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Gov. kicks in $500K to help fund ASU efficiency study

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 12:30 PM PST

The Governor's office announced today that Gov. Asa Hutchinson has released $500,000 in state discretionary funds to help bankroll an Arkansas State University efficiency study that will seek ways to increase revenue, reduce cost and reallocate resources in the Arkansas State University System.

The half-million dollar allocation will be put toward the $945,000 "Accelerate ASU" study being conducted by Huron Consulting Group. ASU signed a contract for the study with Huron Consulting in fall 2017. According to a press release by ASU, the remaining $495,000 cost of the study will be paid out of ASU System reserve funds that have been banked by the university from cost savings over the past six years.

As we reported yesterday, Gov. Hutchinson has called for a freeze on in-state tuition rates at four-year colleges. 

Read the press release on the ASU efficiency study below:


LITTLE ROCK - Gov. Asa Hutchinson is releasing $500,000 in state discretionary funds to the Arkansas State University System to help fund its Accelerate ASU efficiency study that is under way.

System President Chuck Welch said ASU contracted with Huron Consulting Group in fall 2017 to explore ways to grow revenue, reduce costs and reallocate resources to strategic initiatives. Huron expects to present 40-50 opportunities to the system and its campuses with a majority focused on new revenues.

"President Welch has caught the vision that trimming unnecessary costs does not mean a reduction in services," Governor Hutchinson said. "That is clear because he is helping to pay for this study with money he has saved by reducing expenses. His team estimates that as the ASU System implements initiatives, the payback in savings could be $12 million to $15 million a year. President Welch is one of many in our state who is leading by example."

Welch said the system's study to identify inefficiencies is consistent with the governor's ongoing efforts statewide.

"From the day he took office, Governor Hutchinson has emphasized the need for every state entity to look for ways to operate better, smarter and more efficiently," Welch said. "Each of our campuses is committed to controlling costs while improving higher education opportunities for our students and increasing the number of credentials we award each year. We appreciate his recognition and investment in our efforts.

"Governor Hutchinson's support for higher education has been unwavering," Welch added. "We're enthusiastic about the new higher education productivity funding formula and are grateful for his commitment of $10 million in new funding for universities and colleges that show progress."

All ASU System faculty and staff were recently surveyed for input, and Huron received 900 responses with 40 percent being from faculty members. The study process will be completed early this year.

The balance of the $995,000 contract with Huron will be paid with ASU System reserve funds that have been accumulated from expense savings during the past six years, Welch said, so the campuses will receive significant financial benefit from the study without incurring any cost. The cost of the study is equivalent to 0.33 percent of total fiscal 2017 system expenditures of $293.2 million.

Beth Ditto at the Rev Room March 7

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 11:28 AM PST

Beth Ditto, White County's wailing torchbearer for punk rock and body positivity is kicking off her North American Tour with a show at Revolution Taco & Tequila Lounge Wednesday, March 7. The former frontwoman for Gossip is performing in support of her solo debut album, "Fake Sugar."

From today's press release, here are the tour dates:
Beth Ditto – 2018 North American Tour Dates

3/7 – Little Rock, AR @ Revolution Music Room
3/8 – Nashville, TN @ Mercy Lounge
3/10 – Washington, DC @ The 9:30 Club
3/11 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
3/14 – Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Steel
3/15 – Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair
3/16 – Montreal, QC @ Fairmount Theatre
3/17 – Toronto, ON @ Mod Club
3/19 – Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall
3/23 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Fonda Theatre
3/24 – Pomona, CA @ The Glass House
3/25 – San Francisco, CA @ Regency Ballroom

3/27 – Portland, OR @ Wonder Ballroom
3/28 – Vancouver, BC @ Imperial
3/29 – Seattle, WA @ Showbox

Tickets, $21, are available here. Until then, check out this video for "Fire," from the new record. 

NLRPD releases footage of officer shooting Charles Smith; say officers had no choice but to return fire

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 10:59 AM PST

At a press conference today, the North Little Rock Police Department released dashcam footage of the shooting of Charles Smith, Jr. 17, by an officer early Sunday morning. The video is posted below, with the shooting happening just after the four-minute mark.

WARNING: The footage is extremely graphic.

North Little Rock Police Chief Mike Davis said the video shows that the officers were "left with no other choice but to protect their lives and return fire."  Davis said he decided that because posts about the shooting on social media have led to "misinformation [that] has caused concern in our community" the decision was made to release the footage today.

"I am hoping that it will get the truth out. And that people will see that the officers had no other choice," Davis said.

The video provided by the NLRPD begins after officers have stopped a car for speeding and a broken headlight on Sunday morning just after 1 a.m.. One officer asks the driver of the car to "step on out real quick" because the driver seems nervous. The officer then pats down the driver, who tells the police they are coming from a party.

"You got a little bit of weed or something in there like that? … Okay if we look?," the officer asks the driver. The driver tells the NLRPD officer he is nervous because he wants to join the police force in Little Rock. Both the driver and the other passenger, not Smith, are searched and sit down on the curb.

Smith, who was sitting in the rear seat,  is searched last. With Smith and the officer performing the search still off screen, the officer yells that Smith has a gun. The footage shows Smith falling into frame with officers on top of him. He lands in front of the two men seated on the curb who have already been searched.

As the officers and Smith wrestle, you can see an officer attempting to use a yellow Taser on Smith's leg as the officers try to pull his hand from under him. When Smith's hand emerges, he's holding a semi-automatic pistol. A shot goes off. He then reaches for the gun with his other hand as if attempting to chamber another round. It looks as if he trying to fire again. "I can't go to jail," Smith says. Officers then shoot Smith multiple times. He died at the scene.

Chief Davis said that the video had already been shown to prosecuting attorney Larry Jegley, who is reviewing the file and will ultimately determine whether any charges will be brought in relation to the shooting. The video was also shown to the Smith family and their attorney this morning. Davis said his prayers and condolences are with the Smith family. The investigation into the shooting is ongoing.

The full video as provided by the North Little Rock Police Department is seen below. The footage has been edited by the NLRPD to highlight the moments when Smith produces and fires the gun.

Jan Morgan says stuff

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 10:25 AM PST

The Jan Morgan show hit a meeting of Miller County Republicans at the New Haven Golf Club yesterday, the Texarkana Gazette reports. You'll never believe what she said! No, kidding, you'll totally believe it:

"[Asa Hutchinson] is an establishment RINO. I am a constitutional conservative. There's your line."

I am confident that the kids in one of the state's Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST) labs could design a rudimentary gun-toting, hog-riding robot that just repeated "RINO" over and over again. If Walmart cashiers are to be ditched for automation, why not GOP primary challengers?

The Gazette reports that Morgan also recounted her various bouts of fifteen minutes of grievance — the YouTube video (thanks, Arkansas Times) of her wild testimony before the House Judiciary Committee and the Muslim Free Zone she declared for her Hot Springs gun range. On the latter, she explained, "My goal was to raise a big enough stink that the media would pay attention."

She also said that the government should do nothing at all regarding health care and education. She's a real character.

Federal judge temporarily blocks Trump administration's efforts to end DACA

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 10:21 AM PST

A federal judge in San Francisco issued an order late yesterday to temporarily block the Trump administration's effort to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created by the Obama administration.

The DACA program gives certain legal protections to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children. Trump first moved to end the program in September with an end date of March 5, when around 800,000 young immigrants would lose eligibility for work permits and could face deportation if Congress doesn't intervene.

According to Department of Homeland Security data, there are an estimated 5,000 DACA recipients (often called "Dreamers") in Arkansas.

The White House said that the ruling from U.S. District Judge William Alsup was "outrageous" and pledged to appeal.

With the potential for hundreds of thousands of Dreamers being subject to deportation now less than two months away, Trump met with lawmakers yesterday in a bizarre televised negotiation over possible solutions and potential next policy steps on immigration. Trump seemed to signal a willingness to deal with Democrats, but was so uninformed on the policy details that it's impossible to say (at one point, when he appeared to acquiesce to a Democratic suggestion of an immediate "clean" bill to codify and extend DACA, Republican lawmakers had to intervene and stop the confused president from agreeing to a path he ostensibly opposes). Lawmakers left the meeting telling reporters they had no idea where Trump stood. 

Multiple lawsuits challenging Trump's plan to end DACA are pending across the country. If the Trump administration appeals Alsup's ruling, it could wind up in the Supreme Court, and it is uncertain how long a resolution would take. The legal tangle makes it unclear whether or not Trump's plan to end the program will proceed on time. If it does, Dreamers will have reason to fear the worst, as the potential for a timely solution from Congress remains murky — read Dara Lind at Vox for a list of the many ways that a DACA deal could fall apart.

Walmart expands cashier-free technology to 100 stores

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 09:19 AM PST

will expand its "Scan & Go" app to 100 stores, allowing customers to check out without a cashier, the retail behemoth announced yesterday.

Customers will be able to scan items, including produce, as they walk through the store using an app on their phone, seeing prices and a running total. They can then use the same app to pay when they are finished (naturally, there will be a special security lane for them to walk through in leaving the store, to make sure they actually scanned and paid for their items).

That means no waiting in line at the register, but presumably also means that cashiers will lose their jobs.

Scan & Go, first unveiled at a Supercenter in Rogers, is currently being tested in select markets, including in Northwest Arkansas. The app will now be expanded to 100 stores in 33 states. It's also available in all Sam's Club stores.

CNBC reports that Kroger is unveiling a similar technology in 400 stores. Meanwhile, Amazon Go, a pilot grocery store with no cashiers whatsoever, has opened a prototype store currently only open to Amazon employees and will likely be opening to the public sooner than later.

Evidentiary hearing in Jon Woods corruption case closed to public

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 08:56 AM PST

Update from the corruption case against former state Sen. Jon Woods: Doug Thompson reports for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette that U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks will today review communications between Woods' former attorney, W.H. Taylor, and federal prosecutors and investigators. But the hearing is closed, and no rulings will be disclosed.

Woods' current counsel alleges that Taylor had a conflict of interest because he was also representing an FBI investigator — who was potentially present for a government interview with Woods — in an unrelated matter. The defense contends that certain statements made available to the U.S. attorney and FBI investigators should be subject to attorney-client privilege.

Officials cleared the audience from the court room this morning, Thompson reports, and a court clerk stated that even if Brooks makes a ruling, that ruling will not be made public.

Federal prosecutors allege that Woods took kickbacks from state money he guided to Ecclesia College and a mental health agency. 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.

Last month, Brooks set the trial date for April 9, after previously delaying it
because of the recent discovery by the defense of the existence of 79 recordings, covering 52 hours of conversation, that were surreptitiously made by former Rep. Micah Neal.

Neal has pleaded guilty to being part of the scheme and set to be a witness for the government.

Shelton is trying to have the charge against him dismissed. He argues the additional conversations might have exculpatory evidence.

After today's evidentiary hearings on the attorney-client privilege matter and other requests by Woods' attorneys which are under seal, next up is a hearing on Shelton's motion to dismiss on Jan. 25.

Source: More layoffs to come at UAMS

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 08:39 AM PST

More staff reductions are to come at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, including tenured or tenure-track faculty, several sources tell the Arkansas Times. The information from these sources has proved correct in the past, so there's reason to believe in the accuracy of what they say.

The new reductions come on top of UAMS' reduction in force of 600 positions and 258 employees on Monday.

According to one source, as many as 45 such faculty members face layoffs once UAMS lawyers work out the terms under which they may be let go. The notifications could come in two-to-four weeks and could be followed by a further reduction in force in the new fiscal year.

Another source said a faculty meeting at Arkansas Children's Hospital reduced some staff to tears, and that police escorts out of the building added insult to injury. Reductions there are said to include pediatric biostatisticians, grants accountants, and laboratory technicians at the Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Institute.

And as with Dean of the College of Medicine Pope Moseley, whose $600,000 contract allows him to spend months abroad in Sweden, new questions have arisen about the arrangement that allows Dr. Gareth Morgan, director of the Myeloma Institute, and his wife, Dr. Faith Davies, to work abroad, in the U.K. Morgan is paid $878,886, according to online data from the state Department of Finance Administration, and Davies $410,000.

The newly hired chancellor, Dr. Cam Patterson, who will begin work in June, is being paid $1.2 million in salary and deferred compensation, or about $300,000 more than former Chancellor Dan Rahn. UAMS has not yet provided information on the salary breakdown nor how much of that sum comes from private donations, though it has said a portion is being paid with private dollars.

We've asked for comment from UAMS and confirmation on the salary figures.

Two Arkansas-based banks top Forbes national ranking of best banks

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 08:22 AM PST

Conway-based Home BancShares (operating as Centennial Bank) was ranked first on the annual Forbes evaluation of the financial health of the nation's 100 largest banks, released today. Bank of the Ozarks, based in Little Rock, ranked third.

The third big Arkansas bank, Simmons First National, headquartered in Pine Bluff, ranked fifty-second.

Forbes has ranked the financial health of the 100 largest U.S. banks for the past nine years, beginning after the financial crisis led to hundreds of banks going under.

Here's an explanation of the ranking:

We ranked the banks based on 10 metrics related to growth, profitability, capital adequacy and asset quality. Metrics include return on average tangible equity, return on average assets, net interest margin, efficiency ratio and net charge-offs as a percent of total loans. Forbes also factored in nonperforming assets as a percent of assets, risk-based capital ratio and reserves as a percent of nonperforming assets.
Here is the full ranking, and accompanying article in Forbes.

LRPD announce arrest in killing of mother and two children; investigation ongoing

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 07:52 AM PST

The Little Rock Police Department announced yesterday, on Facebook, that an arrest had been made in the killing of Mariah Cunningham and her two children.

LRPD arrested William Alexander, 21, Monday evening on three counts of capital murder in the Dec. 5 killing of Cunningham and her two children, Alayah Fisher, 5, and Elijah Fisher, 3.

According to KARK, Alexander appeared Tuesday morning in court and is being held without bond.

"We're here today with some good news," officer Steve Moore, a spokesperson for the LRPD, said in the video. "Homicide detectives were able to develop [Alexander] as a suspect during the course of this investigation and ultimately arrested him last night."

The case is still an ongoing investigation, Moore said.

The LRPD had offered a $50,000 reward to anyone with information that led to an arrest and conviction in the case.

Clinton public schools briefly on lockdown after threat made

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 07:22 AM PST

Clinton public schools in Van Buren County were briefly on lockdown as a "precautionary measure" this morning after a threat was made against the Clinton School District. The Van Buren County Sheriff's Office posted the following message on its Facebook page at around 8:30 a.m.:
There has been a threat made at the Clinton School District, the school is on lock down at this time. This is just a precautionary action. The Sheriff's Office has made contact with the subject that has made the threats. The Sheriff's Office will notify the media when all is clear and the school is no longer on lock down.
Around ten minutes later, the sheriff posted an update that the lockdown had been lifted:
We have made physical contact with the individual. The lock down of Clinton School has been lifted.
The individual was not a student, the Sheriff's office said in response to a question submitted by a commenter on the Facebook page.

Shooting on South Pulaski Street

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 06:58 AM PST

The D-G reports that a police SWAT team last night responded to a call at a residence at the intersection of South Park and West 24th streets, where the victim of a shooting had gone after being shot in the leg. The shooting took place at a different house on the 1700 block of South Pulaski Street. According to police, the injuries sustained are not considered life-threatening.

When the SWAT team arrived, they ordered everyone to leave the house, but those inside refused. Police ultimately concluded that they did not have sufficient probable cause to enter.

Woodruff County Sheriff increases reward in case of ten slaughtered animals

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 06:00 AM PST

The Woodruff County Sheriff's Department increased the reward amount offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case of ten animals slaughtered on a family farm. Eight goats, one alpaca, and one calf were attacked and killed in gruesome fashion. One goat survived the attack.

THV11 has more — William Wiggins and his family describe crying when they discovered the animals in a scene that looked like a horror movie.

Supreme Court again refuses to hear Mike Maggio's appeal

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 05:35 AM PST

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied without comment Mike Maggio's final petition to consider an appeal of his conviction and 10-year federal prison sentence for bribery.

The Court had already denied Maggio's request in November. At the end of the month, Maggio filed a petition asking the Court to reconsider its denial, but the Court this week stood by its original decision.  This ends the criminal case, although Maggio could still attempt an appeal alleging ineffective counsel by his original attorneys, a possibility that his current counsel suggested to the D-G was a likely last-gasp attempt by Maggio.

Maggio began serving his sentence in July after he pleaded guilty, admitting that campaign contributions from a nursing home owner, Michael Morton of Fort Smith, influenced Maggio to reduce a verdict against one of Morton's nursing homes from $5.2 million to $1 million. Maggio later unsuccessfully attempted to withdraw his guilty plea. The contributions were arranged by former Republican Sen. Gilbert Baker. Neither Morton nor Baker has been charged and both have said they did nothing wrong. According to prosecutors, Maggio failed to live up to the terms of his original plea agreement, fueling speculation that the government was attempting to get Maggio to cooperate in potential cases against Baker, Morton, or others involved.

Chronic wasting disease found in four deer in northwest Arkansas

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 04:50 AM PST

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission announced yesterday that chronic wasting disease has been found in four white-tailed deer in  northwest Arkansas. The confirmed cases were identified across three counties: Benton, Washington and Sebastian:

The deer in Benton County were a 2½-year-old doe near Decatur and a 5½-year-old doe near Springtown. The Sebastian County deer was an adult buck near Lavaca, and the one from Washington County was a 1½-year-old buck near Prairie Grove. All four were harvested by hunters during the 2017-18 deer season, and confirmed as CWD-positive by the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Madison.

More samples remain to be tested, and it's possible that more deer and elk could test positive for the deadly disease. CWD — which impacts the nervous systems of deer, elk and moose — was first detected in Arkansas in February of 2016. It has been detected in 24 states and two Canadian provinces. AGFC has placed various restrictions on importations, hunting, breeding, and dealing to try to prevent the disease from entering or spreading in the state.

AGFC Director Pat Fitts said in a statement:

Although CWD is a serious threat to Arkansas's elk and white-tailed deer, we are not the first to deal with the disease. Our staff is prepared and, with help from the public, will respond with effective measures. We have learned from the experiences of 23 other states.
There have been no reported cases of CWD infection in humans but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends against eating meat from infected animals.

Womack tapped for Budget chair; Democratic challenger Mahoney dings him for tax-cut profligacy

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 04:23 AM PST

As expected, the House Republican Steering Committee recommended U.S. Rep. Steve Womack to be the new chair of the House Budget Committee last night. That recommendation will now be voted on by the full House GOP conference, which is expected to approve the choice.

House Speaker Paul Ryan announced the decision last night and issued the following statement:
I believe Steve Womack is the right man for the job of chairman of the Budget Committee. Steve's experience in the House, commitment to fiscal conservatism, and relentless pursuit to safeguard taxpayer dollars make him extremely qualified to lead this important committee. I am looking forward to Steve's service, and I know he will do an excellent job.
If the full GOP conference approves the recommendation, Womack will replace U.S. Rep. Diane Black, who will leave the position to run for governor of Tennessee.

In a statement, Womack said:
I'm honored to be selected by the Steering Committee as the next Chairman of the House Budget Committee. There's no doubt it's a huge challenge – I'm excited for the chance to lead such an important committee in pursuit of a budget resolution that will address our nation's priorities while putting America on a sustainable fiscal path.
Rob Woodall of Georgia and Bill Johnson of Ohio also sought the position before the Steering Committee.

Josh Mahoney, the Democratic challenge to Womack in the the Third Congressional District, is unimpressed by Womack's track record, dinging him for the recent $1.5 trillion tax bill:

Steve Womack becoming Chair of the House Budget Committee after he voted to add $1.5 trillion to the deficit is the perfect example of why Washington DC is a cesspool of incompetence and absurdity. Washington DC is the only place in the country where the more incompetent you are, the better your chance of getting promoted. It's time to hold career politicians like Steve Womack accountable and fix the mess in Washington.

Governor requests smaller state budget than previously projected, citing 'efficiencies'

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 03:22 PM PST

In his address to the Arkansas legislature's Joint Budget Committee this morning, Governor Hutchinson outlined a budget that allocates $5.63 billion to state government for the upcoming 2019 fiscal year.

Here's the document the governor and his budget officials gave to legislators.

The figure is about $100 million less than the amount projected by the governor approximately a year ago, when he presented lawmakers with a two-year budget recommendation that looked forward to FY 2018 and FY 2019.

Nonetheless, the FY 2019 allocation presented by the governor this morning also represents a $172 million increase above the amount budgeted for FY 2018, the current fiscal year. (The state fiscal year runs from July to June, and FY 2019 will begin on July 1, 2018.)

In other words, the state budget will grow in FY 2019 — but by an amount less than was previously proposed, as illustrated below. (The amount proposed by Hutchinson a year ago is in light blue; the amount proposed today, along with projected total spending for FY 2018, is in darker blue.)

Hutchinson said the figure "reflects real spending cuts in a number of agencies — through efficiencies without a reduction in services." He also cited healthy revenue collections: Despite hefty tax cuts enacted by the legislature in recent years, the state's collections have grown, fueled by a strong economy.

"In 2017, we had the lowest level of unemployment in the history of the state of Arkansas, along with a record number of Arkansans that entered the workforce. Wage rates are up, Medicaid enrollment is down, and SNAP benefits are the lowest in nine years," the governor said, to applause from legislators. He lauded the $100 million tax cut approved by the legislature in 2015 for "putting more money in the consumer's pocket."

The state Department of Finance and Administration's revenue forecast for FY 2019 is around $5.69 billion. Since the governor's budget is only $5.63 billion, that means a significant amount of money — around $64 million — will be left over as surplus. (Though it should be noted that this "surplus" amount is somewhat arbitrary; it exists partly because the budget is drawn up conservatively.)

In the past, such surplus typically flowed into the General Improvement Fund, a pot of cash which legislators tapped to benefit projects in their districts — some worthy, some not. But due to a recent state Supreme Court decision forbidding the practice, the GIF is no more. (An ongoing criminal case involving GIF money used in an alleged bribery scheme in Northwest Arkansas hasn't helped matters.)

Instead of fueling the GIF, the governor's budget "allocates 75 percent of surplus — $48 million — to a new restricted reserve fund that can only be touched with the concurrence of the legislative branch," he said.

Will this "restricted reserve fund" be used for the same sorts of local projects that the GIF previously bankrolled? How will the money be allocated? Such questions have yet to be answered.

The other 25 percent of the surplus, or $16 million, will be allocated to highway funding. Tax-averse Arkansas legislators have repeatedly failed to create a mechanism to reliably fund road improvements in the state in recent years, which has led to the state Highway Department siphoning off general revenue designated as "surplus."

Among factors that led to the smaller budget (smaller, that is, relative to Hutchinson's proposal from last year), the governor mentioned:

*K-12 education. The governor said the state's education adequacy fund, which is funded by a 7/8-cent sales tax, is for the first time able to fully meet the legislative mandate on adequacy spending. "This means the $50 million that we planned to transfer from general revenue will not be required and we will still be able to meet the adequacy requirements set by the legislature," he said. (At first glance, it appears this change is attributable to economic growth and an increase in sales tax revenue.)

*Medicaid. As the governor outlined last week, the state has reduced its Medicaid rolls by around 116,000 people, about half of them low-income adults in the Medicaid expansion program, Arkansas Works. (The other half were in "traditional" Medicaid, which includes children, the disabled and the elderly.) Hutchinson said today that the national growth rate for Medicaid spending was around 5.6 percent, but Arkansas's projected increase would be just 2.1 percent due to decreased enrollment and "efficiencies" pursued by the Department of Human Services, which administers Medicaid.

The governor said that the changes were "not a severe tactic" but were good news for the state. "This is not because we've reduced eligibility or reduced services. That's not happened. This is because of transformation efforts in DHS … and because more people are working and increasing their income. ... As a result, the budget reflects a reduction in spending of over $55 million compared to the FY19 budget outline presented a year ago."

Hutchinson also outlined what lies behind the $172 million increase in actual dollars requested from FY 2018 to FY 2019:

*General Improvement Fund. The $51.1 previously designated as GIF money will now count as general revenue. This appears to be a matter of accounting, not an actual increase in spending.

*State/federal Medicaid match rates. As laid out in the Affordable Care Act, the state's share of the cost of Medicaid expansion rises this year, meaning Arkansas must spend $35.7 million more on the Arkansas Works program. (The federal government still covers over 90 percent of the costs.) However, the state must also start paying a larger portion of its traditional Medicaid program as a result of its improved economic situation. The changing match rate on traditional Medicaid will cost the state another $48.6 million.

*More child welfare caseworkers. The Division of Children and Family Services would get another $7.3 million.

*Reimbursements for county jails and other corrections. County jails that house state prisoners would be allocated another $4 million. State prisons and the community corrections system will also receive some additional funding

*State police vehicles. New vehicles for state troopers would cost $3 million.

*Higher education funding formula. Colleges and universities would receive around $12 million more, part of which is in exchange for implementing the state's new productivity funding model. The governor called for a freeze on in-state tuition rates at four-year institutions of higher education.

Cotton joins Boozman on Senate budget committee

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 02:56 PM PST

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton will join the Senate Budget Committee, his office announced today

In a release from his office, Cotton is quoted touting the responsible path of managing the federal budget and funding the military.

"The Senate Budget Committee handles some of the most pressing issues our nation faces, such as making sure our armed services have the support they need and restraining our ever-rising national debt," said Senator Cotton. "I look forward to working with my colleagues to put the federal government on a real, responsible budget that reflects the priorities of the American people."

Also on the committee: Sen. John Boozman. That makes Arkansas the only state with two members on the Senate budget committee.

Police release general report on shooting of teen by officer

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 02:51 PM PST

The North Little Rock Police this afternoon released an incident report on what they say occurred on Sunday night when an officer shot Charles Smith Jr., a 17-year-old high school senior.

The report details a driver stopped around 1:04 a.m. at the 5200 block of Camp Robinson for "speeding and an equipment violation." At 1:14 a.m., the report says, "one of the occupants of the vehicle displayed a firearm while trying to flee." This would have been Smith. According to police, after officers tried to detain Smith, "the person fired a weapon towards the Officers and the Officers returned fire striking the person."

This account does not — as a previous press release had — mention a pat-down that officers conducted to reveal a gun. Nor does it mention a "struggle" that ensued after that gun was revealed from the pat down.


KATV spoke with Smith's older brother, Juwaun Jordan, 21, who described the stop and also mentioned a pat down.

Early Sunday morning, Jordan, Smith and a third friend were driving when a police car stopped them. The officers said it was a broken taillight. But instead of looking at the light, Jordan told the news station, officers searched the three young men in the car. When they got to Smith "all three of them grabbed him," said Jordan.

"They say he resisted, but he wasn't moving. He was talking. He wasn't doing [anything]," he continued. "They were tussling him to the ground...When they were on the ground, one of them jumped up off of him, one shot went off, and [the officer] was like 'he got a gun.'"

Then, officers shot Smith.

"[The officer] just shot him five times," Jordan told KATV. "He couldn't move, he couldn't do nothing. He had three officers on top of him, so how was he moving?"

Patting down a driver during a routine traffic stop is a common police tactic under certain circumstances. As we wrote in our Jan. 4 cover story about the LRPD,  police are using broken tail lights or other petty traffic violations to stop drivers they deem suspicious and then search their vehicles. Police use these stops, often called pretextual or investigative stops, to uncover evidence of a crime, such as drugs or guns. But critics say the stops often cause distrust and the potential for violent police-citizen interactions.

Here's a quote from Jordan to KATV on that frustration.
"When y'all stopped us, y'all never looked at no lights," said Jordan. "If it was the light, don't y'all walk around and be like, 'this the light'? They didn't do none of that. They just pulled up, told us to get out, tussled with him, and they shot him and killed him."

Today's updates and your open line

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 02:27 PM PST

Headlines for January 9, 2018 include Governor Hutchinson's presentation of a proposed 2019 fiscal year budget, some new coaching staff for Razorback football and Rep. Steve Womack's being tapped to chair the House Budget committee.

Bannon out at Breitbart

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 02:18 PM PST

Steve Bannon will no longer be executive chairman of Breitbart News, the company announced today. (If you don't want to give Breitbart your precious clicks, here's the New York Times story on it.)

In recent weeks, Bannon has gotten in trouble with the right-wing group he helped stir to action to elect President Trump for his quotes in Michael Wolff's new book "Fire and Fury." In response to Bannon's quotes, Trump ditched him via tweet. Then the reclusive and very rich Mercer family came out against him and in favor of Trump. The Mercers are huge donors for the Trump camp; here's a long story explaining Mercer money.

Now, Breitbart dumps Bannon, too.