Tweet of the Week:
Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club for Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!
— President Trump (@realDonaldTrump), lashing out at conservative allies after the failure of the American Health Care Act. The bill died in the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday when a group of Republican congressmen dominated by the hard-right Freedom Caucus defected from Speaker Paul Ryan. Democrats aren't the only ones smiling about the defeat of the AHCA, though: Governor Hutchinson was one of several Republican governors who opposed the bill, as did a majority of the American public, according to polls.
Execution dates draw near
Last week, executive clemency hearings began in advance of Arkansas's plans to execute eight men on death row within a 10-day period in late April. Stacey Johnson and an attorney for Ledell Lee spoke to the parole board on Friday morning; both maintained that they are innocent of the 1993 murders for which they were condemned. On Monday, the board heard from Marcel Williams, who has admitted to committing a 1994 murder and pleaded for mercy from the commissioners. The parole board also heard testimony from the families of victims, most of whom requested that the inmates' death sentences not be commuted. The panel will hold hearings for Kenneth Williams and Jason McGehee later this week.
As of Tuesday, the board has voted to not recommend commutations for Johnson and Lee, who are scheduled to die by lethal injection on April 20. (Two of the seven commissioners dissented in the case of Johnson, recommending that his sentence be commuted to life without parole.) Meanwhile, a federal lawsuit to halt the eight executions was filed Monday. The complaint, which requests an injunction, questions the state's ability to carry out so many executions in such a short span of time without errors.
Never enough for the NRA
Governor Hutchinson signed a bill into law last week that will allow concealed carry permit holders to carry a weapon onto college campuses and many other sensitive places, including the state Capitol and county courthouses, provided he or she takes eight hours of additional training. Chris Cox, the executive director of the National Rifle Association's lobbying arm, was on hand for the bill signing to offer the organization's seal of approval to "enhanced carry." Now, though, the NRA is battling another bill by Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang to amend the new law. Dismang wants to at least keep guns out of a few places, like college sporting events and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences campus. To the gun lobby, that's unacceptable. The NRA is pushing House Republicans to defeat Dismang's measure, which passed the Senate last week. Cox spoke to reporters after Hutchinson signed the enhanced carry legislation and said the NRA's national goal is for allowing "law-abiding people" to carry guns "anywhere they have a legal right to be." He also criticized the new law's training requirement, or any training that is mandated by "some government bureaucrat."
It was just about all bad news on the criminal justice front in the Arkansas legislature: A bill that would criminalize protest cleared a House committee and appeared headed toward passage. It would make "unlawful mass picketing" a Class A misdemeanor. The bill defines "unlawful picketing" broadly; it could include anything from obstructing access to a place of work to a "threat of violence or intimidation communicated near or contiguous" to a private home. It's part of a national trend from conservatives to clamp down on the First Amendment.
Meanwhile, a bill that would require anyone who has previously been committed to the Arkansas Department of Correction at least three times to serve at least 80 percent of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole passed the Senate and was scheduled to be heard by the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday. Sponsor Bryan King (R-Green Forest) told the Times, "These people have had multiple chances at rehabilitation and have not accepted it." But Arkansas already has a "two strikes and your out" law that applies to people who commit violent or sexual felonies, which requires them to serve 100 percent of their sentence. So this bill would mostly apply to low-level offenders. Governor Hutchinson opposes the bill and says he will veto it if it comes to his desk. A legislative impact statement estimated it would cost $692 million over 10 years.