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Drug-reform blues

After mounting efforts of sorts in the last few legislative sessions, Arkansas drug reformers have abandoned hope of getting drug-reform legislation through the current legislature.

Drug Policy News, published in Fayetteville, said in its Winter issue, “As of January 31, 2007, the forecast is that no significant drug policy reform bills will be introduced in this session of the Arkansas General Assembly.” The newsletter quoted an unnamed legislator as saying that “no one is talking about marijuana” in the current session, “leading to the opinion that there is no interest in pursuing a bill that would reduce penalties for marijuana possession by adults, or that would allow for legal medical use.”

The News noted that legislators tend to sponsor bills they believe will pass. “Few legislators believe that a bill for medical marijuana will pass, since it has been put before [a] House committee in the last three sessions and failed to move out of committee. Even fewer believe that a bill to reduce penalties for marijuana possession would pass, since such measures sponsored by former Rep. [Jim] Lendall were never even scheduled for a committee hearing.”

Before dramatic drug reforms will be approved by the Arkansas legislature, the News said, “signicant numbers of constituents will have to bring up the topic with their elected representatives and write letters to the editor. Also, key interest groups such as law enforcement and civic organizations will need to endorse the proposal, or at least voice their intent to not oppose it. And supporters will need to raise at least $30,000 to hire a lobbyist.”

Church (schools) and state

The Department of Arkansas Heritage was not consulted in advance about an appropriation bill for DAH that was filed last week. HB 2190 would appropriate $100,000 to the Historic Preservation Division for “renovation, restoration and improvements” to the Old Main building at Arkansas Baptist College, a predominantly black college in Little Rock. Jacy Levinsky, business manager for DAH, said the department knew nothing about the bill until it received a copy Feb. 26, the last day for filing appropriation bills. Questions have been raised in past sessions, by the press if no one else, about bills giving state money to private, church-related institutions. Most of those bills were sponsored by black legislators for black colleges in their districts. The primary sponsor of HB 2190 is Rep. Eddie Cheatham of Crossett, who is white. Even if the appropriation is approved by the legislature, Arkansas Baptist might not get the money. Levinsky said the historic preservation staff required that projects meet certain criteria. HB 2190 says that the $100,000 would come from the state General Improvement Fund “or its successor fund or fund accounts.” Questions remain about how and whether the General Improvement Fund will be preserved.

Mommy cam

KTHV Channel 11 hasn’t let anchor Dawn Scott get rusty while on maternity leave. Within a week after the birth of her son Jackson Ty Stevenson Jones on Dec. 21, the station’s website was posting her online diary, detailing the trials, joys and travails of a new mother.

Starting two weeks ago during the 10 p.m. evening newscast, the station began airing short clips of Scott and her new son as a way of getting the audience reacquainted with Scott before her return to the anchor’s desk this spring. Scott’s diary entries, if tame, are still personal for a local talking head. She has written about a visit by young Jack’s great-grandfather, her struggle with the baby’s erratic sleeping habits and the source of his mouthful of an name (“Ty” for instance, comes from Scott’s cousin, who died in a car crash when she was a teen-ager).

Scott’s online diary and video clips are at todaysthv.com/news/blogs

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