Quote of the Week
"This is nothing new. ... This is 1896 old, Plessy versus Ferguson, and it is wicked."
— Judge Wendell Griffen, a circuit judge and Baptist pastor, speaking against Rep. Bob Ballinger's "conscience protection" bill, which would allow individuals to claim religion as a pretext for discriminating against LGBT people. Griffen, who was born in 1952, said he had lived firsthand under Jim Crow laws and remembered when discrimination against African Americans was similarly justified with religious claims. "I can quote you chapter and verse," he said. A Senate committee voted down the bill, but it will be back.
Death to capital punishment
The Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed a bill by Sen. David Burnett (D-Osceola) that would repeal the death penalty. Burnett once prosecuted capital crimes and later sat as a judge on five death cases; he said the death penalty, because of lack of enforcement, has become meaningless. "It's broken. It doesn't work because you have no certainty," he said. (For various reasons, Arkansas's last execution happened 10 years ago.)
The bill faces long odds in the full General Assembly, but it makes both moral and practical sense. When a prosecutor testifying against the bill said the murder rate has declined in Texas, which does have a death penalty, Burnett replied, "I don't give a damn about the whole state of Texas." More common sense.
Location, location, location
The Arkansas House approved by 70-8 a bill by Rep. Rebecca Petty (R-Rogers) to require phone companies to provide location information for cell phones in response to an emergency situation. Petty, the mother of a murder victim, made the case that allowing the cops to obtain such information could save lives. But Rep. John Walker (D-Little Rock) said there is already a process for the police to obtain phone records, and raised the possibility of abuse if there's no court oversight. The legislature, he said, was "giving license to anybody in the world upon having a friendly policeman to locate us, wherever we are, whatever the circumstances may be."
Conway leads the way
Faulkner County may be home to the likes of Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway), but last week the Conway City Council proved itself ahead of the Arkansas curve by voting 6-2 to extend protections for LGBT city workers. The ordinance adds the words "sexual orientation" and "gender identity or expression" to the attributes covered in the city's equal opportunity statement. Rapert, for his part, spoke against the ordinance, and took to Twitter after its passage to condemn "wicked rulers," those "unwilling to obey the Lord" and "moral rot within a nation."
Born in a small town
Twelve years ago, the legislature and former Gov. Mike Huckabee created a controversial school consolidation mandate that required districts with fewer than 350 students to merge with their neighbors. It's been bitterly opposed by many rural communities ever since, and now it may be rolled back somewhat. The House has voted 95-0 to create consolidation waivers for tiny districts if they meet fiscal and academic standards.
Meanwhile, in Arkansas's largest school system, change rolls forward with the naming of a committee to work on the finances of the now state-controlled Little Rock School District. Baker Kurrus, a lawyer and former member of the local school board, will head the group. Also included: Little Rock City Manager Bruce Moore, Central Arkansas Library System director Bobby Roberts and representatives with ties to the business community and the teachers' union.