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Monument destroyer acquitted 

Minimum wage petition gathering begins and a pivotal school case.

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Monument destroyer acquitted

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza last week found Michael Tate Reed innocent of a first-degree criminal mischief charge for knocking down the Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds last year with his car. The judge cited mental disease or defect for the acquittal.

Reed, who had been at the State Hospital since his arrest in July 2017, was returned there. The hospital could eventually decide he can be released.

Reed was arrested after he drove his car into the newly installed monument the night it was put in place. He'd destroyed a similar monument in Oklahoma City. That case was resolved by an agreement that he would get additional treatment.

His family said Reed needed mental treatment, but problems arise when he fails to stay on his medication.

A new monument, with protective pillars, has been installed. Two lawsuits seek its removal as a violation of church-state separation.

Canvassers working minimum wage proposal

David Couch, a Little Rock lawyer who submitted the ballot proposal to raise Arkansas's minimum wage, says that canvassers have been lined up to gather signatures on petitions to qualify the measure for the ballot.

The minimum wage act — pushing the minimum from $8.50 an hour to $12 in stages by 2022, will require 67,887 signatures.

Also, the paid canvassers will be working to complete a drive begun more than a year ago to shorten term limits for Arkansas legislators, from the current 16 years (and longer depending on luck of the draw for senators) to 10.

The proposed term limits, an amendment to the state Constitution, and another amendment to authorize additional casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties, will take 84,859 signatures. They must be submitted by July 6.

Couch said nonprofit groups, not organized labor, will be helping the minimum wage drive, but won't be identified until the money is delivered and report filed.

Pivotal school case

Legal proceedings are underway in federal court in El Dorado that could decide whether Arkansas may legally assist the resegregation of public schools.

Three school districts — Hope, Camden Fairview and Lafayette County — are challenging a state decision that the districts can't opt out of state law allowing school choice, even though they have ongoing federal desegregation cases and transfers from the districts would demonstrably promote white flight and resegregation of public schools.

The districts, represented by the Allen Roberts Law Firm in Camden, want a federal judge to rule that their court desegregation cases and segregative impact of transfers allow them to prohibit transfers from the district. It further asks for a declaration that the 2017 Arkansas law that gives the state Board of Education control over the opt-outs is unconstitutional.

The Arkansas law, adopted in 1989, that allowed interdistrict school transfers specifically prohibited transfers that harmed desegregation in either district. But court cases and new state law began changing the landscape, with a notable push from the "school choice" lobby led by the considerable dollars of the Walton Family Foundation. The law changes removed prohibition of transfers on account of racial impact. In 2015, the law said districts had to prove they remained under an active federal court desegregation order to opt out. Then, in 2017, the standard of proof of an existing case was made harder and it reserved final judgment for the state Board of Education.

The state decision is an "unconstitutional usurpation" of judicial authority, the districts argue. The districts say that the case is "eerily similar" to the landmark Cooper v. Aaron case in 1958 that said the state could not usurp the authority of federal courts. That case cleared the way for desegregation of Central High School, opposed in segregationist law and the Arkansas constitution. The districts' legal pleading says the General Assembly "cannot through the 2017 Act vest the ADE with authority to interpret federal court desegregation orders. Nor can the General Assembly assign itself the authority to amend or alter binding federal court orders ... ."

The deadline for approving school transfers is July 1 and parties in this case hope for speedy consideration by the federal court. The larger circumstance won't go away, whatever the outcome. Arkansas is encouraging segregation by class and race through charter schools and the school-transfer law, aided by financial and political support from the wealthiest people in Arkansas. That won't stop, even if a handful of districts are protected. Jacksonville-North Pulaski, El Dorado and Hot Springs and three of its neighboring school districts currently enjoy protection from the transfer law.

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