Quotes of the Week:
"The gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now, but they can't hold America hostage. We do not have to accept that carnage is the price of freedom."
—President Obama, addressing the nation last Tuesday in an emotional speech announcing new executive actions on gun control, including stronger and more expansive background check rules.
"He has an opportunity to lead and unify but instead the president has opted to attack the Second Amendment and law-abiding citizens through a divisive plan that will not save any lives."
— Gov. Asa Hutchinson, responding to Obama's address. Along with other Republican officials across Arkansas and the United States, the governor characterized the president's moderate proposals as an all-out assault on the Constitution. Hutchinson, by the way, once headed the National Rifle Association's task force on school gun violence that the NRA formed in the wake of the massacre of 20 first-graders in Newtown, Conn.
The latest abortion battle
This week, a federal judge extended until March 14 her temporary restraining order blocking a new state law that would sharply limit access to medical abortions.
The law was scheduled to take effect on the first day of the year, but on the afternoon of Dec. 31, Judge Kristine Baker temporarily halted its implementation after Planned Parenthood filed suit earlier that week. The statute would require Arkansas medical providers to follow an outdated dosage protocol on drugs used to induce abortion during the early stages of pregnancy, and would require clinics to contract with a doctor with admitting privileges at a hospital. Similar legislation has been used by anti-abortion advocates in other states to effectively shut down abortion providers.
The Little Rock Planning Commission approved a proposal last Thursday by state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Little Rock) to convert the Packet House — a historic, vacant house remodeled as a succession of restaurants on Cantrell Road, next to the Dillard's headquarters — into a private club for businesspeople. (And, presumably, legislators and assorted politicos, considering the Capitol dome is only about half a mile away.)
Hutchinson and two business partners have a deal pending to buy the property for $1.3 million from the previous owners. The senator said the "1836 Club" would be limited to 300 members. Assuming the venture gets off the ground, expect lots of wining, dining, cigar-smoking, back-slapping and gossip-mongering.
Tragedy on Kaw Lake
Last week, after a week of searching, authorities in Oklahoma found the body of Craig Strickland, 29, the singer in the Northwest Arkansas country-rock band Backroad Anthem. Strickland and another Arkansan, Chase Morland, 22, set out duck hunting early on the morning of Sunday, Dec. 27, just as a massive storm system was rolling across the middle part of the country (the same storm delivered near-record rainfall to much of Arkansas).
Morland's body was found the previous week, less than two days after he sent the following tweet: "In case we don't come back, @BackroadCRAIG and I are going right through Winter Storm Goliath to kill ducks in Oklahoma. #IntoTheStorm"
Another $1 billion for charter schools
The Walton Family Foundation announced last week that it's further ramping up its support of charter schools across the nation by spending $1 billion over the next five years. In the past two decades, according to the Associated Press, the foundation spent some $1 billion on K-12 education, much of it on charters. Never mind that the overall record on charter schools is mixed — most academic studies show they perform no better, on average, than do traditional public schools.
Keeping government safe from the public
Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin changed his mind last week over his controversial decision to close the state Capitol building to the public on weekends. Martin said in December that he decided to institute the weekend closures (except in December, during the holiday display) to "provide enhanced security." But after Gov. Hutchinson and others expressed unhappiness with the move, Martin backed off. So, grab the kids, and go play in the rotunda this Saturday.