Bobby Ampezzan

Managing Editor, Arkansas Public Media

Bobby Ampezzan 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 theArkansas Democrat-Gazette. The best dimestore nugget he's lately discovered comes from James Altucher's Choose Yourself(actually, the Times' profile on Altucher, which quotes the book): "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 be serious, but curiosity should follow every thing, and that we be serious about curiosity.

Contact Bobby at bobby@arkansaspublicmedia.org or 501-569-8489. 

 

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.

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. 

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).


  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.

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.

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.


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

 

 

The top story this week: Gov. Asa Hutchinson signs his $50 million tax cut for low income Arkansans into law. But a disappointing state revenue report the following day prompts talk of budget  cuts.

We also have a full wrap up of legislative activities, including advancement of a bill that would require colleges to allow firearms on campuses and a debate over Sharia law that came up during consideration of another bill.

We wrap up with the full interview recorded with longtime radio jazz host and preservationist John Cain about his life as he celebrated his 80th birthday.

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.

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.

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