Arkansas Public Media

Arkansas Public Media is a regional journalism collaboration funded by KUAR 89.1 and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Five months after the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act, a voter-approved ballot initiative, officially took effect in early November of 2016, handgun carrying laws greatly expanded in Arkansas as well. But gun owners who register as medical marijuana patients are federally prohibited from purchasing or even owning a gun. 

The annual Kids Count report released Wednesday offers mixed news about life for Arkansas’s very youngest residents. 

The state’s overall child well-being index, which is based on a number of education, health and economic factors, improved from 43rd among the 50 states in 2016 to 41st last year.

The number of Arkansas kids living in poverty has declined by 28,000 since 2010, according to the report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.  Today, 24 percent of Arkansas kids live in poverty; in the nation it's 19 percent.

Air quality changes made in 2010 raised the threshold for how much air pollution a company can emit without a permit. On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency approved those lower air quality standards. 

 

Chuck Buttry, a board member for the Arkansas Environmental Federation, an industry lobbying group, says the higher threshold allows companies with low pollution levels to make changes, like upgrade equipment, without a long permit process.

Shennel Douglas is a nursing student at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. She says she hesitated when deciding to study in the U.S. after watching U.S. police shootings of unarmed civilians on television at home in the Caribbean.

 

“Coming to UCA, my main concern was being, what should I say, marginalized? Because not only am I an international student, but also I’m a black international student.”

 

There are now less international students on American college campuses than any time in the last decade.

The University of Arkansas Razorbacks (47-19) meet the Oregon State Beavers (53-11) Monday night in the finals of the College World Series.

The game, broadcast on ESPN and the Razorbacks Sports Network, begins at 6 p.m. barring weather delays.

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.

The discovery by the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks of an impaired pathologist on staff last autumn was finally made public Monday morning at a hastily called press conference inside the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks auditorium.

Three members of Arkansas's congressional delegation, regional and federal Veterans Administration officials, and myriad veterans group leaders were present.

Officials say after an internal investigation it has been determined that the medical records of more than 19,000 veteran patients from across the country treated at the Fayetteville VA will have to be externally reviewed for errors.

After hearing about a dozen complaints from farmers, growers and applicators around the state, the Arkansas Agriculture Department has issued a statement urging strict adherence to the label instructions for loyant, a newly-released rice herbicide made by Dow AgroSciences.

State Agriculture Department spokesperson Adriane Barnes said the decision to issue the advisory was made out of concern for soybeans, which are still early in the growing season.

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.

Children whose families immigrated from the Marshall Islands to Arkansas are eligible for publicly-subsidized health insurance in the state for the first time this year. Healthcare advocates are pushing, uphill at the outset, to get them enrolled.

The extension of healthcare benefits for Marshallese kids is tied to a long history. The United States tested over 60 nuclear bombs on the Marshall Islands in the 1940’s and 1950’s. It caused long-term health and environmental damage according to some studies.  That's one reason that the Marshallese started to leave the island.

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.

EDITOR'S NOTE: In his bid for re-election, Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he’s helped bring more than 60,000 jobs to the state since taking office. Of course, not all jobs are the same. As part of Arkansas Public Media's ongoing partnership with the School of Journalism and Strategic Media at the University of Arkansas, assistant professor Rob Wells and his students investigated wages in Northwest Arkansas and sought out low-wage workers in and around the flagship university campus for a multimedia project called “Working for Low Wages in Arkansas.” Click to learn more.

Twenty-five percent of families are considered to be in poverty in Northwest Arkansas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and many of them are working for a living.

What is that like? How do these people make ends meet?

A group of University of Arkansas journalism students set out this semester to examine life for people living at or close to minimum wage. 

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.


An anonymous scientific survey conducted on the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville campus to measure the incidence of nonconsensual sexual contact revealed that 31 percent of women sampled reported being victims. Such contact includes campus rapes and sexual assaults as well as unwanted sexual touching.

The survey was conducted at the urging of an Arkansas legislator raising awareness about widespread sexual violence on college campuses, and that Arkansas is among more than a dozen states that do not teach comprehensive sex education in public schools — including what constitutes sexual consent.

Further illuminating the widely-reported UA survey, a female student who claims she was sexually assaulted carried around a bed sheet for weeks, raising alarm.

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.

On the eve of a major vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on the 2018 Farm Bill, both parties are scrambling to get their preferred amendments into the legislation. 

The amendments range from a new rule to allow food stamp recipients to purchase multivitamins with their benefits to a program to increase the accuracy of the grading of cattle across the country. 

Other issues include caps on payments to wealthier farmers and lower subsidies for government-backed crop insurance programs demanded by conservatives, and new work requirements for food stamp recipients opposed by advocates for the poor.

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.

Arkansas is at the forefront of a national experiment to see whether requiring work for health care coverage helps lift people out of poverty.

 

Starting next month, many who are on the state’s low-income health care program, Arkansas Works, must show they are working, volunteering, in school, or getting job training for at least 80 hours each month. The Arkansas Department of Human Services estimates 42,000 Arkansans will be impacted.

At the food pantry in Cherry Valley in rural Northeast Arkansas, clients start lining up hours before its 10am opening.  The pantry is open every Tuesday for two hours, unlike other pantries that open once or twice a month.

“In this area, they just can’t go a whole month without us,” said director Joan Ball.  

Ball and other advocates for the poor worry that business will pick up at pantries and soup kitchens if food stamp work requirements drafted as part of the 2018 Farm Bill end up becoming law.  Ball said the last two weeks of the month are already the busiest as people who’ve already spent their food stamps seek additional ways to feed themselves or their families.

Arkansas recently became the first state to require active shooter training for a gun permit.

The state began issuing "enhanced concealed carry" permits earlier this year. The law creating the new permits, which passed last spring, allows enhanced carriers to bring guns into what the state calls "sensitive places," including public university campuses, bars, churches and the state Capitol.

Fayetteville resident Jewel Hayes is at the center of a year-long conflict between lesbian feminists and transgender women over the politics of space.

She is among an estimated 13,000 transgender women and men in Arkansas facing discrimination in housing, public accommodation and the workplace who are standing up for civil rights, alongside lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer Arkansans.

But last year Hayes discovered that not all lesbians want to share  political ground with transgender women.

Black, White Opinion Converges Around Belief Inequality Exists

Apr 25, 2018

Over the last 15 years, residents of Little Rock have lost some hope that educational opportunity for kids of color is the same or equal to that of white kids. That’s according to an annual study on racial attitudes put out by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Anderson Institute on Race and Ethnicity.

The survey is focused on education this year, and it found that while 60 percent of whites think integration benefits everyone, only 42 percent of blacks in Little Rock agree. But all city residents increasingly agree that  school education isn’t equal. University historian John Kirk led the survey.

He says one reason whites and blacks see more inequality in Little Rock than they did in his first survey 15 years ago is that demographics of the city have changed.

In the olden days, misbehaving school children were forced to stay after school and write repetitive chastisements on dusty chalk boards. Today, many public schools offer alternative learning environments for students with behavioral and emotional problems. Bentonville Public School District in Northwest Arkansas, however, has installed two intervention-rich elementary “behavior classrooms” to help children learn how to overcome chronic disruptive behavior.

Arkansas’s agricultural producers are reacting to recent trade trouble between the U.S. and China.  While analysts have stopped short of calling it a trade war, the two countries have spent the last few weeks announcing a series of new tariffs on airplanes, cars, high tech and numerous agricultural products that include pork.

About one in four hogs raised in the U.S. is exported, according to Jim Monroe of the National Pork Producers Council.  China represents the third highest value market for U.S. pork with purchases of more than $1.1 billion per year.

“Even the tiniest penetration into the Chinese market can result in millions of pounds of volume,” said David Newman, an Arkansas State University Animal Sciences professor whose family has been involved with pork production for many years.

Arkansas has seen a record number of flu deaths this year, 215, and the severity of the virus has taken Arkansans by surprise.

State chief epidemiologist Dr. Dirk Haselow says the health department doesn’t really know why there were more deaths this year, but one reason could be that Influenza B dominated this year, and it is more deadly that Influenza A.

New data from Arkansas's investor-owned utilities and electrical cooperatives offers evidence that the number of private solar and wind electricity generators is surging. Whether that's fair market forces or a looming, potentially gloomy regulatory decision on rates is up for debate.

Solar power generators, also known as "net metering customers," jumped 56 percent in 2017, from 632 to 988. That's a fraction of the 1.4 million customers in the state who's rates are set by an agency called the Public Service Commission. 

When it comes to ballot initiatives, David Couch is a numbers man: for instance, 58 in 2020.

In early March Couch, who's authored or campaigned for more than 20 ballot initiatives, told those gathered at a Rotary Club 99 luncheon that he has ballot language all ready for a personal use or "recreational" marijuana amendment. It's just sitting on his computer.

He just needs to see the question poll at or above 58 percent in Arkansas. Then he will introduce it — the next available presidential election. 

Central Arkansas Water says residents in older homes with lead service pipes will have them replaced this year.

The utility reviewed nearly 6,000 pipes. Just 143 in the area were found to be lead pipes, and a third of those have now been updated.

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