Tweet of the week

“I believe that corporal punishment has no place in schools, even if it wasn’t painful to me. The idea that violence should be used against someone who was protesting violence as a means to discipline them is appalling. I hope that this is changed, in Greenbrier, and across the country.” — Wylie A. Greer, class of 2018, Greenbrier High School, after the administration told students who walked out to protest gun violence they had to choose between suspension or paddling. Greer chose paddling.

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Legislative scandal deepens

A federal prosecutor in Missouri dropped a political bombshell Friday during a bail hearing for Rusty Cranford, a former lobbyist in Arkansas and one-time employee of Preferred Family Healthcare, which makes millions in Medicaid reimbursements for mental health and other services provided by affiliates statewide.

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The prosecutor said Jefferson County Judge Henry Wilkins IV had told FBI agents he’d received $100,000 in bribes from Cranford while he was a state legislator and that Cranford had tried to get Wilkins and other recipients of money to lie about it. The prosecutor also has accused Cranford, but not charged him, with talking about putting a hit on a co-conspirator in an embezzlement scheme.

Legislature goes home

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The General Assembly completed its budget session within the 30 days allotted by the state Constitution and went home after adopting a budget for the year beginning July 1 of $5.6 billion, $173 million more than this year.

The legislature generally rubber-stamped a budget from Governor Hutchinson that set aside more than $60 million that he said he hopes can go to a future income tax cut and put about $15 million of general revenue into the state Department of Transportation.

The growing budget belied an announcement by the governor two days later that he was committed to a more efficient state government. He announced a task force to study reducing the number of state departments from more than 40 to 20.

Legislature returns

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The day after the regular session adjourned, the legislature returned for a three-day session on a grab bag of unrelated items, spurred primarily by a bill to regulate pharmacy benefit managers, who set reimbursement rates for pharmacists under the Medicaid-funded private insurance program. Retail druggists say the reimbursements have been so puny they’ve been losing money.

The result is a first-ever state attempt at regulating the benefits managers, who contend the state has exceeded the limits of federal law.

The legislature also passed a bill making it harder to protest dirty animal feeding operations, though sponsors insisted it wasn’t a back-door attempt to nullify the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality’s rejection of a new permit for the C & H Hog farm in the scenic Buffalo River watershed.

The biggest news in one respect was a historic piece of legislation to give direct state taxpayer subsidies to K-12 private schools. Backers hotly objected to calling it a voucher bill, but the effect was the same. Those who put money in a savings account for K-12 education get a $10,000 per year tax deduction per couple for private school payments, a direct transfer of state money. Backers of the bill are already talking about even broader use of tax money by private school parents. The bill will cost the state an estimated $5 million a year in lost revenue.

Students stand tall; also bend over

Thousands of students in Arkansas took part in the National Walkout Day to demonstrate against gun violence.

The Little Rock School District encouraged participation as a civic exercise.

The majority of the Bentonville School Board grumped about the “political” exercise and promised students would be punished with detention if they walked out. Six hundred hit the streets anyway and face a mass detention after spring break.

In Greenbrier, three students made headlines worldwide by walking out. The school district policy there says unauthorized absences are punishable by detention or corporal punishment, still favored in that Faulkner County district.

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War Memorial in need

A $160,000 study for the state Parks and Tourism Department concluded that War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock needs $17 million worth of maintenance and improvements to remain in “useful condition.”

This figure does not include $10 million necessary to bring the stadium up to standards expected by the Southeastern Conference for televising its games. The University of Arkansas has promised one last game at War Memorial in the fall. The higher revenue possible on campus in Fayetteville clouds the prospects.

The state owns the stadium, but the city owns the property and city officials reacted negatively to a consultant’s mention of an old idea to convert the adjacent War Memorial Golf Course into a private development with apartments, restaurants and other commercial uses. City Director Kathy Webb spoke for many in a Twitter post:

“War Memorial can be our @CityLittleRock Central Park. Not housing & private development. Let’s collaborate w/ state, zoo, soccer advocates, trail & fitness proponents and make it so. More green space not less.”