Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday summary

Former U.S. Attorney H.E. “Bud” Cummins expressed disappointment over how he and seven other prosecutors were ousted last year, saying the Department of Justice’s failure to insulate them from outside political pressure was “most disturbing.” He told an audience at the Clinton School of Public Service that the purge of prosecutors was, to his knowledge, unprecedented and took him by surprise.

A new Medicare prescription drug benefit is having unintended side effects threatening the future of many independent pharmacies because of slow and late payments, according to 1st District Rep. Marion Berry.

Gov. Mike Beebe says he is leaning heavily toward splitting up the state’s health and human services agencies — merged only two years ago — as he was given authority to do under legislation approved by lawmakers earlier this year.

Legislation to establish a tax exemption for windmill blade manufacturers targets a specific company that is considering locating in Arkansas. A spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe confirms a story from TalkBusiness.Net editor Roby Brock.

The Arkansas Senate approved a bill embodying the plan for distributing more than $4 billion a year in state general revenue to the state government agencies during the next two fiscal years, a measure that legislative leaders say makes public schools the state’s top priority.

A co-chairman of the Joint Budget Committee says that a plan the committee approved to spend the state’s $919 million surplus contains several “constitutionally suspect” projects. Gov. Mike Beebe says he has left open the possibility of using his veto power or directing state agencies not to disburse the money to the projects.

A bill setting standards for developing merit-pay plans passed the House Education Committee, but a bill giving more state money to some school districts for salaries ran into trouble.

The House Judiciary Committee rejected a proposal to enhance criminal penalties for harassment and certain other crimes when “prejudice against the victim” is involved.

For the second time in seven days, a state Senate committee has blocked House Speaker Benny Petrus’ ethics legislation.

A bill that would punish a person for knowingly harboring an illegal alien won the endorsement of the House Judiciary Committee, despite sharp questioning from committee members who were concerned the legislation would shift enforcement of a federal issue to Arkansas prosecutors and judges.

The Arkansas House of Representatives will recommend to the people an amendment that would remove antiquated language on elections from the Arkansas Constitution. Its passage came a day after the Senate approved a proposed amendment that would allow the Legislature to convene annually.

Gov. Mike Beebe hopes to leverage some of the cash in the state’s budget surplus to start a voluntary program to pay farmers and ranchers to make environmental improvements in the Illinois River watershed in Northwest Arkansas.

An admitted methamphetamine cook testified, in day 16 of the public corruption trial, that former Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell and Bobby Junior Cox, a bail bondsman, recruited him to cook and plant drugs on someone in hopes that person would turn in a fugitive who had jumped a substantial bond posted by Cox.

A Madison police officer with a lengthy criminal history was convicted of domestic battery on his estranged wife by St. Francis County District Court Judge Steve Routon. Victor Crawford has a long history of criminal offenses dating back to the early 1990’s. The records show that he has been found guilty by the District Court for violent crimes including third-degree battery in 1992 and third-degree assault twice in 1994.

A five-month long investigation culminated Thursday with the arrest of 77 illegal aliens working on construction projects in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee.

Arkansas and Oklahoma law enforcement agencies are expected to attend the funeral of officer Daniel Cruz Martinez Jr. which begins at 10 a.m. today at the Fort Smith Convention Center Auditorium. According to police reports, Martinez was shot and killed Friday night by Richard Englebright while attempting to help Donna Stevens retrieve her 3-year-old son from a Fort Smith residence.

Central Arkansas Water and Deltic Timber Corp. have finalized the sale of company land once planned for an upscale residential development. The utility closed the $8,175,000 deal on Wednesday and now owns the land near Lake Maumelle’s southern shore.

The Arkansas RiverCatz Basketball team owes the Pine Bluff Convention Center more than $23,000, and the Royal Arkansas Hotel & Suites about $5,000 for services and events and has not paid the city’s promotions taxes for several months, according to the Pine Bluff Commercial.

A plumbing company apprentice sued his former employer Thursday, claiming his civil rights were violated when he was fired for not attending church. The lawsuit was filed by Clifford D. Randel of Benton County. Randel claims he was wrongfully terminated and is seeking $50,000 in punitive damages from Allied Plumbing and Drain Service in Siloam Springs.

A bill strengthening penalties for cockfighting and other events pitting animals against each other ran into a roadblock in Congress on Wednesday. Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Okla., says he has blocked the bill that would make it a felony to transport animals across state lines for purposes of participating in fights.

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