Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:
Texarkana Gazette, March 18, 2014
Restrictive law doesn't make it past federal judge
Last year, Arkansas' Republican-controlled Legislature passed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation.
The measure called the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act would ban most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, vetoed the bill. But the Legislature voted to override that veto.
It was a bad move, and we said so at the time. Such a ban could never survive court scrutiny.
And it didn't.
Two Little Rock physicians, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the center for Reproductive Rights, challenged the law.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright struck down the law as unconstitutional.
In her ruling, she wrote the ban "impermissibly infringes a woman's Fourteenth Amendment right to elect to terminate a pregnancy before viability."
Wright also noted the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that a state cannot intervene before viability save for consideration of mother's health. The court originally held viability as falling outside the first trimester, though now premature infants as young as 21 weeks, 6 days have survived.
Wright let stand the "informed consent" provision of the law requiring women who seek an abortion to have an ultrasound and be informed if a fetal heartbeat is present.
Some supporters of the law want Attorney General Dustin McDaniel to press on and appeal Wright's ruling.
McDaniel, a Democrat, said last week his office has made no decision on whether to do so.
We are pro-life, determinedly so, but realistically there isn't any reason to go on with this charade. There is no way the court will allow simple detection of a fetal heartbeat to stand as a standard of viability.
Arkansas lawmakers should look to neighboring Texas, where a new law, passed last year after a well-publicized filibuster by Fort Worth Democrat Wendy Davis, requiring abortions to be performed in a surgical facility and requiring doctors who perform the procedure have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles has so far caused nearly half the abortion clinics in the state to close.
The law is being challenged in court, but courts all the way up to the nation's highest have allowed its enforcement while the case winds its way through the legal system.
Arbitrary abortion bans play well to the voters back home. But they don't work. And they aren't going to start working now.
Lawmakers need to stop thinking about the political grandstanding and start thinking about the unborn lives they so loudly and so frequently claim to care about.
Harrison Daily Times, March 13, 2014
Hillbilly image of Arkansas flavors reality series
H.L. Mencken would have loved the Discovery Channel's newest reality show.
The noted Baltimore newspaperman on more than one occasion ridiculed Arkansas in his columns, referring to our beloved home state as "the miasmatic jungles of Arkansas" and stating that "Arkansas is perhaps the most shiftless and backward state in the whole galaxy."
Discovery's latest offering to the already overcrowded airwaves would no doubt get a big thumbs up from the Sage of Baltimore.
"Clash of the Ozarks" perpetuates the image of Arkansas as a stronghold of unsophisticated, congenitally violent, probably inbred hillbillies and rednecks.
Set in Hardy, described as a "lawless place," the series centers on two feuding clans, the Russells and the Evanses, headed respectively by Crowbar Russell and Kerry Wayne (or Currawane as its pronounced locally) Evans.
Hardy's previous claim to fame was being the home to Grand Ol' Opry stars Doyle and Teddy Wilburn. Now it's the home of Jimmy Haney.
Jimmy who, you ask?
Haney is probably the most colorful of the colorful. An adult Huck Finn figure, Haney lives in the woods; wears a floppy hat adorned with a feather, overalls fastened by only one strap with no shirt underneath and no shoes (a sure sign of Arkansas nativity); and is mistrustful of outsiders.
"Flatlanders! They ain't supposed to be here!"
The series features the usual moonshinin', driving around in pickup trucks and folksy observations.
In recent years, Arkansas has acquired a first-rate art museum in Bentonville. We have excellent colleges and universities. The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra is top-notch, and just recently, we read that actor Judge Reinhold liked Little Rock so much that he and his wife moved there.
Despite all the cultural advancements made within our state, much of the rest of the country will still tune in to "Clash of the Ozarks" and believe it to be a true picture of Arkansas.
The show will keep alive the image of, as Mencken put it, Arkansas as "the apex of moronia."
Southwest Times Record, March 17, 2014
Absentee ballot confusion grows
The problematic intersection between the state's new voter ID law and absentee ballots apparently has not been cleared since Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's Feb. 10 opinion on the subject.
The new law holds that those who vote in person should show government-approved identification when they vote. If they arrive at the poll without the necessary ID, they are allowed to cast provisional ballots. If they produce ID by the Monday after the election, their ballot is "cured" and counted.
Voters who mail in absentee ballots also are supposed to provide ID by enclosing a photocopy of their driver's license or other acceptable identification.
However, the law passed in 2013 does not explicitly state that absentee voters whose ballots are not accompanied by proof of identification are entitled to the same cure period as people who show up at the polls without photo ID.
Knowing there was a March 11 millage election for Pulaski Technical College on the horizon, the county Election Commission requested an opinion by the attorney general before the election. Mr. McDaniel opined that the law afforded absentee voters no cure period.
Then on Feb. 28, the state Board of Election Commissioners adopted an emergency rule stating that county election officials should treat absentee ballots without ID as provisional and give voters until the Monday after the election to provide identification, the same policy in place for in-person voters.
The three-person Pulaski County voted 2 to 1 not to follow the emergency rule. Pulaski County Election Commission Chairman Leonard Boyle Sr. said the board was obliged to follow the law.
"The state Board of Election Commissioners I really don't feel like is the body to change the law. They can only make rules or promulgate rules according to what's in the law," Mr. Boyle said.
So now the Pulaski County Election Commission and Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane have filed a lawsuit challenging the state board's policy.
State board member Stuart Soffer wants the state Board of Election Commissioners to file a complaint against Mr. Boyle and Chris Burks, the other member of the Pulaski County Election Commission to vote against following the state board's rule.
Soffer said Thursday that the commission was required to follow the rule.
"The A.G.'s opinion was an opinion. The emergency rule has the force of law," he said.
May 20, the date of Arkansas' primary elections and nonpartisan judicial election, is a short two months away. Election commissions across the state are watching the Pulaski County wrangling with attention and likely no small trepidation.
Does the attorney general's opinion trump the state Board of Election Commissioners' rule?
More importantly, how can there be consistency statewide when Pulaski County commissioners are split?
Two months is not a lot of time to resolve this issue, and it matters a great deal. We have seen too many elections decided on a single vote not to think it matters.
In the meantime, if you plan to vote by absentee ballot, make sure you know the law on providing identification. You don't want your ballot to be at the center of the count-or-don't-count quarrel. Make sure your vote counts