkansas State Capitol to protest the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Arkansas Department of Transportation

A day of peaceful protests in Little Rock grew more intense and eventually turned to violence on Saturday. The scene played out in more than two dozen cities across the nation as people gathered to protest the May 25th death of George Floyd in Minnesota and the larger issue of police brutality.

Floyd, who was black, was choked to death on camera by white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.

Talk Business & Politics

Stacy Hurst, Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, says the plans that are in motion to re-open casinos, restaurants, parks and large venues are  moving cautiously forward.

Appearing on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, Hurst said the state’s three casinos have outlined new protocols to keep gamblers safe as Arkansas eases restrictions on businesses in the wake of COVID-19.

Talk Business & Politics

One of the obvious outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic is that telemedicine and telehealth will no longer be a wave of the future. They’re here and here to stay.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson loosened regulations on the use of telehealth due to the coronavirus outbreak that had previously limited the ability of doctors, nurses and patients to see one another in person to start a relationship. In an executive order issued in late March, Hutchinson suspended the rules that require a face-to-face meeting to establish a physician-patient relationship.

Governor's Office / YouTube

A midst a sea of masked legislators, Gov. Asa Hutchinson addressed the 92nd General Assembly, which opened its biennial fiscal session on Wednesday in Little Rock.

Talk Business & Politics

On Jan. 19, 2020, Gov. Asa Hutchinson began to assume the worst. That was the day a 35-year old Washington state resident was identified as having COVID-19 – the first U.S. coronavirus patient.

“Like many Americans, when I first saw that this hit in China, I thought that it would probably be confined there,” Hutchinson said in an exclusive Talk Business & Politics interview aired Sunday.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signs legislation creating COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund into law just before 1 a.m. Saturday.
Governor's Office / YouTube

The first extraordinary session of the 92nd General Assembly was rather ordinary in its business, but extraordinary in its setting.

Arkansas lawmakers wrapped up a three-day special session to create a COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund. The funding mechanism will collect money from a variety of surplus and discretionary state accounts and be available to handle special money from the federal government, if necessary.

arkansas gaming casino
Talk Business & Politics

A Pulaski County judge has ruled that Gulfside Casino is a qualified applicant and its application with the state Racing Commission must be considered. Circuit Judge Tim Fox said the state’s decision to bar Gulfside’s application because the signatures of local elected officials did not include current officeholders was incorrect.

French Hill
Talk Business & Politics

While Congress has already taken steps to address the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, said more help will be on the way.

Sun Paper
Governor's Office

Representatives of Sun Paper Co., the $1.5 billion paper mill project slated for Clark County near Arkadelphia, have said the deal is officially terminated.

In a letter dated March 15, Andrzej Bednarski, International Project Director for Shandong Sun Paper Co., Ltd. notified Gov. Asa Hutchinson and AEDC officials that the project would not move forward, citing trade tensions, economic uncertainty, and the coronavirus outbreak as reasons for pulling the plug.

A new report funded by Entergy Arkansas and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation indicates that 41% of Arkansas households are either below the federal poverty level or have incomes that struggle to afford housing, childcare, food, transportation and healthcare.

The report addresses “ALICE” households – those that are “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed.” While the federal poverty line for a family of four sits at $24,600, ALICE households are between that amount and $46,812.

Corona
U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

As the coronavirus spreads in parts of the world and is contained in others, there is growing consensus that things will still get worse before they get better. Economist Mervin Jebaraj predicts that the next several months will see a variety of ripple effects as health professionals, government officials and others seek to contain the deadly virus.

Arkansas Highway Commission Chairman Tom Schueck, seen here at the dedication of the Big Rock Interchange on July 8, 2015, died Tuesday.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas Highway Commission chairman, steel manufacturing businessman, and Arkansas Business Hall of Fame member Tom Schueck died Tuesday, according to a statement from the family. He was 78.

Schueck was the founder and former chairman of Lexicon Fabricators and Constructors, a major player in the steel manufacturing industry.

His son, Patrick Suhueck, issued a statement on behalf of the family.

Michael Bloomberg
Talk Business & Politics

Democratic Presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg, the former New York City Mayor, made his third trip to Arkansas last week appearing at a rally in Bentonville. Sitting atop a Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Poll in early February, Bloomberg said there’s two reasons why his message is resonating with Arkansas voters.

Picture of a tractor on a farm
Creative Commons

Marshall Stewart’s farm equipment company has navigated the financial storms that have wrought havoc on the state’s agricultural community. Between tariffs, low commodity prices and historic weather challenges, the state’s farmers have had a tough row to hoe.

"It’s been difficult and it has placed a lot of strain on the agriculture sector. We did have the MFP [Market Facilitation Program] payments to help offset that. So, when you look at net farm income over the course of the last couple years, you’ve not seen them go down tremendously," he said.

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