- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Texarkana Gazette. Feb. 12, 2017.

Walking to and from your car at a retail store. While you are at the gas pump. Even as you wait in the drive-thru line at a fast-food place.

You see them coming. And you know what’s next.

A sob story. A request for a handout. Maybe you say yes and get a word of thanks. Maybe you say no and they move on. Sometimes, though, they get aggressive.

Panhandlers. There seems to be a lot of them here in the Twin Cities. They seem to be everywhere.

Some are in genuine need. Some are taking advantage of our innate compassion. We see discussions about the pros and cons of giving to panhandlers on social media. That’s a personal decision we each must make.

From what we’ve seen, most local residents are generous and want to help those who are down and out. But they do not like to be bothered or harassed. And they don’t like to be lied to. They don’t mind giving, but they do not want to be “taken.”

The situation came to a head recently on a local Facebook group. One posted a photo of a panhandler in a local store parking lot. Before you knew it, there were more than 200 posts from those who had been approached by this person at various locations in and around Texarkana. Apparently this individual uses a variety of stories to cadge money, including claims of homelessness or a need to get to some distant city to see family.

As it turns out, some posters knew this person has a home and a vehicle. Some even posted photos of the house. Apparently panhandling is more like a job for this person than a necessity.

That’s the kind of thing that makes folks mad.

Panhandling isn’t illegal in the Lone Star State, but Texarkana, Texas, has an ordinance that regulates the practice. And the Texas-side police recently announced on their Facebook page that they were cracking down.

In Arkansas, the state anti-loitering law was used against panhandlers. The law defined loitering to include someone who “lingers or remains in a public place or on the premises of another for the purpose of begging.”

The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law on behalf of a homeless veteran and another man and succeeded in having the prohibition against panhandling thrown out by a federal judge in late November.

Apparently begging for money is “free speech” and while it can be regulated to some extent, it can’t be totally prohibited.

As far as we know, the Arkansas side has no specific ordinance to deal with panhandlers. We know the police have a lot more pressing things to deal with. So we don’t think the two Texarkanas should crack down too hard on panhandlers who behave and show respect for others. But for those who take things too far - or violate the existing law on the Texas side - then there should be consequences, especially if they refuse to change their ways.


Southwest Times Record. Feb. 12, 2017.

Smoking or non-smoking?

It’s been more than 10 years since Arkansas changed its laws regarding smoking in restaurants and workplaces, and in that time period, many university and hospital campuses have adopted a “no smoking” policy. Now, the Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Commission wants to adopt such a policy at the city’s parks, and we believe the time is right to make such a change.

The ban would include any tobacco products, e-cigarettes and vapor products. Sebastian County enacted its own smoking ordinance in 2015, but it includes all county-owned properties, including county buildings and vehicles, in addition to parks.

The movement is on, and has been for some time now, not just in Fort Smith, although we’re very pleased with the direction in which the Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Board wants to take the city. The Fort Smith Board of Directors will have the final say on whether the ordinance goes into effect.

We all know the dangers of smoking; there’s no need to discuss that. Arkansas already has a law on the books prohibiting smoking in cars where young children are present, so recognizing the dangers of secondhand smoke is nothing new. What needs to continue is the push toward making the area healthier for all of us and our children.

Maybe if it gets more difficult to find a place to smoke, would people quit? Or better yet, not start at all? We have to believe we’re giving young people fewer locations to “sneak off” and have a cigarette, and that can’t be a bad thing.

“Smoking is detrimental to one’s health, and just because a person has a habit and chooses to smoke - that’s their right, but they can’t inflict that on other people,” Parks and Recreation Commissioner Sherry Toliver said during a recent meeting.

Then there’s the litter issue. Parks and Recreation Commissioner Lacey Jennen, who has worked with the grounds crew at the University of Arkansas, said before the school banned smoking on campus, “the amount of cigarette butts was unreal.”

“When the ban went into place, it helped tremendously, not with the regular litter, but particularly with the cigarette butts,” Jennen recently said.

The logistics of the ban have yet to be discussed. We recognize that the ban won’t be easy to enforce and will add to the lengthy list of the Fort Smith Police Department’s duties. We hope that amid discussion of the proposed ban, members of the Fort Smith Board of Directors will reach out to other cities that currently have a smoking ban in place (Mena, for example) to get ideas and feedback on how the ordinance has worked so far and what problems have been encountered.

We feel, as Toliver said, that smokers eventually will get used to the idea of not lighting up at the park, just as they can’t light up at schools, restaurants and hospitals anymore.

A smoking ban isn’t a political issue, nor should it be one. It’s about creating a healthy environment and allowing everyone to enjoy the great outdoors. We applaud the Parks and Recreation Commission’s efforts and hope the Fort Smith Board of Directors will do the same. While the city won’t be the first in Arkansas to create such a ban, Fort Smith should set an example for other cities to follow and show that we recognize the health and environmental problems created by smoking.


The Jonesboro Sun. Feb. 14, 2017.

It was reassuring to see two misguided bills fall in the Legislature - the so-called “sanctuary campus” and “junk food” bills.

The first, sponsored by our own state Rep. Brandt Smith, R-Jonesboro, was a measure to halt funding to any state university or college that sought “sanctuary” status.

Smith said he initiated the bill in response to a news story in The Sun about a petition drive at Arkansas State University to make it a “sanctuary campus” - a place where illegal immigrants could be shielded from state and federal authorities.

The bill was, in part, a reaction to concerns that some campuses might refuse to cooperate with federal officials if President Donald Trump decided to reverse protections currently being granted to some illegal immigrants by former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

A petition with 134 signatures from faculty, staff and students at A-State was presented to university leadership Jan. 31. In response, Interim Chancellor Doug Whitlock and ASU System President Charles Welch issued a joint statement that they would not support actions that violate federal or state laws.

A-State leadership responded accordingly to the petition. We wouldn’t expect them to support a measure that would violate federal or state laws. Such a move would put the university at risk by having adverse effects on funding as well as its students and employees.

Smith’s bill was basically a knee-jerk reaction to a problem that didn’t exist. While it did create worthwhile discussion about the issue, we don’t need new laws to address imaginary issues.

Students and faculty at universities often propose ideas that seem to have merit in an academic world but not so much in the real world.

As for the “junk food” bill, on its face, the idea of exempting “unhealthy” foods from being purchased with food stamps - the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) - makes sense. However, implementing it would be a nightmare for grocers, convenience stores and other food retailers that take SNAP benefits.

Employees would have had to tag each item in the store as eligible or non-eligible for food stamps. The products would have to be specially entered into the stores’ computer systems.

And how would the “junk food” police keep up with the 15,000 new items that come into stores every year?

It was overreaching and far too complicated. Never mind that it put most of the burden on retailers.

Also, singling out the diets of poor people seems patently unfair. That’s hard to swallow.

Bill Orr, owner of Bill’s Fresh Markets, probably said it best: “… If they’d work as hard on getting fraud out of the program as they do on keeping low-income kids from getting a candy bar, they’d save a ton of money.”

What the outcome of both bills shows is the legislative branch of government often works well to weed out unnecessary laws that can often do more harm than good.

Let’s hope for the same outcome with Senate Bill 12 - overreaching legislation that would keep Arkansans in the dark about police forces on college campuses and other safety issues in public schools. It was approved by the Senate and is now in the House Education Committee.

This bill belongs in the same trash can as the “sanctuary campus” and “junk food” bills.

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