Bobby Ampezzan

Managing Editor

Bobby Ampezzan (Bobby@ArkansasPublicMedia.org, (501) 569-8489) is a native of Detroit who holds degrees from Dickinson College (Carlisle, PA) and the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville). He's written for The Guardian newspaper and Oxford American magazine and was a longtime staff writer for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The best dimestore nugget he's lately discovered comes from James Altucher's Choose Yourself: "I lose at least 20 percent of my intelligence when I am resentful." Meanwhile, his faith in public radio and television stems from the unifying philosophy that not everything is serious, but we should be serious about curiosity because curiosity impels discovery.

 

Ways to Connect

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

Last week a former Little Rock police officer took the stand in federal court to explain what happened on a night five years ago when he shot and killed a 15 year old. If he convinces 12 jurors he took appropriate action he and the city will not have to come up with millions in punitive and compensatory damages.

The same could never happen if something goes wrong in the planned executions of eight men over 11 days beginning Monday, say defense attorney Jeff Rosenzweig and Terrence Cain, University of Arkansas at Little Rock Bowen School of Law professor.

“The 11th [amendment to the Constitution] prohibits [lawsuits seeking] damages against states unless Congress specifically abrogates,” says Cain.

“The state has sovereign immunity in something like this,” Rosenzweig says.

UA Little Rock / Arkansas Public Media

A new survey of racial attitudes and perspectives in Arkansas finds that whites and blacks diverge significantly on the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Joel Anderson Institute on Race and Ethnicity at the UA Little Rock this week releases the results of its annual Race, Ethnicity and Religion survey. John Kirk is the survey’s author.

"There's a very polarized idea about what Black Lives Matter means what its successes will be, and African Americans very strongly believe Black Lives Matter is making an important impact and having an important role, than whites, who tend to be very much in the opposite direction, that Black Lives Matter isn't making an impact and doesn't have a role to play."

"It's punishment. We are going to take a person who's helpless and we're going to kill him. Why? Because he deserves it," says New York Law School professor Robert Blecker on the death penalty.

Blecker is the author of The Death of Punishment: Searching for Justice Among the Worst of the Worst.

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

Sara Gullickson flew in from Arizona to voice her concerns at the Medical Marijuana Commission's first public hearing today in Little Rock.

"I really, really strongly urge Arkansas to consider for the dispensaries running a merit based program instead of a lottery based program. Lottery based programs definitely breed litigation, program delays, and really don’t set the state up for success."

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

Last month, Medical Marijuana Commissioner Carlos Roman, an anesthesiologist, joked that the appropriate venue for the commission's first public hearing Friday would be Verizon Arena, the 18,000-seat venue for touring Top 40 musical acts, circuses and monster truck rallies.

Instead, the commission got the UA Little Rock's Bowen School of Law — larger than the modest fifth-floor conference room inside 1515 W. 7th St. where the meetings have been, still smaller than the anticipated crowd.

The commission has received dozens of email comments already, a large number asking the body to rethink its plan for a lottery to pick 32 Arkansans to open retail storefronts for medical marijuana.

Grove Pashley

Next month the state of Arkansas will execute eight of its 33 inmates, in pairs over four evenings and by lethal injection.

For more than 18 years Damien Echols was one of those on death row. He knows all eight men and says Don W. Davis, scheduled to die April 17, "kept me alive." 

Here's his full Arkansas Public Media interview with reporter Ann Kenda in which he talks about the justice of capital punishment, life on death row, life after death row and his wife, Lorri, whom he married while on the block. 

Echols was reached at his home in New York. 

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

Arkansas’s 91st General Assembly has hosted serious discussions on healthier eating (only) on food stamps and on Sharia Law, guns on college campuses and sanctuaries on those same campuses for undocumented immigrants. Less attention until late had been given to the roughly two dozen bills that seek to shape up — or water-down, depending on your bent — the state’s half-century old Freedom of Information Act.

“Arkansas is known to have one of the best Freedom of Information Acts in the country, and it’s because it’s simple, it’s straightforward, and it’s extremely pro-citizen,” says William H. Bowen School of Law professor Robert Steinbuch, who’s co-authored the sixth edition The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

Fewer than a dozen speakers piped up at the Arkansas Department of Health’s first public hearing today, and the whole affair — advertised around the state and referrenced often on social media — finished in about 40 minutes.

Several speakers voiced concern that the health department was overreaching for quality control through proposed batch sampling and laboratory testing thresholds, and that such a regulatory structure was hindering the rollout of the therapy, and promises to pass those costs on to the patients. 

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

A host of bills have been filed in the 91st General Assembly that direct Arkansas’s voter-approved medical marijuana program in small and moderate ways, but two senate bills would prohibit smoking, eating or drinking medical marijuana products. Monday, the smoking ban failed a Senate floor vote by 14 votes, 10-15, but it could come up again.

The Medical Marijuana Amendment, Issue 6 on the ballot Nov. 8, passed with better than 53% support.

Arkansas Public Media spoke to the amendment’s author Monday afternoon just before the Senate floor vote. Little Rock attorney David Couch specializes in nursing home litigation and regulation.

We began with the legislation banning smoking and ingesting marijuana, sponsored by Republicans Jason Rapert (Bigelow) and Gary Stubblefield (Branch) in the Senate, and House Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Elm Springs).

NPR / Arkansas Public Media

A report on a state legislator's bill to wipe the name Clinton from Little Rock's national airport was the lead story on NPR's U.S. news page Wednesday morning. 

Arkansas Weighs Whether To Remove The Clinton Name From Little Rock's Airport

Arkansas Public Media reporter Sarah Whites-Koditschek filed the report as part of NPR's ambitious new reporting partnership with dozens of radio stations and public radio reporting projects like Arkansas Public Media across the nation. The state governance project seeks to cover statehouses and legislation debates with an eye toward what trends nationally are impacting local governance, and vice versa.

NPR / Arkansas Public Media

Erika Gee is on the government relations and regulatory team at the law firm of Wright Lindsey Jennings, and she's taken clients who wish to procure licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries or cultivation facilities, a five- to seven-figure outlay before a single seed is planted or bud is sold. 

Andrew King is on the Cannabis Engagement Committee at another big firm, Kutak Rock, and he absolutely will not. King has written about why for Arkansas Lawyer. 

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media


  This legislative session, 15 Republican state senators and more than 50 representatives signed onto Senate Joint Resolution 8 — a referendum for voters in 2018 that would cap lawyer fees and plaintiff awards in civil lawsuits. It would also circumscribe the powers of the state Supreme Court.

  If SJR8 by state Senator Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View) sounds familiar it’s because it was nearly on the ballot last year as Issue 4. The state Supreme Court struck it down just before the election. 

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

By the closest of voice votes the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee rejected legislation from one of its own.

House Bill 1035 by state Rep. Mary Bentley (R-Perryville) would have prohibited the expenditure of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program dollars on soda, candy, chips and other junk foods.

The committee is comprised of eight members — six Republicans and Eddie Cheatham (D-Crossett) and Stephanie Flowers (D-Pine Bluff). The voice vote was so close that chair Cecile Bledsoe (R-Rogers) hesitated before calling it for the nays.

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

 

Tuesday's meeting of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana was business as usual even as House and Senate committees take up bills today that could  redirect the Commission's momentum.

The commission meeting began with a presentation by Lauren Ballard, revenue legal counsel at the Department of Finance and Administration, on what litigation followed from other states'  medical marijuana programs--cautionary tales for these five commissioners, only one of whom, Travis Story of Fayetteville, is a lawyer. 

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

A bill filed last week by state Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville) would ban so called sex-selective or “family balance” abortions. 

 

 

Bobby Ampezzan/ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

A bill that makes no mention of Sharia Law nonetheless sparked an intense debate Thursday in the House Judiciary Committee on the need for Arkansas to gird itself against such foreign influence in its courts.

It passed out of the Committee on a voice vote along party lines. It goes now before the full House.

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

News — the industry, the product, the hashtag — took a haymaker from a heavyweight Jan. 10 when then-President-elect Donald Trump called one of its largest purveyors, CNN, “fake news.”

If not the antidote to “fake news” then certainly its antipode is “data journalism,” darling of special projects desks (like the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team). Data journalism is the application of great sets of data to working hypotheses. To find out what’s killing Arkansans, for instance, the data journalist might begin with what. is. killing. Arkansans. — each deceased a data point, each point an Excel doc box, and each row and column an eventual pie slice or vector. Where a Capitol reporter is proud to acquire a working shorthand, the data journalist acquires a working knowledge of computer coding.

Credit Bobby Ampezzan/ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA / Arkansas Public Media

Several medical doctors today hinted that they would not prescribe medical marijuana to patients even when such treatment is available because its risks and benefits are scientifically unproven.

Still, the Arkansas Board of Health unanimously (with one abstention and a few absences) approved the health department's draft rules and regulations for medical marijuana. It now begins a phase of adoption that includes public hearings. 

Danny Johnston/AP

Democrats in the House and Senate have filed a number of ethics bills, none more than Senate Minority Leader Keith Ingram of West Memphis. But the Senate Committee set to evaluate his legislation hasn’t a single Democrat on it, and at least one Republican says he’s not enthusiastic about the amendments.

On Thursday state Sen. Missy Irvin of Mountain View filed a bill that’s a bit of a rejoinder to Little Rock Rep. Clarke Tucker’s maternity leave bill.

Irvin is a Republican and Tucker’s a Democrat. 

Late last year Tucker filed House Bill 1046 that would give state employees six-weeks paid maternity leave or $500 a week, whichever is more.

On Thursday Sen. Missy Irvin filed Senate Bill 125. It would also codify state employees’ rights to maternity leave, but not as an employment benefit funded by state agencies. Rather, it calls for maternity leave to be treated as any other leave for sickness or disability, and for the first time would make available hours from the Catastrophic Leave Bank, a pool of accrued annual and sick leave that employees donate unused hours to in order for other employees desperate for paid leave to draw upon.

Tucker said he’s happy the Republican Party is taking up the issue of maternity leave. It's not a threat to his own bill, though presumably both will not make it to the governor's desk.

Arkansas Public Media

CORRECTION: This story originally mistook a projection from the Arkansas Department of Health about when its rules and regulations will be finalized for when medical marijuana will actually be available to patients in the state. We regret the error. 

CORRECTION: Future medical marijuana users will not have to pass a law enforcement background check but caregivers who are legally empowered to purchase and handle the drug therapy on the patient's behalf will.

The Arkansas Department of Health late Monday afternoon released a draft of the physician's written certification necessary for an Arkansan with one of the qualifying 18 conditions to get medical marijuana once the state's dispensaries are licensed and running.

Arkansas Public Media

For most questions on Arkansas's Medical Marijuana Amendment, the refrain from the state's Department of Finance and Administration as well as its Department of Health has been consistent and continual: the answers are right there in the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment.

Center for Economic and Policy Research 2008

Note: An earlier version of this story said there was no cost estimate available for paid maternity leave for state workers. In fact, a 2015 financial impact statement put the costs to the state of six-weeks paid maternity leave at $354,000, according to a story published by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Dec. 15. Neither source referred to in this story, when asked, made mention of this earlier cost estimate. 

Little Rock Democratic Rep. Clarke Tucker is re-introducing paid maternity leave, a state worker benefit he tried and failed to get through the last legislative session.

Filed Monday, House Bill 1046 would give state employees six-weeks paid maternity leave or $500 a week, whichever is more. Employees who’ve worked less than a year are explicitly excluded, as are those at public colleges and universities, many of whom have already signed contracts with ample paid leave, maternity or otherwise.

It does include qualifying part-time employees.

Bobby Ampezzan/ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman's never been in such a political position. She's a surgical oncologist. That's good for generating approving smiles, not to mention a very liveable wage. On Monday, she was picked to chair the new Medical Marijuana Commission.

Well, "chair" — more like hotseat.

"Care to share how you voted on amendment 6?" a reporter asked new medical marijuana commissioner Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman.

"You don't have to answer that if you don't want to," Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Jake Bleed interrupted. "We're all here to carry out the intent of the voter," he told her.

"We're all here to carry out the intent of the voter," she parroted.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek/ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Following the national election last month the din of news stories about news stories seems to have reached a crescendo. Academics and even online social media sites like Facebook are examining what, if anything, is an appropriate response to “fake” news stories. They’re light on facts, but no less alarming for it.

University of Central Arkansas political scientist Heather Yates studies the input human emotion has on politics. This year Palgrave MacMillan published her most recent book, The Politics of Emotions, Candidates, and Choices, but she’s been researching voter behavior since the 2004 election, focused on emotions and how they influence voters’ choices and even cognition.

Arkansas Business

First there was Black Friday, and you loved it. Then Cyber Monday (which this year generated about $3.4 million, $1.2 of which were smart phone transactions, according to an analytics firm). Did you know Saturday was claimed for small businesses? Maybe you've heard of Giving Tuesday. 

Tomorrow, thousands of Arkansans will act on the unified chorus of charities and nonprofits, and act online. They'll visit websites and click the "Donate" button. Post the deed on social media, hashtag it "WhatWillYouGive" and "GivingTuesdayAR." Friends will urge online friends they may or may not know in real life to get in on the sacrifice.

The woman leading the soft sell is Stephanie Meincke, president of the Arkansas Nonprofit Alliance, and while people should consider the tax benefits of full end-of-year donations (measured in hundreds or thousands), this is a small-contribution campaign.

"Nobody ever should be ashamed of whatever amounts they can give, and frankly, people who can't afford to give great amounts of money, give more generously than people who have a lot more."

The growth in online shopping on so-called Cyber Monday is expected to be 10 percent greater than a year ago according to the firm Adobe Digital Insights —  that’s actually flatter than the 17% year-over-year average since the National Retail Federation first used the moniker “Cyber Monday” in 2005. This has coincided with the rise of handcrafted, so-called “Arkansas made” gift items on websites like Etsy, Arkansas-hypen-made-dot-com, and the state government’s own “Arkansas e-store.”

At least 3,200 state workers, and thousands more public and private sector employees around Arkansas, will not see changes to the way they account for their work hours.

A federal judge in Texas Tuesday temporarily stopped changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act the Labor Department under President Obama sought to implement in order to change workplace accounting of employees' hours and grant more overtime pay.

Bobby Ampezzan/ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

  

  Little Rock director Jeff Nichols’ movie Loving, about the Supreme Court case that extirpated anti-miscegenation laws in 1967, opens nationwide today. But what does that mean for folks in Arkansas City, where the nearest movie theater is the Hollywood in Monticello, about 50 miles away, where it's not playing anyway?

Focus Features

Little Rock director Jeff Nichols’ new movie “Loving” opens statewide this weekend. It’s based on the love story of Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracial rural Virginia couple whose marriage became the basis of a 1967 Supreme Court decision that struck down all laws prohibiting interracial marriage or mingling.

Nichols has said his own experiences attending Central High School formed some of his connection to the material. He formed some more connection when he got a call from Martin Scorcese, as he told Deadline in an interview:

“I grew up in Arkansas, and I went to Little Rock Central High, which was the site of a desegregation crisis in ’57. I graduated in ’97. So I was inundated with Civil Rights history and impact, but I’d never heard of Mildred and Richard Loving before. As uninspiring as this sounds, I got a call from my agent, who said that Martin Scorsese wanted to speak with me. He had been kind of a shepherd of this project and wanted to see it made into a narrative film.”

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