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Safety commission makes recommendations 

Also: State lawmaker arrested, attorney general announces Public Integrity Division

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: The Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol got a special covering June 30 as demonstrators gathered to protest President Trump's treatment of immigrant families seeking asylum.
  • PHOTO OF THE WEEK: The Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol got a special covering June 30 as demonstrators gathered to protest President Trump's treatment of immigrant families seeking asylum.

Safety commission makes recommendations

The Arkansas School Safety Commission has released its draft recommendations to Governor Hutchinson and they include a recommendation for armed security at every campus.

Members of the commission have said local districts would still retain autonomy on decisions about the recommendations.

The draft gives these strategies for more security on campus:

• Recruit retired police officers as auxiliary officers or commissioned school security officers in schools. The CSSOs could be volunteers to save money.

• Allocate office space for law enforcement to use during the day.

• Use working or retired officers as substitute teachers.

• Schools should collaborate with local law enforcement and seek ways to increase officer traffic on campus.

• Exclude persons who are not psychologically fit for service as a CSSO.

State lawmaker arrested

State Rep. Michael "Mickey" Gates (R-Hot Springs), 58, surrendered last week at the Garland County Jail on felony charges that he'd failed to pay state taxes for six years.

The State Police arrested Gates on six Class D felony charges for failure to file state income tax returns. The case was put together by the state Department of Finance and Administration, state Special Prosecutor Jack McQuary and the State Police. Gates is said to owe $259,841.95 in taxes, penalties and interest. Bond was set at $1,500.

Gates, who's served two terms in the House, has a Democratic opponent this year, Kevin Rogers.

"Representative Gates had been fully cooperating with the agencies in the audits and in trying to pay the back taxes, and the criminal charges came to him as a complete surprise. We will continue to cooperate and hopefully have a resolution soon," his attorney, Joe Churchwell, said in a statement.

The arrest warrant indicates Gates hadn't filed tax returns since 2003, but statute of limitations limited the number of charges to six years.

Time to battle public corruption, Rutledge says

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced last week the creation of a Public Integrity Division within her office's existing Special Investigations Department. That department was created in 2009 to investigate cybercrimes and metal theft. The new division will have two investigators, salaried at around $58,000. The new division will join the Ark Trust Public Corruption Task Force, formed in 2013 by the state's U.S. attorneys, the Arkansas State Police, the FBI and local police agencies after the arrest of former State Treasurer Martha Shoffner. She was convicted of bribery and extortion in 2015.

Rutledge is amid a re-election campaign. She faces Democrat Mike Lee in November.

Former State Rep. Micah Neal (R-Springdale) pleaded guilty to fraud in a kickback case involving General Improvement Funds in January 2017. There have, of course, been several other guilty pleas and convictions involving GIF money since then. So why, Rutledge was asked at a news conference, did it take so long for the attorney general's office to get involved? "This is a project I've been working on for some time to ensure that we have the resources in place," she said.

Rutledge said she didn't regret defending the state in an ultimately successful lawsuit brought by former state Rep. Mike Wilson (D-Jacksonville) to declare the state's scheme to deploy General Improvement Funds through regional planning districts unconstitutional. "It's my job as the attorney general to defend the laws of Arkansas," she said.

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