KASU

Bobby Ampezzan/ Arkansas Public Media

Bobby Ampezzan is a native of Detroit who holds degrees from Dickinson College (Carlisle, PA) and the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville). He's written for The Guardian newspaper and Oxford American magazine and was a longtime staff writer for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The best dimestore nugget he's lately discovered comes from James Altucher's Choose Yourself (actually, the Times' profile on Altucher, which quotes the book): "I lose at least 20 percent of my intelligence when I am resentful." Meanwhile, his faith in public radio and television stems from the unifying philosophy that not everything be serious, but curiosity should follow every thing, and that we be serious about curiosity.

 

Last week a former Little Rock police officer took the stand in federal court to explain what happened on a night five years ago when he shot and killed a 15 year old. If he convinces 12 jurors he took appropriate action he and the city will not have to come up with millions in punitive and compensatory damages.

The same could never happen if something goes wrong in the planned executions of eight men over 11 days beginning Monday, say defense attorney Jeff Rosenzweig and Terrence Cain, University of Arkansas at Little Rock Bowen School of Law professor.

“The 11th [amendment to the Constitution] prohibits [lawsuits seeking] damages against states unless Congress specifically abrogates,” says Cain.

“The state has sovereign immunity in something like this,” Rosenzweig says.

A new survey of racial attitudes and perspectives in Arkansas finds that whites and blacks diverge significantly on the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Joel Anderson Institute on Race and Ethnicity at the UA Little Rock this week releases the results of its annual Race, Ethnicity and Religion survey. John Kirk is the survey’s author.

"There's a very polarized idea about what Black Lives Matter means what its successes will be, and African Americans very strongly believe Black Lives Matter is making an important impact and having an important role, than whites, who tend to be very much in the opposite direction, that Black Lives Matter isn't making an impact and doesn't have a role to play."

"It's punishment. We are going to take a person who's helpless and we're going to kill him. Why? Because he deserves it," says New York Law School professor Robert Blecker on the death penalty.

Blecker is the author of The Death of Punishment: Searching for Justice Among the Worst of the Worst.

Sara Gullickson flew in from Arizona to voice her concerns at the Medical Marijuana Commission's first public hearing today in Little Rock.

"I really, really strongly urge Arkansas to consider for the dispensaries running a merit based program instead of a lottery based program. Lottery based programs definitely breed litigation, program delays, and really don’t set the state up for success."

Last month, Medical Marijuana Commissioner Carlos Roman, an anesthesiologist, joked that the appropriate venue for the commission's first public hearing Friday would be Verizon Arena, the 18,000-seat venue for touring Top 40 musical acts, circuses and monster truck rallies.

Instead, the commission got the UA Little Rock's Bowen School of Law — larger than the modest fifth-floor conference room inside 1515 W. 7th St. where the meetings have been, still smaller than the anticipated crowd.

The commission has received dozens of email comments already, a large number asking the body to rethink its plan for a lottery to pick 32 Arkansans to open retail storefronts for medical marijuana.

Next month the state of Arkansas will execute eight of its 33 inmates, in pairs over four evenings and by lethal injection.

For more than 18 years Damien Echols was one of those on death row. He knows all eight men and says Don W. Davis, scheduled to die April 17, "kept me alive." 

Here's his full Arkansas Public Media interview with reporter Ann Kenda in which he talks about the justice of capital punishment, life on death row, life after death row and his wife, Lorri, whom he married while on the block. 

Echols was reached at his home in New York. 

Arkansas’s 91st General Assembly has hosted serious discussions on healthier eating (only) on food stamps and on Sharia Law, guns on college campuses and sanctuaries on those same campuses for undocumented immigrants. Less attention until late had been given to the roughly two dozen bills that seek to shape up — or water-down, depending on your bent — the state’s half-century old Freedom of Information Act.

A host of bills have been filed in the 91st General Assembly that direct Arkansas’s voter-approved medical marijuana program in small and moderate ways, but two senate bills would prohibit smoking, eating or drinking medical marijuana products. Monday, the smoking ban failed a Senate floor vote by 14 votes, 10-15, but it could come up again.

The Medical Marijuana Amendment, Issue 6 on the ballot Nov. 8, passed with better than 53% support.

Arkansas Public Media spoke to the amendment’s author Monday afternoon just before the Senate floor vote. Little Rock attorney David Couch specializes in nursing home litigation and regulation.

We began with the legislation banning smoking and ingesting marijuana, sponsored by Republicans Jason Rapert (Bigelow) and Gary Stubblefield (Branch) in the Senate, and House Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Elm Springs).

Erika Gee is on the government relations and regulatory team at the law firm of Wright Lindsey Jennings, and she's taken clients who wish to procure licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries or cultivation facilities, a five- to seven-figure outlay before a single seed is planted or bud is sold. 

Andrew King is on the Cannabis Engagement Committee at another big firm, Kutak Rock, and he absolutely will not. King has written about why for Arkansas Lawyer. 

By the closest of voice votes the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee rejected legislation from one of its own.

House Bill 1035 by state Rep. Mary Bentley (R-Perryville) would have prohibited the expenditure of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program dollars on soda, candy, chips and other junk foods.

The committee is comprised of eight members — six Republicans and Eddie Cheatham (D-Crossett) and Stephanie Flowers (D-Pine Bluff). The voice vote was so close that chair Cecile Bledsoe (R-Rogers) hesitated before calling it for the nays.

 

Tuesday's meeting of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana was business as usual even as House and Senate committees take up bills today that could  redirect the Commission's momentum.

The commission meeting began with a presentation by Lauren Ballard, revenue legal counsel at the Department of Finance and Administration, on what litigation followed from other states'  medical marijuana programs--cautionary tales for these five commissioners, only one of whom, Travis Story of Fayetteville, is a lawyer. 


A bill filed last week by state Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville) would ban so called sex-selective or “family balance” abortions. 

 

 

A bill that makes no mention of Sharia Law nonetheless sparked an intense debate Thursday in the House Judiciary Committee on the need for Arkansas to gird itself against such foreign influence in its courts.

It passed out of the Committee on a voice vote along party lines. It goes now before the full House.

Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman's never been in such a political position. She's a surgical oncologist. That's good for generating approving smiles, not to mention a very liveable wage. On Monday, she was picked to chair the new Medical Marijuana Commission.

Well, "chair" — more like hotseat.

"Care to share how you voted on amendment 6?" a reporter asked new medical marijuana commissioner Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman.

"You don't have to answer that if you don't want to," Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Jake Bleed interrupted. "We're all here to carry out the intent of the voter," he told her.

"We're all here to carry out the intent of the voter," she parroted.