Quote of the Week:
"We were elected to lead, Mr. Speaker. We must be headlights, and not taillights. We cannot continue to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the reality of mass gun violence in our nation. ... The time for silence and patience is long gone."
— U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia), addressing the House of Representatives last week before leading a sit-in of the House chamber that lasted over 25 hours. Lewis and other Democratic members of Congress were seeking a vote on new gun control legislation in the wake of a mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., but they ultimately failed to break the stalemate.
Mixed bag from the high court
The U.S. Supreme Court wrapped up its term with several major decisions, including two that have major implications for Arkansas, one good, one bad. In a 5-3 decision, the court struck down a 2013 Texas law that severely restricted access to abortion in that state by requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and by requiring clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers (although most abortions are now performed using pharmaceuticals, not surgery). A similar "admitting privileges" requirement in Arkansas is currently being challenged in court and now will likely be invalidated as well. Last week, an evenly divided Supreme Court effectively halted President Obama's most ambitious action on immigration, which would have protected millions of undocumented immigrant parents and youth from the threat of being deported. The court remains short one member since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia earlier this year, and the 4-4 tie means a lower court decision blocking the White House's "deferred action" plan remains in place. An estimated 30,000 residents of Arkansas would have been aided by the executive action.
The Arkansas Supreme Court also handed down a major split decision last week: In a 4-3 opinion, it dismissed eight death row inmates' challenge to the state's secretive execution process, reversing an earlier ruling by a circuit judge. The court rejected the prisoners' argument that the state must disclose the sources of the drugs it plans to use in lethal injections. However, it's still not clear when Arkansas can proceed with executions, since one of those drugs reaches its expiration date on June 30. Stay tuned.
Looking for leaks
In a victory for the Buffalo River, state environmental regulators agreed last week to hire an independent analyst to check on a controversial hog farm in the national river's watershed. Environmentalists fear that liquid waste generated from C&H Hog Farm in Mount Judea will leak into the Buffalo by way of the region's porous geology. Although researchers from the University of Arkansas's Division of Agriculture say they've found no significant leakage so far, the Buffalo River Coalition has questioned the friendly relationship between UA agricultural extension workers and farmers. The Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission agreed it's worth taking another look.
This side up
A portion of a new bridge being built across the White River and surrounding wetlands in Monroe County contains key components that were installed upside down, the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department acknowledged last week. The new bridge, meant to replace the old U.S. Highway 79 crossing at Clarendon, was originally slated to open around Labor Day of last year, but construction has been halted on the project since April 2015. That's when AHTD inspectors discovered that 70 bearing pads — which help a bridge handle vertical and horizontal stresses — were "180 degrees off," according to an AHTD spokesperson. Of those, 58 required corrective action. High water has delayed remediation work, but the department now hopes the bridge will be finished by Labor Day of this year.
Betting on the ballot
We've been wondering who's behind "Arkansas Wins in 2016," the group circulating petitions for a constitutional amendment that would authorize one casino apiece in three Arkansas counties (Washington, Miller and Boone). One answer emerged last week when the group announced that Cherokee Nation Entertainment — which owns and operates nine casino properties in Oklahoma — has plans for the Washington County location. No word yet on potential operators for the other two proposed casinos. If canvassers collect sufficient signatures this summer, the question will appear before Arkansas voters in November.