Arkansas Public Media

The mission of Arkansas Public Media is to increase high-quality news coverage and citizen engagement around the issues of energy, education, healthcare and justice across media platforms of radio, television, print and web.  Arkansas Public Media also seeks to foster collaboration among public media outlets in Arkansas to expand reach into communities of all sizes.

Arkansas Public Media is a regional journalism collaboration. Station partners include KUAR, KUAF, KASU, and KTXK. Other content partners include AETN, El Latino, UALR Anderson Institute for Race and Ethnicity, and The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies.

Arkansas Public Media reporting is funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

KUAR and Arkansas Public Media won eight awards at this year’s competition of the Arkansas chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The 2018 Diamond Journalism Awards were handed out Thursday evening in Little Rock. The honors are for reporting that was published or broadcast between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018.

Below are the three categories that KUAR and Arkansas Public Media entered along with links to the award-winning reports and comments provided from the judges.

npr.org

Ambulatory Surgery Centers are becoming an increasingly popular choice for minor medical procedures like knee surgery and tissue biopsies. Often, they're cheaper and more convenient than hospitals.

But problems at one such center in Little Rock have garnered national attention, and it's uncertain whether it's indicative of a larger issue.

On July 18, 2014, Faye Watkins got a colonoscopy; a fairly routine, elective procedure that screens for colon cancer. She went to Kanis Endoscopy Center in Little Rock, where its medical director, Dr. Alonzo Williams, performed the procedure.

But when she woke up, she wasn't at the clinic; she was down the street, at Baptist Health Medical Center. Watkins had stopped breathing almost immediately after her procedure. She was revived, but suffered a brain injury from the lack of oxygen. 

Daniel Breen / Arkansas Public Media

Among all the popular measures on the Arkansas ballot this November, none is as hydra-headed, or has forged unlikely alliances, as Issue 1.

It would give the legislature rulemaking power over the courts and put a limit on fees collected by trial lawyers in lawsuits. The most talked about element, though, is that it would cap courtroom awards for plaintiff's seeking punitive damages and compensation for pain and suffering — though it wouldn't limit awards for lost wages or hospital bills, or in cases of intentional misconduct — at $500,000.

Nationally, this kind of amendment is what is commonly referred to as "tort reform."

npr.org

Rebecca Simpson has taught social studies at Little Rock's Dunbar Magnet Middle School for the past 25 years. And through all that time, she hasn't joined the union; not for any ideological reasons, she just doesn't see the benefit.

"Arkansas being a right-to-work state, it's very difficult for a union to be strong, period, here. Because they're hamstrung by that fact that there can be no compulsory union membership," Simpson said. "You can't force anyone to join, you can't force anyone to support a union."

Arkansas Board of Apportionment

On a gray afternoon, Nick Wiench walks to the University of Central Arkansas's Torreyson Library. He studies philosophy and film, not political science, but he's concerned about an easily-overlooked part of the electoral system.

"I know gerrymandering is the thing where they split up basically the districts almost by Republican and Democrat to try and get the most votes into their own political party. It's kind of biased, in a way… but I'm not sure exactly how we can fix it," Wiench said. "It's not exactly a smooth thing that we can do."

But now, two almost identical proposals are seeking to change the way Arkansas draws both its congressional and state legislative districts. 

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 Department of Health is warning residents about a significant influenza outbreak and how best to prepare.

“In a bad flu year, it's estimated a third of the population gets the flu," says Dr. Dirk Haselow, state epidemiologist who is tracking outbreak response. "In Arkansas that would be a million people." 

This influenza season, which began in early December and ends in late March, intensified over the holiday season and is shaping up to be a bad one, Haselow says.

Arkansas’s health groups are reacting to corrective statements the tobacco industry began airing on network TV in late November with some optimism that they will help reduce the state’s high smoking rate as well as concern the ads won’t reach young people.

When a school bus crashes, upset parents may ask, “Why aren’t my children wearing seat belts on the bus?”

Some state lawmakers are listening. California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas have passed mandatory school bus safety restraint statutes. Earlier this year, the Arkansas General Assembly did, too. But Arkansas's new school bus seat belt law is no cinch. 

Eric Westcott is the manager of Central Rental and Supply, a construction equipment company that sits about three miles from Premium Protein Products, a meat rendering plant that turns animal carcasses into pet food.  

“Imagine the most disgusting smell you’ve ever smelled in your life and then add the heat, and that’s what we deal with here in Russellville,” he said.

Brad Graham is driving his truck along the edge of a catfish pond near Lake Village, blowing a soybean grain mixture into the water.

“My stepdad was into fish farming, and I just decided I wanted to do a little bit of farming,” he says.

More than 150 wood pellet manufacturing mills operate across the U.S., many supplying the domestic woodstove pellet market with home heating fuel.

More than a quarter are industrial pellet mills, grinding thousands of acres of forest into biomass for overseas export to electrical utilities stoking retrofitted coal-fire furnaces with "densified" wood.

The largest mills, concentrated in the southeastern U.S., claim to sustainably harvest timber, from both hardwood and softwood forests. But a new mill, Highland Pellets in Pine Bluff, which harvests only fast-growing Southern softwood pine may be among the greenest.

Still, the calculated ecological costs and benefits of forest biomass remain hazy.

Controversial Weed Killer Dicamba Banned By Arkansas Plant Board

Nov 8, 2017

Arkansas soybean farmers who rely on a chemical called Dicamba to kill weeds must stop using it during the growing season next year. That’s because it has allegedly been drifting to neighboring farms and killing crops.

A group of teens play volleyball during recess at a youth lockup facility in Harrisburg in Northeast Arkansas. They are in custody for doing things like breaking and entering, possessing a firearm, or stealing a car, and they will be there anywhere from a few months to a couple of years.

Arkansas Schools Hire Untrained Teachers As People Lose Interest In The Profession

Dec 2, 2016

Davida Walls never thought she would be teaching high school biology, let alone in the first few months after graduating from college at 22.

“Teaching was not my initial goal. It was kind of an opportunity that just, you know, became available so I took it.”

She is trying to decide whether to become a doctor or a nurse, and plans to apply for a program to train for one or the other this year.

Statehouse Standoff Over Education Funding A Matter Of 'Adequacy'

Nov 1, 2016
Arkansas Department of Education Building in Little Rock near the state Capitol building.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Legislators Monday missed a deadline to agree on a plan for education funding increases known as "adequacy."

A 22 year-old Arkansas Supreme Court decision, commonly referred to as "Lake View," requires lawmakers to fund education adequately before other appropriations are taken up. But lawmakers in the education committee were unable to agree about how much of a funding boost to give to schools.

A wind resource map, published by the U.S. Office of Renewable Energy, illustrates the windiest real estate in America. A vertical violet streak down the nation’s midsection indicates persistent, intense winds concentrated in places like western Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. And a private company, called Clean Line Energy Partners, plans to tap that for electricity it can immediately transport to utilities requiring a bolus of alternative energy in their portfolios.  

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Johnelle Shaw is a 27-year-old first-time mother with a two-month old son, Logan. She is visiting a lactation consultant at The Pulaski County Health Unit in Southwest Little Rock. Logan has a cold and is back for a breastfeeding check-in.  The consultant weighs him in at 7.6 ounces, a full pound bigger than he was at his last visit a month before.

DeathFest and Vickie Kelley
Jacqueline Froelich/ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Vickie Kelley spends a lot of time in cemeteries. She’s founder and president of the Natural State Burial Association, which espouses sustainable burial practices in Arkansas.

“Our message is you can take a body and conduct a woodland burial or create a conservation cemetery which leaves no mark, no trace,” Kelley says.  “You decompose, you become earth, and the burial site doesn’t look like a cemetery. It looks like wilderness preservation.”

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