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God and guns 

Session wraps up, 30 Crossing and more.

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Quote of the Week:

"Where I'm from, the God I serve does not tell me that I have a fundamental right to carry a gun. ... Go to hell with your guns. I'm voting for the damn bill. I don't want to."

— State Sen. Stephanie Flowers (D-Pine Bluff), unhappily endorsing a narrow exemption from the new "enhanced carry" statute allowing concealed weapons to be brought onto Arkansas college campuses and other places. The exemption bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe), at least allows handguns to be banned from college athletic events. It passed the legislature at the urging of the Southestern Conference, despite opposition from the National Rifle Association. Flowers directed her frustrated remarks at NRA darling Sen. Trent Garner (R-El Dorado), who opposed the exemption and spoke passionately on the "God-given" right to carry a gun.

Session wraps up

On Monday, the 2017 regular session of the legislature finally came to an end (barring any surprises between now and formal adjournment in May). Among the worst of the last-minute actions was passage of House Bill 1742, which will put a stop to class-action lawsuits under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act — bad news for Arkansas consumers, good news for the unscrupulous businesses that prey on them. Then there's Senate Bill 550, which enhances criminal penalties for "mass picketing," a term defined broadly enough to include peaceful protests.

Still, be thankful that some of the most awful bills of 2017 were blocked in the last weeks of the session. A renewed attempt to create a pilot program to establish a school voucher system failed in the House on a 43-50 vote. An anti-transgender "bathroom bill" by Sen. Linda Collins-Smith (R-Pocahontas) never made it out of a Senate committee, and neither did a more modest (but still objectionable) measure by Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville). Though other FOIA exemptions passed, the worst of them did not; that would be a bill by Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) to exempt from the Freedom of Information Act any communications between an attorney and a public client. A kooky measure by Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) urging Congress to propose a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage was defeated in the House, 50-25.

Also defeated, though, were two decent tax measures. The House refused to reconsider a proposal by Rep. Dan Douglas (R-Bentonville) to give voters the option of approving a higher gas tax to pay for much-needed road repairs. And on Monday, shortly before adjourning, it voted down legislation aimed at making internet-based vendors collect sales taxes. State revenue — who needs it?

Public hearing set on 30 Crossing

The board of Metroplan, Central Arkansas's regional transportation authority, voted to hold a public hearing on the controversial proposal to expand a seven-mile stretch of Interstate 30 in Little Rock and North Little Rock. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department's 30 Crossing project — which would pour several additional lanes of concrete through the downtown area — would require the Metroplan board to amend its federally mandated long-range transportation planning document. Metroplan Executive Director Tab Townsell said the significance of the $650 million project demanded a hearing. "If we are the ultimate decision- makers, we should be the ones who hear directly from the public," Townsell said.

The winds of change on climate

Ted Thomas, chairman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, gained some national attention for remarks at a meeting of state electricity regulators in which he criticized climate policy inaction from the White House and Congress. A former Republican legislator, Thomas was appointed to the PSC by Governor Hutchinson and has been critical of Obama-era regulations — but like many energy insiders, he knows President Trump's talk of bringing back coal jobs makes no sense. "I think that carbon emissions are correlated with global temperature increase, and humans are causing enough of it that it's a public policy problem," Thomas told The Atlantic in a follow-up interview.

Searching for a millionaire

A winning $177 million lottery ticket in the multistate MegaMillions drawing was sold at a Valero gas station in Stuttgart, the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery confirmed over the weekend. The prize is payable as a lump sum of $107 million, although state and federal taxes will knock off almost $50 million from that amount. As of Tuesday, no winner had stepped forward to claim the jackpot. He or she has 180 days to do so.

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