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NRA cheers Leslie Rutledge on concealed carry expansion

Posted: 01 Dec 2017 01:25 PM PST

The National Rifle Association has issued a news release cheering Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge for joining other Republican state lawyers in supporting federal legislation expanding concealed carry rights nationwide.

The proposal allows non-residents to carry concealed weapons in, say, Arkansas, though they don't possess an Arkansas permit.  Said the NRA release:

 The attorneys general argue that, beyond being a basic constitutional right, states that do not allow non-residents to carry concealed weapons leave these citizens in danger and with no real option for self-defense in instances of violence.
It's another one of those laws that override states' rights, poison to gun freaks and so-called conservatives except when it suits their purposes.

It says something that the first gun measure to be passed by Congress after the Nevada slaughter will make it easier for an out-of-state visitor to, say, carry a concealed weapon into a high-rise hotel.

LR, NLR and PulCo say move forward with 30 Crossing amendment

Posted: 01 Dec 2017 12:52 PM PST

The mayors of Little Rock and North Little Rock and the Pulaski County judge have told Metroplan they are in favor of amending the agency's Transportation Improvement Plan to satisfy the state Department of Transportation's demand on wording.

ARDoT Director Scott Bennett had warned Metroplan and its board that it would not proceed with any highway projects until the TIP language was modified to match the wording of the long-range plan, Imagine Arkansas. The long-range plan was amended to allow "capacity improvements" to Interstate 30 so the ARDoT's plan to spend $600-million-plus to build a new bridge and widen the highway by adding four "collector/distributor" lanes. The TIP amendment wording now allows "operational improvements."

ARDoT told the Metroplan board of directors this week that it now supports a 10-lane plan.

Metroplan Director Tab Townsell announced the move. He wrote:
Yesterday, the Cities of Little Rock, North Little Rock, and Pulaski County, authorized Metroplan staff to proceed with an amendment to the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) to update the work description for the 30 Crossing project. The authorization is per Metroplan policy, which asks the jurisdictions affirmatively sign off on projects before placing the project on the CARTS Agreed Upon List of Projects (AULP).
The amendment will modify the work description for 30 Crossing, remove footnotes, and advance the project to the AULP. This action represents the final action of the MPO on the 30 Crossing project.

A public comment period on the TIP amendment begins Sunday, Dec. 3, and closes at the end of the business day on Monday, Dec. 18. 

Mayor Stodola said after Bennett's threat was made known that he was unconcerned about the delay in projects, since they would be short term. He supports the 30 Crossing widening.

Townsell said Metroplan has now asked Bennett to lift the hold he placed on all area projects and let them proceed.

Forward, ho.

UPDATE: A highway department spokesman said the Metroplan board must complete action with a vote Dec. 20, which happens to be the same day the department will be advertising for January bids. If Metroplan approves the TIF change as expected, the highway department will try to add two projects  for Central Arkansas — a traffic signal in Faulkner County scrapped from a November bid opening and traction improvement work on some area exit ramps that would otherwise not be included in the January bid letting.)

TGIF: Open line and news roundup

Posted: 01 Dec 2017 11:52 AM PST

Your comments here. The video today includes a chant of Lock Him Up!

Lawyer threatens suit if LR police recruit fired over racial comment on Facebook

Posted: 01 Dec 2017 11:22 AM PST

The Little Rock Police Department has not yet disclosed what actions it has or might take over a complaint about a Facebook post by police recruit Brandon Schiefelbein. But an indication surfaced today that the department was considering firing him and his attorney has threatened a lawsuit if that happens.

The Little Rock Black Police Officers Association has asked that Schiefelbein, a Cabot resident, be fired because it found a Facebook post he'd made in 2013 that showed a photograph of a sleeping black man with the comment, "Go night night nigga. Go night night." The complaint was made public after blogger Russ Racop, a candidate for City Board, got a copy of the BPOA letter. Racop also noted Schiefelbein's Facebook mentions of what Racop termed "fringe" groups — the 3 Percenters and the American Resistance Movement.

The police department spokesman confirmed the complaint and said it was under investigation, but there have been no further announcements. However, Racop learned of a threat to sue if Schiefelbein were to be terminated and asked for materials about that. He got from City Attorney Tom Carpenter a copy of a letter sent by Schiefelbein's attorney, Robert Newcomb to Police Chief Kenton Buckner.

The full copy is here.

Newcomb said "proposed removal" of his client would be unfair, because another recruit, Brandon Gurley, who  complained about Schiefelbein, "appears to use the same terminology in Facebook postings of his." Newcomb included these in the letter. They show Facebook posts from 2010 by Gurley, who is black, using the word "nigga" in comments.

"Both of these were done when both individuals were younger," Newcomb wrote. "If it is conduct unbecoming for one, it would be conduct unbecoming for the other."  He said there's no evidence other than the one word that Schiefelbein is a racist.

"The individuals that were photographed and had the tag put on them both have served with him in the Army Reserves and indicated to Internal Affairs that they are not concerned at all about him. They clearly felt that this proposed action is an overreaction by the Police Department."

Newcomb said Schiefelbein would agree to release the internal affairs file if he is not fired. He urged Buckner to keep both recruits on the job or fire both them." That way there would be no discrimination based upon race where firing one who is white but not firing the African American for using the same term is wrong."

The FOI material includes an exchange of comments between Gurley and Schiefelbein about the picture of the sleeping soldier.  You can see them all at link to letter, but I've excerpted a couple.

Schiefelbein took down the photo and apologized. Gurley seemed to accept the apology in the conversation Newcomb submitted.

Jon Woods kickback trial delayed

Posted: 01 Dec 2017 11:10 AM PST

Federal Judge Timothy Brooks today canceled the trial scheduled to begin Monday in the case alleging former Sen. Jon Woods took kickbacks from state money he guided to Ecclesia College and a mental health agency. It was delayed for a hearing on new evidence.

Also on trial are Oren Paris III, president of the college, and Randell Shelton Jr., a friend of Woods and Paris who allegedly participated in the scheme.

Brooks had  refused Woods' motion yesterday for a delay so his attorney could have more time to study materials he received from the government. But he decided on a delay today because of the recent discovery by defense of the existence of 79 recordings, covering 52 hours of conversation, that were surreptitiously made by former Rep. Micah Neal. He's pleaded guilty to being part of the scheme and set to be a witness for the government.

Attorneys learned inadvertently about phone conversations, which are in addition to several the government had already referenced in pre-trial discovery. The government wasn't intending to introduce the other recordings. The government had already said the recordings would be made available to defense attorneys by Neal's attorney.

Shelton is trying to have the charge against him dismissed. He argues the additional conversations might have exculpatory evidence. All agree an evidentiary hearing would be proper on anything found there. The judge agreed today that there wasn't time to review the material and have such a hearing before the trial begins Monday.

As a result, the judge said, all parties said they didn't object to a "brief continuance" of the trial, "for no longer than is necessary to prepare for and conduct an evidentiary hearing on Mr. Shelton's motion to dismiss." The delay will be excluded from time counting toward meeting the speedy trial rule.

The judge's order.

His order makes clear that he was not reconsidering Woods' request for more time to prepare.

Shelton's motion to dismiss was built on this finding related to the recordings:

On November 15, 2017, at 7:23 p.m., defense counsel received an email from the Office of the United States Attorney with an attached letter, advising them that the government learned earlier that evening that there are 79 "covert recordings" made by Micah Neal which the government said they had never obtained. The letter further stated that the government did not possess them or have any intent to obtain them absent defense counsel seeking them out.

Subsequent communication with the Office of the United States Attorney confirmed that the use of the word "government" was not limited to that office alone.

After the government advised that it did not intend to obtain these recordings and provide them to defense counsel (clearly establishing that the government had no intention of reviewing them for exculpatory material), defense counsel conducted due diligence regarding the recordings and determined that approximately 52 hours of recordings had not been disclosed.

 Further investigation by counsel has now revealed that FBI Agent Robert Cessario has had access to these 79 recordings since November 2, 1016, as they are electronically stored in the same shared location as other previously disclosed audio recordings.

The government's representation that it "never obtained" these audio recordings is simply not true. Further, the government's refusal to obtain or produce those recordings after advising defense counsel of their existence is improper, and adds to the cumulative effect of the misconduct that has occurred in this matter, as addressed in Mr. Shelton's pending Motion to Dismiss.

Tonight: Meet Sonny Kay, the new director of Low Key Arts

Posted: 01 Dec 2017 09:11 AM PST

Fans of Hot Springs' Low Key Arts, founded by Bill Solleder and Shea Childs, will get a chance to meet the organization's new executive director, Sonny Kay, at a pop-up meet-and-greet 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1, at the Render Creative Group's office in Spencer's Corner, 801 Central Ave.

If you don't know Kay, he's the sort of polymath whose breadth of expertise is bound to blend fruitfully with Low Key Arts' experiential focus; a graphic artist, illustrator and vocalist in some seminal experimental and punk rock outfits (Angel Hair, The VSS, Year Future). He also founded the bygone record label Gold Standard Laboratories, home to music from Out Hud, The Mars Volta and the debut record from !!!, the dance-punk band that Little Rock native John Pugh drummed for.

Kay will be displaying his artwork and selling his book, "Headspaces: Surrealistic Album Art & Collage," as part of the monthly gallery walk along Central Avenue. He began his time with Low Key Arts November 1, and will be developing the programming for the upcoming Valley of the Vapors Independent Music Festival, to take place in March 2018, and will oversee all of Low Key Arts' programming, including the Hot Water Hills Music & Arts Festival and Arkansas Shorts. He'll also be a radio host on KUHS-FM, 97.9, Hot Springs' solar-powered community radio station. 

Michael Flynn pleads guilty to lying to FBI

Posted: 01 Dec 2017 07:03 AM PST

Flynn is going down.
Surely he is cooperating

Lock him up! Remember the Republican National Convention (clip above). I hope he's greeted by similar in federal court today.

Ten months into the Trump administration and four indictments of Trumpites so far.

Here's Washington Post coverage of Flynn's appearance in court.

Payroll problems again at Arkansas Baptist College

Posted: 01 Dec 2017 05:44 AM PST

KATV reports that Arkansas Baptist College is again having cash flow problems that have delayed paychecks.

The college dug itself into a financial hole during the go-go expansion tenure of President Fitz Hill, since moved on, and a big federal loan that was expected to set things right apparently wasn't a panacea. An enrollment decline is part of the problem, the KATV report indicates.

We recounted some of the background on a previous payroll delay in July.

A Huckabee in the Senate? No, not him.

Posted: 01 Dec 2017 05:30 AM PST

Sen. Tom Cotton hasn't left for the CIA yet — and may never. But that didn't stop lots of speculation about who might take his vacated Senate seat in the long or short term. Best names dropped yesterday:

* The zany Washington Examiner floated Donald Trump's press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. And, man, what a reference they dug up:

"I would support Sarah in a New York minute!" former U.S. Rep. Tommy Robinson, an Arkansas Democrat turned Republican, told the Washington Examiner.
But wait. It gets better.

* Speaking of zany and right-wing, get a load of a Twitter entry from John Gizzi of Newsmax:

Hottest rumor is a way Gov. Hutchinson of Arkansas could avoid upsetting some office-holders' egos should Sen. Tom Cotton be named CIA director: the appointment of former First Lady Janet Huckabee, wife of @GovMikeHuckabee and mother of @PressSec, to Senate.

Residency, personality, political rivalries and other complications suggest these ideas should be dismissed out of hand. But, go ahead, have a chuckle. As yet, nobody has nominated the male Huckabee for the slot.

Whatever happens by interim appointment or special election couldn't be much worse than the status quo, not even the hungry cager, Tim Griffin. It is also interesting to contemplate whether Mike Beebe's crossover popularity would endure on an election ballot in post-Trump Arkansas, could he be coaxed away from the Searcy Country Club.

Solar advocates get unlikely boost from GOP lawmaker at pivotal rule hearing

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 04:28 PM PST

At a packed public meeting Thursday, the Arkansas Public Service Commission heard testimony in advance of a major decision on net metering that could shape the future of renewable energy in the state for years to come.

If the PSC elects to change net metering rules to be more favorable to utilities, Arkansas's fledgling solar industry will suffer, advocates say. The rule change could squash the growth of "distributed generation," which refers to electricity produced by small-scale sources such as rooftop solar panels rather than power plants.

The hearing pitted environmental groups and green energy companies against Entergy, Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation and other big utilities. The power companies were joined by PSC staff and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's office, which is tasked with representing the interests of ratepayers. But over twenty members of the public voiced comments against the change on Thursday, arguing that the state should encourage investment in solar and embrace a more distributed power system. (More than 300 comments were submitted online.)

One unexpected speaker was Rep. Stephen Meeks (R-Greenbrier), who effectively sided with solar advocates when he told the PSC that a key piece of legislation he sponsored in 2015 was intended to "encourage Arkansas to embrace distributed solar."

Net metering is the practice of allowing power customers with on-site generation capacity — typically, rooftop solar panels — to feed electricity back into the grid when they generate more power than they can use at a given moment. Homeowners and businesses that generate excess power receive credit from their utility company at a rate equivalent to the retail rate the company charges for power.

The meter functions similar to a balance sheet. When a household consumes more power than it can generate on-site, it draws power from the grid and racks up costs like any other consumer, comparable to debits. When the household produces more power than it can consume on-site, the extra energy flows into the grid and the household is credited.

Language in Meeks' Act 827 of 2015 was cited by the utilities as evidence that the PSC should create new rules for net metering that would create a "two-channel billing" system instead. Under the utilities' proposed change, surplus power that flows back to the grid from a household's distributed generation system would no longer be credited one-to-one at the retail rate. Instead, the household would receive a smaller rate, meaning every "credit" on the meter's balance sheet would be diminished in size.

Power companies say this system is fairer because their retail rates factor in the enormous amount of overhead required to run a power grid. Sandra Byrd of the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp explained the rationale for two-channel billing:

"The first channel is exactly what's happening today: All of the solar owners are able to offset 100 percent of their energy usage by virtue of their solar installation. And then, the [second] channel is the price at which utilities have to buy excess generation back.
The price of retail electricity includes all sorts of things, not just the energy charge. It includes the generation plants, the transmission system, the distribution system, labor, services — a multitude of things. So that retail rate is very comprehensive."

Currently, she said, "on that second channel all we're getting back from the customer is the energy itself — the electricity. The proposal by [the utilities] is that we compensate them not just for the energy but for a little bit more than that … We feel that's actually more than fair. If you compensate them for more than we're actually receiving, then what we're doing is subsidizing their excess capacity situation, and then that subsidized cost gets spread throughout there rest of our customer base with the people who don't have solar."

In written comments submitted to the commission, the utilities said the PSC should make changes to net metering rules based on language contained in Act 827. The law "required that the Commission ensure that 'the rates charged to each net-metering customer recover the electric utility's entire cost of providing service to each net-metering customer,'" the comments said.

But in his remarks to the PSC, Meeks said this interpretation was not correct. "Let me be very clear that the intent of the language is not two-channel billing," he said. "There should be no two-channel billing whatsoever interpreted in this language. ... The state of Nevada tried it; it devastated their solar industry. … I encourage this commission to not make the mistake of going to two-channel billing here."

"We know that Arkansas is lagging behind in this area, and my purpose in promoting this legislation was ... to find a way to encourage the growth of distributed energy in Arkansas but do it in a fair, free market manner," he said.

Solar advocates say two-channel billing would be disastrous for small-scale renewables. Jason Keys of Scenic Hills Solar told the PSC that the proposal "would decimate the residential market. ... [It's] not a minor inconvenience that can be overcome with consumer education. It is a fundamental, intractable barrier to customers' ability to determine whether solar is a good deal or not, and therefore it will bring the market for residential rooftop solar to a halt."

Net metering proponents also argue that power companies are ignoring the immediate positives of a more distributed system, which may offset their additional costs.

"Utilities are not accounting for the benefits of distributed generation ... such as reduced peak load demand and the benefits of supplying energy close to energy consumption," Chris McNamara, state coordinator of the Citizens Climate Lobby, said after Thursday's meeting. "The argument from the utilities is 'We can't quantify that.'" That's because the utilities' analysis extends only to a single year, he said, rather than looking over the longer-term study that environmental groups cited in their comments to the PSC.

Like many who offered comment Thursday, Denise Marion, a justice of the peace in Garland County, spoke of the autonomy that comes with distributed generation, and the need to shift away from carbon-based fuels.

"People in Garland County and all over Arkansas ... are fiercely independent and want to be able to capture the free energy that's falling on their property. They definitely do not want the electric monopolies in Arkansas monopolize solar power," Marion said.

"Their business model was a good one when our fuel source came from concentrated sources — coal mines, oil wells, gas fields — that require large capital to extract, transport and refine," she said, referring to the power companies. "That is no longer the business model that we are going to see in the future. ... The future is distributed power. The only thing that would hold that future back for Arkansas are regulations that would stifle the growth of solar energy."

M. Shawn McMurray, an attorney with the AG's office, said the issue was "not a referendum on renewable energy or solar power" but rather about fairness to all ratepayers.

Like Byrd, he framed the issue in terms of the cost allegedly borne by utilities when they absorb net metering customers' excess power. "If the bill credit is too large, electric utilities will not recover their costs of serving the few customers who have installed rooftop solar and wind systems and other ratepayers will pay higher rates to pick up the costs of serving the net-metering customers."

"The Attorney General does not oppose renewable energy sources in general or solar energy in particular," he added later.

The PSC is not expected to reach a decision on the proposed rule change before the end of the year.