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Woods sentenced

And much more.

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Quote of the week

"That's just bizarre." — Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View), the chair of the legislative Joint Performance Review Committee, responding to a representative from Everytown for Gun Safety's mention of statistics about youth suicide in a discussion of school safety. The response was that red flag laws — allowing judicial intervention on gun access for dangerous people — could have a positive effect on school shooting incidents and also on suicide rate. Irvin later suggested that efforts to address youth suicide with gun safety laws were targeting rural America.

Former senator, co-defendant sentenced

Federal Judge Timothy Brooks sentenced former state Sen. Jon Woods (R-Springdale) to 220 months, or more than 18 years, in prison and ordered him to make restitution of $1.6 million for masterminding kickback schemes from state money.

He must report to prison by 1 p.m. Sept. 26.

Woods' attorney has said he would appeal. He'll likely seek to postpone prison for Woods, but typically a defendant must show a chance of prevailing on appeal to avoid immediate imprisonment. Woods likely will focus on the fact that an FBI agent was not allowed to testify because of his mishandling of computer files. The government will say it wasn't relevant because the agent didn't testify and the material at issue wasn't prejudicial.

Brooks spoke at length about the severity of the crime. He called Woods' behavior "depraved." He said he'd received many letters from Woods' supporters, but they didn't overcome a record of habitual stealing of money. "Your entire way of thinking about what your job was, was to put money in your pocket, and I find that grotesque," Brooks said.

Defense lawyers tell the Arkansas Times they can't recall a stiffer white-collar crime sentence in Arkansas in years. There's scant "good time" in the federal system. If he isn't successful in a reversal or a reduction of the sentence (such as by contesting use of his participation in an unrelated crime in the sentencing), Woods could be facing 15 years in prison before release to a halfway house. He just turned 41.

Meanwhile, political consultant Randell Shelton, Woods' co-defendant, was sentenced to 72 months in federal prison. Under sentencing guidelines, he could have gotten more than 10 years.

Brooks set Shelton's restitution at $660,698, the loss in state money. He also imposed a civil forfeiture of $664,000, which allows the taking of any assets Shelton might have. His prison time will be followed by three years of supervised release. He was ordered to report to prison Oct. 8.

Brooks faulted Shelton for speaking with pride about his work for Ecclesia College, which paid kickbacks to Shelton, Woods and former Rep. Micah Neal (R-Springdale) for state money it received. Shelton was paid by Ecclesia through a firm he set up called Paradigm Strategic Consulting.

Issue 1 deemed unconstitutional

Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce has ruled that Issue 1, the proposed limit on lawsuits and legislative takeover of court-rulemaking, unconstitutionally rolled up multiple issues in one proposal and should be removed from the ballot.

The decision came in a lawsuit brought by retired Judge Marion Humphrey. A committee backed by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and major health interests intervened to keep it on the ballot.

The decision will be appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The amendment caps noneconomic damages in lawsuits at $500,000 and also caps punitive damages, limits attorney fees to a third of judgments and in a couple of ways effectively transfers court rule-making authority from the Arkansas Supreme Court to the legislature. It gives the legislature rule-making review and also reduces the legislative vote requirement to amend or annul court rules. Past legislative efforts to make corporate-friendly changes to court rules have been struck down by the court as unconstitutional.

Pierce said amendments may have multiple parts so long as they are "reasonably germane." He adopted the plaintiffs' view that these four provisions are not. The state said it was enough to be generally about courts.

Work requirement kicks thousands to curb

More than 4,500 recipients of Medicaid in Arkansas lost their health coverage last week for failing to report on their work hours for three months. Enrollees were required to visit a state website to detail spending 80 hours a month on work or other approved activities or an exemption. Those who lost coverage will be locked out of receiving coverage for the rest of the year. Some 26,000 Medicaid recipients are subject to the work requirement rules, approved by the Trump administration earlier this year after Governor Hutchinson requested the change. A federal lawsuit has been filed in Washington, D.C., to block the work requirements from continuing. The same court blocked a similar work requirement from taking effect in Kentucky.

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