- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A collection of recent editorials by Arkansas newspapers:

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Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 21, 2015

State’s tax cut puts kibosh on adequate jail funding

Republicans talk a lot about the benefits of smaller government. One way to achieve that goal, we’ve heard some members of the GOP say over the years, is to limit the flow of government’s lifeblood — tax dollars.

The Republican majorities in the General Assembly and Gov. Asa Hutchinson took a step in that direction during this year’s recently adjourned legislative session. The governor had campaigned on a pledge of a $100 million middle-class tax cut affecting about 600,000 people in the state. State lawmakers were more than willing to grant him that wish. Act 22 cut income tax rates for Arkansans with incomes between $21,000 and $35,000 from 6 to 5 percent. Rates for those making between $35,100 and $75,000 would see their rate drop from 7 to 6 percent. The cuts will go into effect in the 2016 tax season.

What’s the point?

The state slightly increased what it pays to house state prisoners in county jails, but chose tax cuts rather than fair compensation to local communities.

Those cuts, however, won’t necessarily shrink government. The actual budget the Legislature approved for next year totals $5.18 billion, which is $133 million more than last year’s budget. Maybe it’s just one of those Washington, D.C., kinds of approaches to smaller government — spend more and grow government, but it will be smaller than it would have been. Presto-change-oh! Smaller government.

And that’s bad news for the Republicans in charge of Benton County government. A little more than a week ago, the Benton County Quorum Court’s Legislative Committee hosted state lawmakers Ray Dotson, Dan Douglas, Sue Scott and Rebecca Petty. At the forefront of those discussions were the concerns about the stress created by the high number of state inmates being left in the county jail, and the paltry $28 a day the state pays for their care.

It’s a fair point. In the topsy-turvy world of government, the state actually gets to set how much it will pay to local jails for housing state inmates rather than county jails setting their own rates. The people in county jails are most often people who have been convicted and sentenced locally, but just haven’t been picked up for transport to a prison. The counties are stuck with them, and stuck with the low-ball daily rate state government pays.

Across Arkansas, about 2,200 state inmates are backed up in county jails. That includes more than 200 at the Benton County jail. Those numbers throw a kink into local incarceration needs — district judges have found it difficult to impose local sentences because there’s literally no room in the jail for people who have lesser debts to pay to society.

“We feel like we’re being taken advantage of,” Justice of the Peace Kevin Harrison sold the lawmakers. Harrison said the county’s average cost to old a prisoner is about $48.

State Rep. Dan Douglas offered up the best defense he could. The Legislature agreed to increase the daily rate the state pays — from $28 to $30.

Hey, $2 may seem like peanuts, but it’s been $28 so long, one could argue it’s a windfall. It’s not, but one could argue it.

So far, the solutions state officials have offered for overcrowding of state prisons will help, but will not eliminate the burdens being placed on county jails. And at those prices, it means local communities with larger jails are subsidizing state government’s inability or unwillingness to fix the problem. Since there’s no real leverage local officials can wield, the state can pretty much do as it pleases.

Douglas went on to explain how the $100 in tax cuts the Legislature approved means less money to spend on programs of lesser priority — such as state inmates in county jails.

“But we do have budget constraints just like the county,” he told the group. “We have needs. We need money for roads, for our human development centers so we can continue to grow jobs. The pie is not big enough. It’s not a big enough pie for everybody to get what they want and still cut taxes and grow jobs.”

Isn’t this exactly the approach to government the Republicans in Benton County support? Tax cuts before anything else?

Maybe the state will increase its payment of jail fees to $31 or $32 once all those new jobs pour into the state because of the $100 million-a-year tax cut lawmakers adopted.

Until then, Benton County, remember this: Smaller government is good.

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Harrison Daily Times, April 17, 2015

Cuban model losing allure

As politically unpalatable as it may seem, the Obama administration’s decision to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism is an inevitable bow to reality. Cuba remains a repressive, one-party police state, but it no longer exports subversion throughout the hemisphere as it did when the Reagan administration placed it on the list in 1982. At the time, Cuba was actively engaged in supporting the FARC guerrilla movement in Colombia, among other terrorist groups. That’s what got it onto the list in the first place.

Today, as the State Department’s own website acknowledges, Cuba is brokering a peace agreement between the leftist group and the Colombian government. It is no longer the hemisphere’s beacon of revolution, in large part because the Cuban model long ago lost its allure for all but the most naive believers in Marxism.

Crossing Cuba off the list should not be deemed a reward but an acknowledgment of the change in behavior. Indeed, changed behavior was cited by the Bush administration in 2006 when it took Libya off the list after it ended a program to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The administration’s critics are dismayed to see it giving away every bargaining chip and getting nothing in return, but it was proving to be a hindrance more than a help in the process of normalization.

Removing Cuba from the list lifts some financial sanctions on the island and thus gives U.S. banks confidence that they aren’t violating U.S. law if they facilitate monetary transactions for their customers. It also helps bring Cuba back into the international financial system, which could help empower the private sector by increasing investment on the island and loans to small businesses.

Congress now has 45 days to act if it wants to reject the removal, but that would obviously meet with President Obama’s veto, even if it could win approval in the Senate, turning it into another unproductive political melodrama. Better to just skip it.

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Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 17

Lights, camera, inaction

At some point, one begins to wonder how many last straws does it take? How many times are Americans going to be outraged by watching a video of some police officer using deadly force when deadly force might not be needed? And, just as infuriating, how many times are Americans going to have to go through the Ferguson, Missouri, case when, for weeks and weeks, a police officer was assumed to have done the worst, only to have an investigation clear him?

This shouldn’t be difficult. This shouldn’t be postponed any longer. Put technology to use and get police officers—all of them—body cameras. Not just for the public’s safety, but for the reputation of the country’s cops, too.

There are about 18,000 police departments of various sizes scattered across this country. It’s said that between 4,000 and 6,000 of those outfits issue body cameras to its officers. Including the police department in San Diego, California.

Last month, that department saw complaints against its cops drop 41 percent after body cameras were handed out to its officers. Not only that, but its officers, as Mama might put it, acted prettier, too. The use of pepper spray dropped 31 percent. It seems that when the word goes out that the cops have cameras, (1) folks aren’t as likely to make complaints against them that aren’t true, and (2) cops aren’t likely to be nasty to regular folks.

Ferguson, Missouri … the man in New York selling cigarettes on the street … the latest news out of North Charleston, South Carolina … . Why put up with it when cameras can defuse many of these confrontations?

Because of costs, some have said.

Already, because so many people are demanding body cameras on police officers, there is something of a pushback from some police departments. Not only would the departments have to pay for the cameras, but word has it that storing the video evidence would be expensive.

The best answer to that might have come from Marlon Kimpson, a state senator from South Carolina, whose district includes North Charleston, where the latest police shooting was filmed (although not by the cop):

“If we can spend resources to supply Glocks, semi-automatic weapons and Tasers for officers to respond to deadly force,” Senator Kimpson said, “we can certainly find the funding to equip these same officers with body cameras such that it will help deter the use of violence.”

Well said, senator. But how many times will somebody have to say it before body cameras become as common as Tasers and handcuffs?

How many last straws does it take?

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