- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A collection of recent editorials by Arkansas newspapers:

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Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 5, 2015

Local control or statewide consistency?

How would you vote?

What’s the point?

Local control isn’t the answer for those wanting additional protection from discrimination for LGBT people.

That may be the fundamental question Arkansas voters will resolve at the ballot box come November. A little more than a week ago, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge approved a ballot item for a referendum designed to block a law passed in February to prevent local governments from enacting their own anti-discrimination laws.

Several communities in Arkansas have considered or passed local anti-discrimination laws, largely at the urging of supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Fayetteville took center stage in the debate last year when the Human Rights Campaign advanced a municipal proposal outlining new protections based on sexual identity or orientation. The proposal created new investigative powers for City Hall to look into the actions of business owners or landlords and, if necessary, refer them for criminal prosecution.

The City Council overwhelmingly favored the ordinance, far more so than the public. Opponents of the law got the measure on the ballot and voters rejected it.

A similar measure, passed by the Eureka Springs City Council in February, is on the ballot this month.

That action inspired, if that’s the word, Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, to propose and get passed Act 137. The act bars local governments — cities and counties — from adopting their own anti-discrimination laws creating “a protected classification or prohibits discrimination on a basis not contained in state law.”

Rutledge’s recent decision is a response to a move by Little Rock attorney David Couch. With approval of the ballot measure, Couch can set about gathering signatures from voters. He needs 51,000 to block the law from taking effect and put its future in the hands of Arkansas’ voters.

If the measure makes the ballot, there’s no doubt some will suggest it’s not a decision about local control or statewide consistency. The signs 100 feet from the polling place will suggest a vote to keep the state law is a vote for hate. Most people don’t want to hate, so that can be an effective strategy.

But it’s not so simple. Proponents today view the empowerment of local control as parallel to the case against discrimination. Because Hester’s proposal was designed to thwart local laws to expand protection for gay and transgender people, a vote against his proposal must be a vote in favor of expanded protections, right?

No, not really. Advocates for increased protections have apparently decided to back local control as they pursue a victory of some kind in Arkansas. But what if the situation was reversed?

Let’s say the Arkansas General Assembly established new protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, but with a provision that allowed any community to opt out of the law if it so chooses. Would local control be a good thing then, or would those same advocates campaign to ensure state-level decisions took precedence? We think we can predict how that scenario would turn out.

We get the strategy: Chip away at discrimination in any way possible. But are they really advocating that the definition of discrimination should be different in every town?

In the Fayetteville debate, we opposed what was called the civil rights administration ordinance because (1) it went too far in creating new investigative powers within city government and (2) the question of discrimination ought to be more than a local decision.

The odds of LGBT advocates getting added statewide protections are pretty slim these days, so they’re settling for local victories in the hopes of building momentum.

Local influence is critically important, but there are times a statewide policy is the only option to effect serious change. Arkansas has 75 counties and more than 500 incorporated municipalities. Is it OK to define discrimination 575-plus different ways?

One cannot pretend there aren’t limits to local control. Take our education system, for example. True local control once existed and it meant an education in one city had little resemblance to an education obtained in another city. Local control meant whatever the school board wanted taught, and under whatever conditions, was the way it would be. It was inherently unequal treatment, at times based on race, but also affected by local wealth and taxation, facilities and the extent to which education was valued by the local population.

That didn’t produce well-educated Arkansans. Through legislation and court rulings based on the state Constitution, public school education in Arkansas became a state government responsibility. It became crucial that all students have access to a certain level of learning opportunities and school districts have access to a certain level of equal funding. That stripped away a good deal of local control, but for a reasonable public purpose.

The overall goal is establishment of a statewide, or even nationwide, level of protection in hiring, housing and other arenas. The fact that Arkansas General Assembly appears stacked against adoption of such measures isn’t reason enough to embrace local control on the issue.

Sometimes a win is just a win, but not an advancement of a cause.

If this question end up on the ballot in November, a win will not be a longstanding victory.

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Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 6, 2015

A test run for police body cameras

Mama called it acting pretty. And, boy, do folks act prettier when they know the cameras are on them.

Across the country, something like 18,000 police departments of various sizes have clipped cameras of some sort to the gear of their police officers. It’s a new trend, sure, but once upon a time patrol cars were a new trend, too. What department in the country goes without them these days?

One particular police department—the one in San Diego, California—told its cops to start wearing body cameras earlier this year. A not-so-strange thing happened soon after: The use of pepper spray by the cops dropped by 31 percent. For an extra added bonus, the department saw complaints against its cops drop 41 percent. It seems once the word went out that the cops in San Diego were using cameras, the cops—and those they came into contact with—all acted prettier.

Now the police department in Little Rock is giving body cameras a try. And it’s about time.

Starting later this week, some cops working the northwest, southwest and downtown sections of the city will wear cameras to record what goes on throughout their shifts. It’s a 30-day test run. And it turns out these things need to be tested because not all the details are ironed out yet.

For example, the folks at the ACLU, bless ‘em, have some concerns about privacy. You know, what about when a police officer has to go inside somebody’s house to get a statement? And what should be recorded when a cop is talking to the victim of a sexual assault? And should cops be able to turn off the cameras just whenever? Throughout this trial run, officers will submit daily reports detailing the pros and cons of the cameras, and their supervisors will have to submit weekly reports up the chain.

It would be hard to believe those concerns would keep cameras out of Little Rock for the long term. After all, not only have police departments like San Diego’s found a way to keep the cameras and protect citizens, but departments in Jacksonville, Arkansas, Beebe, Arkansas, Glenwood, Arkansas, etc., etc., are using the body cameras, too. Surely the department in Little Rock, Arkansas, can get advice from those other outfits.

What might prove a burden is the cost. Not just for the cameras, but the cost of downloading and keeping all those videos over the years. Think about how much video 200 cops can record in just one year. And how long would a routine traffic stop have to be kept before it can be erased?

These questions are going to have to be answered. But some of us think if the costs aren’t just completely outrageous, that is, unaffordable—and apparently they aren’t for other departments—then body cameras make sense. How many people in Ferguson, Missouri, or North Charleston, South Carolina, or Baltimore, Maryland, or … Too Many Places, U.S.A… . wish their departments had required cops to wear body cameras? Would body cameras have made a difference is many of those conflicts?

Here’s betting yes. Let’s get this 30-day trial going in Little Rock. And iron out any problems so these cameras can be put on the beat on a more permanent basis.

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Texarkana Gazette, May 4, 2015

Arkansas Piranha

We have all seen the movies. Someone goes into a lake for a swim. Everything is fine for a while . until the ominous music starts. Then all of the sudden the water starts swirling like a pot coming to a raging boil. There is a scream or two or three. and the hapless swimmer is torn apart , the water turning a bright red.

Piranhas!

Well, mostly that’s the stuff of movies. In their natural habitat piranhas can be dangerous, but their reputation has been overblown by horror films and TV thrillers. The fish will attack humans, especially when water levels are low or their usual food is scarce. And there have been fatal attacks. But for the most part humans and piranha coexist peacefully, if a bit cautiously.

If fact, along the Amazon River piranha are often caught, cooked and served up for dinner. And while piranha are popular as pets in the states where they are legal to own, for the most part here in North America we are happy they live in the Southern Hemisphere rather than our own.

Or do they?

This week the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission confirmed a woman out for a day of fishing caught a piranha in Lake Bentonville in Northwest Arkansas.

The angler told KSFM-5 News in Fort Smith that she thought it was simply a large perch. At least until it tried to bite her as she removed the hook.

A once in a lifetime encounter?

Well, not really. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it is fairly common to find piranha in Arkansas lakes.

Why? People who keep them as pets_you have to have a license for them in Arkansas_get tired of taking care of them and release the fish into the wild. It’s illegal, but they do it. Fortunately, this isn’t the rain forest and temperatures up here are not to their liking. If the water isn’t warm enough piranha become slow and are not all that aggressive. They rarely survive more than a few days after being dumped.

So while the story has made headlines across the region and no doubt unnerved some who enjoy the water, there is really nothing to worry about.

Except irresponsible piranha owners. Do yourself and your fish a favor. Call the Game and Fish Commission or find them a suitable new home. Don’t dump them.

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