- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Southwest Times Record, July 6, 2014

Special session a preview of next year

Our state lawmakers met last week for a very short but historic special legislative session, addressing issues they will consider again in their next regular session.

The Arkansas Legislature met Monday and Tuesday to vote on measures affecting three issues:

- To avoid a $36.6 million deficit in the public school employees’ health insurance fund.

- To temporarily bar the state lottery from adding monitor games.

- To fund new prison beds.

They wrapped up shortly after midnight in the early hours of Wednesday after approving all three.

On the insurance issue, legislators approved a package of proposals that would, among other things, eliminate coverage for about 4,000 part-time school employees; eliminate coverage for spouses of school employees and state employees if they can obtain coverage through their employers; and transfer to the school employees’ insurance fund an estimated $4.6 million a year that school districts have been saving in federal payroll taxes by contributing to employees’ insurance. Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, chairman of a task force that recommended the proposals, told the Arkansas News Bureau that more will need to be done in next year’s regular session.

Said Sen. Hendren: “We didn’t know what this bill would look like six months ago, so we don’t know what the long-range bill will look like six months from now. Hopefully, we will find some changes that give us long-term stability, and that’s what we are going to look for.”

Last week’s action followed a special session in October during which the Legislature infused the school employees’ insurance fund with one-time money.

During debate in the Senate on Tuesday, Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, said he was “frustrated” that the Legislature has to address rising insurance premiums nearly every year but cannot seem to fix the problem.

“These are just small bandages on gaping wounds,” Tom Dooher, executive director of the Arkansas Education Association, said after the session. “We need to have some thoughtful leadership from the Legislature and the next governor to really come up with a solution that makes sense in the long term and makes this program viable fiscally and viable for people to join.”

On the lottery issue, legislators voted to prohibit the state Lottery Commission from introducing monitor games - where drawings are held every few minutes and results are displayed on monitors at lottery retailers - until March.

To address prison overcrowding, lawmakers approved a measure that would free up about $6.3 million from the state Central Services Fund to pay for up to 604 prison beds.

Gov. Mike Beebe on Thursday signed all the special-session bills into law.

We appreciate the efforts of our state lawmakers and their limiting the session to the minimum-required three days, but we hope they will resolve each of these issues at the next regular session instead of handling them with another Band-Aid.

House Speaker-designate Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, told the Arkansas News Bureau he is optimistic about the next session. “It’ll be challenging, but I feel like we’re going to be able to meet those challenges and make the citizens of this state proud,” he said.

Along with teacher insurance, prison overcrowding and lottery games, issues legislators may address in the next session include the so-called private option; consider allowing public schools to have access to the broadband network that state colleges and universities use; tax cuts; and highway funding. Issues we saw during the 2013 session that could come up again include ones regarding abortion and guns. The regular legislative session opens in January.


Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 7, 2014

130 to 1 (yes, one)

So the special session of the Legislature didn’t turn out to be a firestorm after all. Not even with that oh-so-divisive bill that would have put some limits on the Arkansas Lottery, which is the new Shame of the State now that the grocery tax is being phased out.

It was the speaker of the state’s House of Representatives, The Hon. Davy Carter, who warned that adding any restriction on the state’s out-of-control lottery commission could bring on a “firestorm.”

It turned out to be just a ray of light, for the Ledge adopted a compromise that sailed through both chambers. And the state will get a reprieve from those keno-style electronic games that the commissioners were eager to put here, there and everywhere in Arkansas.

See, y’all, the Ledge can do the right thing. On occasion.

The glorified barkers running the state’s lottery wanted to expand into keno, even though the Legislature’s oversight committee opposed any such thing. As late as last week, the lottery’s croupiers-in-chief seemed determined to get these new games launched before lawmakers had a chance to stop them. But a bill to ban keno passed easily—at least for now, at least until the Ledge can meet in regular session next year and have time to think about this leap into the dark.

In the House, the compromise passed 96-1.

In the Senate, it passed 34-0.

Some firestorm.

Journalists may not be renowned for their command of mathematics, or even simple arithmetic. But with the help of a calculator, we figured out with some degree of certainty that the vote in both chambers added up to 130 to 1 to limit the lottery - for now. (A state rep from Jacksonville, one Mark Perry, voted nay. There’s always one, isn’t there?)

Now a careful and considered debate can begin. Instead of the state’s being rushed into another of the lottery commission’s con-jobs.

Come next year, will lawmakers allow the lottery to add these electronic gizmos? That way, bettors wouldn’t have to wait for the lottery drawings every few nights. The suckers could buy their tickets, sit on a bar stool, and spend their nights watching TV screens for the (unlikely) moment their numbers come up.

It seems games like Powerball, Mega Millions, Natural State Jackpot, Decades of Dollars, Cash 3 (midday), Cash 3 (evening), Cash 4 (midday), Cash 4 (evening), Arkansas 50/50, the Arkansas Million Dollar Raffle, $1 scratch-off tickets, $5 scratch-off tickets, $10 scratch-off tickets, $20 scratch-off tickets, and all the other play-it-again addictions aren’t enough to separate the poor folks from whatever money they’ve still got. Not according to the state’s lottery commissioners, whose appetite for more funds knows no bounds, especially decency.

But this time the Legislature cried: Enough! At least for now. Good for the Ledge. Here’s hoping the lottery faces long odds for this proposed expansion.

Long odds. Like, say, 130 to 1.

The lottery’s lead carney, Bishop Woosley, told reporters he plans to make his case for keno to lawmakers between now and the next regular session. He’ll surely try. The way a carney isn’t about to let a sucker pass without urging him to try his hand at a “sure thing.”

Here’s hoping somebody will be around to remind the lawmakers how the lottery’s chieftains tried to bulldoze them at this special session. And foist keno on the state the very next day after the Legislature’s oversight committee objected to it.

Here’s something else to remember: The lottery’s commission told its Bishop not even to negotiate with those state representatives and senators. The commissioners claimed they had every right to start up keno all on their own. And were about to get away with it before the legislators - lots of them - blew the whistle on this hustle.

Somebody will need to be around to remind folks of all that. We can hardly wait.


Texarkana Gazette, July 8, 2014

Weekend violence

The Fourth of July weekend is supposed to be about celebrating our nation’s founding and the freedom we enjoy as American citizens.

It’s supposed to be about seeing flags wave in a summer breeze, cooking burgers and hot dogs on the grill, gathering with family and friends to enjoy a day off from work and maybe take in a fireworks show.

It’s not supposed to be about violence and death.

Yet, that’s what came out of Chicago over the weekend. News that more than 82 people had been shot, at least 14 killed.

So far at least 1,129 have been shot this year in Chicago.

Last year there were 415 homicides in the city. The year before more than 500.

That makes Chicago one of the most dangerous places in the country.

Now, we are sure this latest weekend of violence will have the gun-control advocates out in force. We need more laws, they will say. We need stricter laws, they will say.

Here’s the kicker: Chicago already has some of the toughest gun-control laws in the country.

And they are not working.

You see, violent criminals don’t like to obey laws. That’s why they are criminals.

So they just ignore gun-control laws, get the guns wherever they can get them and use them as they will.

Meanwhile, law-abiding citizens are left unprotected and vulnerable. They become targets. Because they obey the law.

It’s something to think about.

Now, we do not suggest people disobey the law. We do suggest, though, that our elected officials stop playing politics with guns. Punish the criminals who obtain and use guns illegally. Punish them as harshly as the law allows and if that’s not enough, make the law even harsher. But stop hindering responsible citizens when they try to get a gun to protect themselves and their families.

There is a Second Amendment for a reason. And that’s one of the freedoms we celebrate on July 4.

Even in Chicago.

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