- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Texarkana Gazette, June 21, 2016

Arkansas side to decide controversial ordinance

Early voting begins today in the special election to decide the fate of a Texarkana, Ark., municipal ordinance.

The ordinance, popularly known as M-130, states the city will not discriminate in selecting vendors, employment or providing city services “because of race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, political opinions or affiliation.”



It also says that city contracts with private vendors will contain a clause stating the vendor agrees not to discriminate as well.

The city Board of Directors unanimously approved the ordinance in January. This set off a firestorm that led to a successful petition drive to take the matter to the polls. Now Arkansas-side registered voters will decide whether to keep or repeal M-130.

Foes of the ordinance claim it would open the door to men using bathrooms designated for women and vice versa. They also say it could be used to infringe on residents’ religious beliefs.

Those in favor of the law say that’s nonsense and that it has nothing to do with bathrooms. Their argument is that it makes sense from a business standpoint and it simply protects the rights of a broad spectrum of citizens, including homosexual and transgender individuals.

Early voting is from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. today through Friday, and Monday, June 27, on the first floor of the Miller County Courthouse, 400 Laurel St.

Election day will be June 28.

We won’t tell you how to cast your ballot. That’s up to you. We encourage you to listen to those on both sides of the issue and make your own decision.

And of course we encourage you to go to the polls and exercise your right to vote, either this week during early voting or on Election Day.

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Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 19, 2016

A sigh of relief

If we were an official with the Arkansas Department of Correction, perhaps we wouldn’t have much to say in the wake of a convicted killer’s escape either.

What can possibly be said to make Arkansans feel better about a prison system with rules so permissive, the folks responsible for incarcerating violent offenders saw fit to take a man ineligible for release until he’s 96 years old out on a work detail, beyond the confines of the prison?

Why not just hold up a sign saying “Please try to escape”?

Lloyd Jones, 40, isn’t just a run-of-the-mill offender. In Sebastian County back in 2012, he lured a 16-year-old girl, Angela Allen of Van Buren, from her home by striking up a relationship through social media. He then strangled her, stuffed her body into a blue barrel and buried it.

He was convicted as a habitual offender, having been found guilty of rape in April 2001. In that case, a woman woke to find Jones standing over her bed. According to court records, he held a box cutter to her throat, duct-taped her mouth, threatened to kill her kids sleeping elsewhere in the house, then he forced her to perform sexual acts. Sentence to 10 years, he was released in September 2008, when Angela was only 12.

At the time of his conviction in the slaying of Angela Allen, the girl’s family found some comfort in the fact the 60-year prison sentence effectively meant Jones would be in prison for the rest of his life.

Well, that is, if the Arkansas Department of Correction does its job well.

Apparently, a record like Jones’ is just the kind of resume the Department of Correction is looking for when it comes time to form a work detail to go beyond the walls of the prison. He was part of a construction/demolition crew working about two miles from the prison in Brickeys, almost 13 miles northeast of Marianna in east Arkansas.

Prison officials say he was neither handcuffed nor shackled while he worked. He was supervised, if that’s what one calls it, by at least one armed guard. We have to say “at least” because prison officials have been quite dodgy about providing details.

Similarly, a prison system spokesman said Jones, who fled on foot, had been missing less than an hour when someone noticed his absence. Less than an hour? So that also could mean up to 59 minutes? Just how close an eye do guards - at least one - keep on murderers facing the rest of their lives in prison?

It seems the county jails have tougher standards for their trusties than the state prison system has for murderers who have every reason to go on the lam, given the opportunity. And the Arkansas Department of Correction gave Jones exactly that opportunity.

“I knew our judicial system is broken, but this goes to prove it,” said Colleen Allen, Angela Allen’s grandmother and adoptive parent. “How could he walk away? Are these people not being monitored, watched? For somebody to be able to walk off from something like that, there’s something wrong somewhere.

“I’m hurt. To see this happen, this is inexcusable.”

Yes, what she said.

Thankfully, Jones was captured Thursday after three days of freedom, such as it was. He’d only gone a few miles and likely had few options to create more serious distance between him and searchers. But it takes little imagination to realize just how dangerous those three days were for the people of eastern Arkansas. A violent man facing a prison sentence like his has plenty of reasons to be desperate, and desperate men can do crazy things.

Someone should tell the Arkansas Department of Correction that.

With all the law enforcement and prosecutorial work that goes into investigating murders and arresting those responsible, then building the cases that result in plea deals or a jury convictions, doesn’t Arkansas’ prison system owe the state a little better than putting killers beyond the fence, unshackled and, apparently, not guarded well enough?

Why wouldn’t he be an escape risk?

We’re sure Jones will face some charges related to the escape, but that’s not as critically important as a review of prison policies that allowed him to so easily escape in the first place or to be a killer beyond the walls.

Arkansans deserve better from its prison system. There’s no escaping that.

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Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 21, 2016

They tax, we pay

It could happen to anybody. Get behind in your taxes and the state will slap a lien on your property. Except that these folks aren’t just anybody; they’re members of the state Legislature and one wannabe member. And they’ve all got state tax liens pending against them. These dignitaries are supposed to set an example for the rest of us, and indeed they do: a bad example. From state Representative Mickey Gates of Hot Springs to James Hall of Monticello, who’s now only a candidate for the Ledge. At least that’s the way it looks, though appearances, like state legislators, can be deceiving.

On the surface, it looks like a cozy arrangement—one as old as hypocrisy, which one sage called the tribute that vice pays virtue. It’s an old rule in these matters: Do as we say, not as we do. Or rather as we don’t do. Like pay our taxes on time. And the membership of this exclusive club keeps growing, Surely there ought to be a better reason for serving in the Legislature than to avoid paying taxes. But you’d never know it by glancing at this list of tax avoiders.

And the list just keeps growing. Tax liens were filed this year against state representatives Charles Armstrong of Little Rock, Eddie Armstrong of North Little Rock, Vivian Flowers of Pine Bluff, and a company connected with the speaker of the House, Jeremy Gillam of Judsonia. It used to be said that rank has its privileges. These days it has its tax liens.

To glance at this growing list, you’d think the state’s House of Representatives was more a house of hypocrites. Happily, there are times when the state is at fault and cancels the lien. And invites comments like this one from James Hall, the candidate for the House: “The folks at tax and revenue are a bunch of idiots.”

That suspicion is widely shared, especially among taxpayers who get a tax bill and a tax refund in the same mail. It’s not just the state’s taxpayers but its tax collectors who may not know who’s paying taxes and who isn’t.

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