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Rapper in club shooting strikes plea bargain

Posted: 05 Mar 2018 12:44 PM PST

Ricky Hampton
, the rapper known as Finese 2 Tymes who was performing when shooting broke out July 1 in a downtown club, leaving 25 wounded, entered a negotiated guilty plea in federal court today to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

He'll be sentenced later. The plea agreement says the sentencing guideline recommendation will be enhanced because he is a previous felon and because the firearm he possessed was capable of holding a large magazine. He'll get credit in sentencing for taking responsbility. The agreement also specifies that he must forfeit two pistols — a 7.62x39 Century Arms and a .40 caliber Springfield XD.

Hampton was arrested the day after the Power Ultra Lounge shooting following a show in Birmingham. He was arrested on a charge related to a shooting at a Forrest City club. But a federal investigation later led to his indictment

Another week begins: The open line

Posted: 05 Mar 2018 12:07 PM PST

Here's the Monday open line. Also a roundup of news and comment.

Little Rock police chief withdraws from Charleston police chief search

Posted: 05 Mar 2018 11:01 AM PST

Little Rock Police Chief Kenton Buckner announced today that he'd withdrawn from the competition to choose a new police chief for Charleston, S.C.

Buckner was interviewed earlier in February as a finalist, but no news about that process has been forthcoming since.

In a release today — about which a spokesman said the chief would have no further comment — Buckner said he wanted to alleviate "ambiguity" about his future in Little Rock.  He said the Charleston process had caused him to reflect on his time in Little Rock. He said there had been "many successes," but he had other goals, including accreditation of the police training academy and stronger relations with both the police force and the community at large.

He said it was time to build on "positive momentum that the LRPD has achieved." He cited reductions in property and violent crime, arrests of habitual funders and hiring that has put the force near full strength.

He said he looked forward to working with city leaders.

Leaders were caught by surprise by Buckner's emergence as a Charleston candidate and City Manager Bruce Moore said he intended to talk to Buckner about it. Perhaps there'll be time now.

Here's Buckner's full release.

Jefferson County lands two cannabis cultivation facilities

Posted: 05 Mar 2018 10:25 AM PST

Natural State Wellness, one of five companies winning a permit from the state to operate a medical cannabis cultivation facility, has chosen to locate in Jefferson County, giving that county two cultivation centers. The company had submitted identical applications, one for Jefferson and one for Jackson County.

"It was not an accident" that Jefferson County landed both Natural State Wellness and Natural State Medicinals, Caleb McMahon, economic development director for the Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County, said today. "It was a lot of hard work."

Natural State Medicinals will locate at Interstate 530 at Gravel Pit Road, about halfway between Redfield and White Hall. Natural State Wellness will locate in Pine Bluff.

"To tell you the truth, in November 2016, I went to my board and to my mayor and I asked them if we could aggressively go after this," McMahon said. "Pine Bluff gets a black eye in the media. [Officials have] been very progressive toward this. …. They were really forward thinking."

McMahon said he did not know NSM's "internal numbers," but that Natural State Wellness says it will invest $8 million in its plant and expects to hire 42 or 43 people.

Water and electricity "will be a big issue" for NSM since it's in the county, McMahon said, but it will be handled. He said he could not yet make public incentives offered the companies, but said they did not include tax breaks. He said he would be able to talk about them in the future after commitments are finalized.

Natural State Wellness is owned by 27 people, including Hank Wilkins V, the son of Jefferson County Judge Hank Wilkins IV; former Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and his wife, Bobbi*; McDaniel's father, Bobby McDaniel; and lawyer Donald L. Parker. Natural State Medicinals is owned by a consortium including pharmacist Joseph Courtwright, the former CEO and president of USA Drug (now owned by Walgreens); Susan and Dr. Alonzo Williams; USA founder Stephen LaFrance, Drs. Kelli and Scott Schlesinger; Arkansas Cannabis Association board member Robert DeBin; Kathryne and Dr. Clifton Bolen Peck IV; and Fox 16 News anchor Donna Terrell.

*A previous version of this post mistakenly referred to Kristi McDaniel as Dustin McDaniel's wife.

New Music from Indy Grotto, Kami Renee, Mark Currey and Brae Leni

Posted: 05 Mar 2018 09:46 AM PST

In case you missed it, check out "Who's Afraid of Indy Grotto?", the latest from the frontwoman for tenured Little Rock indie rockers Boondogs, ten breezy tracks recorded at Lucky Dog Audio and Fellowship Hall Sound here in Little Rock and at Red Star in L.A. Current favorite: "Eileen," with "Round and Round" a close second.

And, from the bass player for the 2017 Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase winners Dazz & Brie and The Emotionalz, Kami Renee, comes "Entitled," a brand new bouncing middle finger to that person in your life who seems to start their stopwatch running after sending you a text.

Speaking of past showcase finalists, Brae Leni & The Evergreen Groove Machine put on a dynamite show at last year's competition (read as: the electric slide was heavily involved and performed with abandon by more people than will admit same), and Leni is back with a video for "Fine With Me," showing off his falsetto, his biceps, his drum machine and what appears to be a delivery of mashed potatoes, just after the two-minute mark and right on time.

Like many of us, Mark Currey, the songsmith responsible for last year's eclectic and layered "Tarrant County," spent the day after Valentine's Day processing some indignation. Here's why:
In the week after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shootings, I watched these kids do what adults have been unable to do… what they have been afraid to do. I watched them stand up to power and scream: "Enough." And I watched Fred Guttenberg talk about his amazing daughter Jaimie … I watched Max Schachter read a poem his son Alex wrote a couple of weeks before he was killed. Alex was a marching band kid … like me. And Fred and Max are dads… like me. A week ago today I wrote this song …. For the parents who lost … for the kids who are gone and the ones that survived. And for my own kids, who give me hope that they might build a better world than the one we have given them.
So, instead of crafting a lengthy Facebook rant or throwing his hands up, Currey headed to Capitol View Studio and recorded this track, "Land of Endless Summer."

Don't overlook the links at the song's Soundcloud spot: March For Our Lives, Everytown for Gun Safety, Sandy Hook Promise and a GoFundMe page for the Alex Schachter Scholarship fund Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) created in memory of one of the students killed in the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida in February, and titled after a poem Alex student wrote two weeks prior to the shooting for a literary fair.

Stacy Hurst fires back at criticism of her leadership of the Department of Arkansas Heritage

Posted: 05 Mar 2018 09:28 AM PST

Stacy Hurst, director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, has sent a note to staff responding to blistering criticism of her management.

The departure of Lisa Speer as state archivist under pressure from Hurst led to other criticism of Hurst's leadership, particularly by retired historian Tom Dillard, a former Heritage director, who used his Sunday column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to list perceived shortcomings in Hurst's leadership. A flower shop owner and former city director, she was appointed to the job by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Her memo to staff:

Dear DAH Staff:

Most of you are probably aware of several accusations made in the media lately about the operation of this department. Let me assure you: those accusations are blatantly inaccurate and misrepresentative of our work here.

First, I do not have, nor do I want, "total control over our heritage as a people." When the Legislature transferred the then-Arkansas History Commission to the Department of Arkansas Heritage, one person wrote: "This means that a single state employee … has total control over our heritage as a people." This is a gross exaggeration, to put it mildly. Certainly, I have a serious role, but there are many entities and individuals, such as each of you, that contribute daily to our collective heritage as Arkansans. Each of you works every day to contribute to our heritage, and I appreciate the expertise and professionalism you bring to our work to identify, conserve and preserve Arkansas history and to make it available to our state's residents.

Several other false statements are being perpetuated about changes to our operations and/or facilities.

Let me reassure you: There is no effort being made to defund or close any of our facilities; we are not closing either of the regional Archives, as has been reported.

Nor are there efforts underway to dissolve any of the existing commissions or advisory boards. We are not dismantling the Black History Commission of Arkansas, as has been erroneously reported.

Regarding the advertisement for a new Archives director and state historian, we have listed the position with both the minimum qualifications for a DAH agency director and the preferred qualifications for the State Archives director, as required by the state's Office of Personnel Management (OPM). It is my intention to hire the most-qualified individual possible for this important role; the search has already begun.

The "mass defections" reported of late are, again, simply not true. According to OPM, the state's current turnover rate is 10.25%, and DAH's is 7.6%. Certainly, we experience attrition as does every state agency, but we have many longtime (and new!) employees that are passionate and positive about their work.

I am really proud of and inspired by the team that leads our department and its divisions. Our directors are top-notch, bringing outstanding leadership, unmatched creativity, true professionalism and venerated expertise to their roles. Thank you to Rebecca Burkes as deputy director, David Bell as CFO, Debra Fithen as grants manager, Scott Kaufman at AHPP, Christina Shutt at Mosaic Templars, Patrick Ralston at the Arts Council and Dr. Kyle Miller at the Delta Cultural Center for joining our team. And, to Swannee Bennett at HAM and Darrell Bowman at ANHC, both of whom accepted offers of promotion to directors of their respective entities and have served with dignity and enthusiasm. And, to Bill Gatewood, who remains the longtime, respected leader at OSHM, to Melissa Whitfield, who has remained as our unflappable communications director, and, to Debbie Biggs, our seasoned and trusted HR manager. All of our individual efforts are collectively enhanced by their support and leadership.

I take seriously our shared responsibility to tell the story of Arkansas. As Bill Worthen, longtime and beloved former director at HAM, said, "We protect the best of Arkansas." We have all been charged by the Governor to look for efficiencies within our operations, and we have done that, all the while keeping an eye on our responsibilities. Change is hard, and it is often met with suspicion and resistance. But I will not apologize for asking you to consider a new way of doing things. It is our duty, as good stewards of the taxpayer resources we're entrusted with, to always look for ways to streamline, be innovative, and do more with what we have. That's good government.

In conclusion, I'll simply repeat something I've been correctly quoted in the press as saying: "[DAH] enjoys many long-term, fantastic employees who are passionate about their work." Make no mistake: I mean every word of this, and I am talking about you. Thank you for staying focused on our mission and for doing your best work every day to protect Arkansas's natural, cultural and historic resources.

UPDATE: Feds OK Medicaid work rule; no decision yet on restricting enrollment on income

Posted: 05 Mar 2018 05:13 AM PST

Seema Verma, the director of the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services will be in Little Rock this morning and is expected to announce with Gov. Asa Hutchinson decisions on his requests for waivers in the Arkansas Medicaid expansion program.

A work requirement was approved; a bigger change that could cut Medicaid for 60,000 people remains under discussion.

One change is a work requirement. Verma has already approved a work requirement for Kentucky, though Arkansas's proposal is more punitive. You must go without coverage for most of a year after losing eligibility, while Kentucky allows a recipient to work her way immediately back to coverage. Kentucky's rule is under challenge in federal court. If Verma does approve the change for Arkansas as expected it could meet a court test, too.

The big change under review is to allow only people who make 100 percent of the federal poverty level or less qualify, or about $12,000, for coverage, rather than 138 percent. This will slice some 60,000 people off health coverage, a life or death decision for some in that number. It will save Arkansas $15 to $20 million (In a $6 billion state budget). Politico wrote last week that many believe Verma won't approve this change. While it would save money for Arkansas and much more for the federal government, it would have the effect of encouraging participation by 20 states that now don't participate in the Medicaid expansion enabled by Obamacare. This change, too, is fraught with legal questions.

Benji Hardy will be covering the session with the governor and Verma. More later.

At some point after the decision, I expect we'll hear from U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden. He's previously raised questions about Verma's conflict of interest in making decisions about the Arkansas Medicaid program. She served as a paid consultant to Hewlett Packard when it was providing services to Arkansas on its Medicaid program. Her agency and Arkansas have said she has permission to work on Arkansas matters.

The Arkansas legislature, in session on budget matters, will be tuning in to the Verma-Hutchinson session. Still pending in the legislative session is the Department of Human Services budget, which includes the entire Medicaid program. A small but significant minority of ultra-conservative Republican legislators oppose the Medicaid expansion program. A three-fourths vote is required in Senate and House to pass the legislation. That means 27 votes in the 35-member Senate, where three seats are currently vacant.

The work rule will save the state a few million dollars. As many as 39,000 people on Medicaid may be affected. But there's no firm number. Many who don't work are unable to work. And there are exemptions for single parents, the disabled, people over 50 and others.

The governor issued this statement:

Governor Asa Hutchinson announced Monday that the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has approved the State's request to implement a work requirement for Arkansas Works enrollees. With this approval, Arkansas becomes one of only three states that currently mandates work for people who want to keep health benefits funded by Medicaid expansion dollars. Governor Hutchinson said the change promotes personal responsibility and will help low-income Arkansans move up the economic ladder.

"I have often said that Arkansans understand the dignity of work," Governor Hutchinson said. "The approval of this work requirement will go a long way to create opportunities for able-bodied working-age Arkansans to enter into training or employment and ultimately climb the economic ladder.

"With federal approval of this requirement, Arkansas has become a national leader in rethinking the delivery of public assistance. Although Arkansas' work requirement is one of the most stringent in the nation, it is not designed to be punitive, but to better serve the needs of Arkansans by creating pathways for individuals to take steps toward financial independence. CMS, under the leadership of Administrator Verma, understands this and has been a great partner in these efforts. I appreciate the work of all those who have put in long hours designing a program that is better tailored to serve and improve the lives of Arkansans."

CMS Administrator Seema Verma was in Arkansas on Monday for the Governor's announcement.

"The Trump administration is dedicated to advancing policies that make Medicaid a pathway out of poverty by empowering states like Arkansas to design programs that meet the unique needs of their citizens," Administrator Verma said. "We owe it to Americans all across this country to support new ideas and innovative solutions to improve health outcomes that can promote upward mobility and an improved quality of life."

Arkansas Works is a unique program that uses Medicaid expansion dollars to buy private health insurance for eligible individuals. Last summer, the Arkansas Department of Human Services submitted to CMS an 1115 waiver request to implement a work requirement, and the two agencies have spent the last several months finalizing terms and conditions for the new requirement. Arkansas has had a "work referral" process in place over the last year, tracking the outcomes for people who are referred to Department of Workforce Services for assistance in job search and training. The results of the referral showed that individuals who take advantage of these services are more likely to find a job than those who do not. Shifting from a voluntary "referral" to a mandatory requirement that individuals work in order to receive their health insurance is expected to increase the number of enrollees who take advantage of state programs to assist in developing skills and obtaining jobs.

"DHS is moving to immediately implement the work requirement for Arkansas Works," Arkansas Department of Human Services Director Cindy Gillespie said. "We'll notify enrollees this month that their health benefit is now subject to a work requirement and the first group of enrollees will begin reporting on their work activities in June. We're working with the health insurance carriers, the Department of Workforce Services, Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care, the education community and many others to have a robust program that connects people with resources that can help them meet the work requirement. Work and community engagement is a positive factor for a healthy life and we're excited to help our fellow Arkansans improve their skills and get new or better jobs because we know that can change their lives for the better."

Arkansas Works enrollees who are 19 to 49 years old will be subject to the work requirement. The requirement will be phased in on the 30-49 year-olds first over a four-month period between June and September of 2018. Individuals subject to the work or community engagement requirement must report 80 hours of work activity every month or show that they are exempt from reporting work activities. A work activity can include a job, job training, job searching, school, health education classes, or volunteering/community engagement (or a combination of any of these for a total of 80 hours). Activity must be reported online at If an enrollee fails to meet the work or community engagement requirement for any three months in a calendar year, he or she will lose Arkansas Works coverage for the remainder of that calendar year.

An enrollee is considered exempt if he or she is medically frail, exempt from SNAP work requirement, receives TEA assistance, pregnant, caring for an incapacitated person, short-term incapacitated, in substance abuse treatment or full-time education, has a minor child in his/her home or already works at least 80 hours a month.
Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families commented:

Today, Arkansas received federal approval to add a work requirement to the Arkansas Works program, which provides affordable coverage to 285,000 low-income Arkansans who have no other coverage options and rely on this program to get the care they need. Although federal approval did not go as far as lowering the income eligibility level, we're deeply troubled by the changes that will come with work requirements.

Work requirements are a political move that do nothing to address the very real challenge that many Arkansans face – a lack of meaningful employment opportunities that offer a livable wage and benefits. This policy is also based on the false assumption that Arkansas Works enrollees are not contributing to their communities in valuable ways. The fact is the majority of people enrolled in Arkansas Works are already working, enrolled in school, retired, or taking care of an ailing relative or dependent child. That means this policy will only add unnecessary costs and new administrative hurdles to a health care system that's already difficult to navigate. Many Arkansans, including working people and people with disabilities, will lose coverage because they can't overcome bureaucratic red tape to document that they meet work requirements or qualify for an exemption.

Arkansans deserve better.

Instead of creating costly and punitive new requirements designed to kick people who need health care off the program, our leaders should continue to promote the purpose of the Medicaid program to provide health coverage for low-income Arkansans without unnecessary barriers.

We call on state leaders to address the real issues that cause high poverty rates and lack of employment opportunities in the state. We can no longer rely on solutions that satisfy political interests but ignore struggling families in Arkansas.

Arkansas Community Organizations also was critical:

Over the last five years Arkansas extended quality, affordable health coverage to over 300,000 adult Arkansas citizens. The implementation of Arkansas Works cut our uninsured rate in half. Today's announcement by CMS Administrator Seema Verma to grant Arkansas a waiver to impose a work requirement on people enrolled in the Arkansas Works program will increase the number of uninsured people in our state and is a step backwards. We strongly urge Administrator Verma NOT to approve the other components of Arkansas's waiver request including lowering the eligibility threshold to 100% of the poverty level..

"We believe that health care is a human right. We urge the Governor and the state legislature to fund Arkansas Works, reconsider implementing the waiver and look for ways to make health care accessible to all Arkansans. Health care is a necessity. Tax breaks for people earning above $75,000 is a luxury." 

Sunday open line

Posted: 04 Mar 2018 02:51 PM PST

Amazing. No new Trump outrages the last few hours. Have at it.