Arkansas Public Media

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

Farmers around Arkansas are feeling optimistic about the chances of corn producing a healthy harvest this year.  Nationally, corn hit a record yield in 2017 and prices averaged $3.50 per bushel, making corn among the best paid of the major row crops.

Arkansas may not be part of the traditional corn belt of the U.S. but still makes a great place to grow corn, according to Bono farmer Tyler Nutt.  He said much of corn’s success is due to Arkansas’s status as the second most poultry-producing state with almost unlimited demand for corn to feed chickens.

“You put a pencil to it, and whatever pays out better, that’s typically the crop you plant,” Nutt said.

He said corn is also good for the soil, and needs far less water than rice.

Arkansas farmers who grew cotton in 2017 will be getting rebate checks this spring from a boll weevil eradication program that’s been considered a success.  The rebate is 75 cents per cotton acre.

Regina Coleman, Arkansas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation’s executive director, said the rebate is possible because the foundation was able to pay off a federal loan for the program early and currently holds a cash reserve. 

Farmers paid into the program at a rate of three dollars per acre last year.  The 2017 assessment was lower than a previous rate of four dollars per acre.

State and local leaders are considering how best to treat Arkansas’s opioid crisis if their coalition lawsuit succeeds against opioid drug makers and distributors.

A group of Arkansas cities and counties made national headlines when it came together last week to launch a lawsuit against 65 opioid drug makers, distributors, and others.

Colin Jorgensen is an attorney for the Arkansas Association of Counties who worked on the lawsuit. He says the case seeks a payout large enough to fix the state’s growing opioid epidemic.

A fungus called white-nose syndrome has killed millions of cave-dwelling bats in the eastern U.S. and Canada and is now aggressively spreading across the South, including the karst-rich Ozarks and its abundant caves.

The irritating white, feathery fungus grows on the warm snouts and wings of hibernating bats, rousing them from winter torpor. Infected bats often flutter, disoriented, out of  protective caves where they may freeze or starve to death.

A federal task force which formed in 2011 to track and manage the epidemic is finally starting to see a glimmer of light at the end of a long tunnel.

Students and adults in Jonesboro joined the crowds elsewhere in the state and the nation on Saturday for a March for Our Lives protest demanding gun control and other measures to help stop mass shootings, but the Jonesboro rally was also a remembrance of the Westside Middle School shooting exactly 20 years earlier.

“Just because we are students, just because we are kids does not mean we do not understand this issue.  We have a voice,” said Mohannad Al-Hindi, a senior at Jonesboro High School.

“I’m just wondering how many more school shootings it’s going to take,” said Makyla Norvell, 15, who attends Riverside High School.

Jonesboro is marking a grim anniversary March 24 — 20 years ago two children shot and killed five people outside Westside Middle School. 

The shootings occurred 13 months before the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado  that is often called the seminal tragedy in a subcategory of mass shootings that take place at America's schools. 

Most recently, 17 students and teachers died at the hands of a gunman inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14.

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. 

Bill To Limit Challenges To Hog Farms Awaits Final Vote

Mar 14, 2018

A bill is up for vote by the general assembly  that would protect hog farmers from lawsuits for certain environmental issues once their waste permits are approved.

The legislation was approved by the Arkansas General Assembly today, and it's meant to reassure hog farmers as well as the banks who lend them money.

At the 90-year-old Coker-Hampton Drug Company in downtown Stuttgart, the pharmacist and owner of the last 25 years, James Bethea, is deeply concerned about the reimbursement rates from Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) he believes are putting small pharmacies at risk of losing their businesses.

Bethea has chosen to continue to fill prescriptions even though a recent law in Arkansas allows pharmacists to refuse a sale if it meant that they would lose money due to reimbursement rates being lower than the price of the product.

“Those are our customers, and we’re going to take care of them,” he said.

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.

In 2005, Jaime Mann was cited for several traffic violations in Craighead County — not having insurance, not wearing a seatbelt, and hazardous driving. She was charged about $500. She paid some of it, but then she started racking up fees and fines for the money and community service hours she owed.  

 

"And then it started spiraling out of control, and I was so mad, I remember, because I thought, ‘I paid this ticket,'" she said.

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."

Arkansas’s cotton farmers are looking forward to the growing season with some optimism that the fluffiest of crops will continue to experience a mini-resurgence.

According to the Arkansas Farm Bureau, Arkansas ranks fourth for cotton production.  Most farms don’t grow cotton exclusively but rotate it in with other staples such as corn and soybeans.

At a recent Agri-Business Conference at Arkansas State University, Gary Adams with the National Cotton Council in Memphis said the U.S. as a whole produced its largest cotton harvest in a decade last year, and signs are pointing towards more growth in 2018. 

Arkansas lawmakers have a couple more weeks in this year’s budgeting session to re-approve funding for Arkansas Works, the state’s healthcare program for low-income people. Yet, a handful of state senators and their votes to continue the program remain on the fence.

Arkansas Works  covers about 285,564 low-income people. It also brings in federal dollars that are important to the state budget. The Arkansas Department of Human Services says it would cost the state $148.9 million extra in fiscal year 2019 to continue serving the program’s population without the federal match from Arkansas Works.

A row of men and one woman stood with guns raised to face paper silhouettes of a torso while their trainer counts off for them to shoot. The Arkansas Armory in Sherwood was holding one of its first shooting exams for the state's new enhanced concealed carry permit this month.

Applicants were aiming to hit an unmoving target 70 percent of the time, but they were also preparing for potentially more chaotic live scenarios as part of Arkansas’s new enhanced concealed carry license. It's for places like college campuses, the state capitol, restaurants, and churches. The license requires a shooting test and eight hours of training that includes, among other topics, what to do and not do in the event of an active shooter.

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.

Leaders from Arkansas’s sizable rice industry are coming together to seek a compromise on the divisive issue of agricultural burning, which tends to inflame relations each fall between farmers who burn residue off their fields and people who say they’re creating a public health hazard that can be seen and smelled for miles.

That concern was one of the leading issues at the Arkansas Rice Federation's annual meeting this week in Jonesboro. Most farmers, according to Jeff Rutledge with the Arkansas Rice Council, want to be good neighbors.

“Our families are raised here, and we breathe this air, too,” he said.

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.”

Arkansas's Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson will likely see most of his approximately $5.6 billion proposed budget for fiscal 2018-19 adopted without changes. It goes to the House of Representatives this week, where three in four voting members are Republican, and the Senate, with its strong Republican majority.

"I created a balanced budget that actually has a $64 million surplus that funds education, the priority needs of our state," Hutchinson said. "I'm hoping the legislature will greet that well, and will pass that, and as I give the State of the State address" today, "that'll be something I emphasize."

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.

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."

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.

Lawmakers are expected to begin work next month on the sweeping legislation known as the Farm Bill.  The bill covers dozens of nutrition, agricultural and rural policies that affect everyday life.

While discussions around the Farm Bill often focus on food stamps, the supplemental food program that assists millions of Americans, including about one in seven Arkansas residents, this year lawmakers are also concentrating on agricultural safety net programs for farmers.

  

In December, Governor Asa Hutchinson issued a memorandum to Col. Bill Bryant, director of Arkansas State Police as well as to state prosecutors declaring that the open carry of a handguns is protected by law and allowed, except for unlawful use and in certain restricted places. The governor wrote that the purpose of his guidance was to resolve confusion regarding the state’s gun possession law, amended five years ago.

The statute, as written, however remains open to interpretation.

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.

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.

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.

This report has been updated to reflect a recent regulatory filing.

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality late Wednesday denied a new permit to C&H Hog Farms, the state's largest industrial swine breeding facility to maintain operations in rural Newton County. Opponents of the swine farm constructed in 2013 along Big Creek, a major tributary to the Buffalo National River, claim the farm is gravely polluting the watershed and have fought for five years to shut it down.

C&H Hog Farms owners are appealing ADEQ's decision.

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