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Sarah Whites-Koditschek/ Arkansas Public Media

Sarah Whites-Koditschek is a reporter and anchor for KUAR 89.1.

She was a production assistant and reporter for WHYY in Philadelphia. She also interned at NPR’s Morning Edition in Los Angeles.

Sarah is a graduate of Smith College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies. She was a student at the Stabile Center For Investigative Journalism at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Contact Sarah at sarah@arkansaspublicmedia.org or 501-683-8655.

For lawmakers, caregivers and patients  a solution to the state legislature’s multi-year process of bringing a new type of coordination to a traditional Medicaid population is set to be finalized this summer.

Arkansas’s execution secrecy law prevents the identities of drug manufacturers and sellers from being public. It also protects the identities of people carrying out executions.

 

But inmates’ attorneys say that secrecy, and a general lack of information about the state’s lethal injection protocol, obscure whether adequate safeguards are in place to use the controversial drug midazolam.

The effects of the sedative midazolam, along with Arkansas's execution practices generally, were the subject of a federal hearing that began in Little Rock Monday that could halt seven planned executions of death row inmates starting next week.  

State Solicitor General Lee Rudofsky told U.S. District Judge Karen Baker that the inmates' case has no basis in law, and that their complaints under the Eighth Amendment have already been dismissed by previous U.S. Supreme Court and 8th Circuit Court of Appeals rulings.

He deflected arguments by the inmates' attorneys that an expedited schedule of double executions over ten days would minimize the inmates' access to effective counsel and increase the risk of error at the Arkansas Department of Correction.

"A risk of maladministration or accident is not cognizable under the 8th Amendment, but more importantly, their allegation is entirely speculative."

A federal judge has granted an injunction in the execution of Jason F. McGehee, one of the eight Arkansas inmates scheduled to be executed later this month.

Marshall denied requests for injunctions for five other condemned men whom the parole board did not recommend clemency.

 A lawyer for Arkansas death row inmates scheduled for execution later this month is arguing the state's accelerated timeline is subverting the state's clemency hearing protocol, functionally eliminating a public input period for the condemned men.

Public defender Julie Vandiver made that argument today inside federal Judge D.P. Marshall Jr.'s courtroom in Little Rock.

  Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court today stayed a lower court's ruling that the Arkansas Department of Corrections must release information about the drugs expected to be used in the executions.

A bill to create educational savings accounts for Arkansas students failed in the Arkansas House today on a 46 to 39 vote Friday.

The so-called “Parental Choice Program,” SB 746, was not written to be a traditional vouchers program financed directly by the state. Instead it would have created non-profit organizations to funnel contributions from taxpayers and corporations to parents for their children’s school of choice. Donors to those organizations would get a 65 percent tax credit at an estimated $3 million annual cost to the state for three of a four-year pilot.

They sit in rows, 150 closely shaven men in yellow uniforms and white identification badges, before opposing walls, in a cinder-block walled gymnasium.  

A selected group of four sit in plastic chairs forming a circle before their co-residents. Two stand up and shake hands, and the others say, “Squash it!” and clap.

These residents at Little Rock’s all-male Community Corrections Center have a daily ritual, a conflict resolution practice, meant to teach them interpersonal skills before they return to the real world.

Schools in Arkansas get $6,600 for every student. So when kids leave a public school, the money leaves too. The state chips in temporarily to cover the financial loss, but a pair of lawmakers want to end that.

Public school districts in Arkansas regularly buy and sell property, pending approval of local education boards, of course. But today, the Arkansas Senate approved a bill that would take some of that control away.

Senate Bill 308 would allow charter schools the right to purchase or lease unused public school buildings, a seemingly small concession that nonetheless raises big questions about local versus state control of schools and inspired a heated back and forth between senators this week.

Sen. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale) said Tuesday that some public school districts let buildings sit empty, a misfortune he equated to murdering a building.

“We have had schools literally rot to the ground rather than let someone use them for educational purposes. That should never happen.”

Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock) had a lot of questions for Clark. She told a Senate Education Committee Tuesday that the bill is heavy handed, and she said it takes local control from public districts.

The Arkansas Supreme Court heard a case Thursday that may foreshadow legal battles over LGBTQ protections between state and local governments nationwide.

A 2015 state law banned anti-discrimination ordinances on any basis not already included in Arkansas law. Now lawyers for the state are suing the City of Fayetteville to invalidate its municipal ordinance protecting LGBTQ citizens.

Oral arguments on both sides pivoted on what constitutes an existing protected class in the state constitution.

In Washington the Republican-controlled Congress is speeding toward a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. While GOP leadership at the Arkansas state Capitol has said lawmakers should wait and see what happens, some conservative members of the legislature want action now.