Week in Review 12-17 to 12-23

State Representative Speaks seeks a third term

State Representative Nelda Speaks has announced her intent to run for a third term for District 100 which includes a portion of Baxter County. Speaks serves on the House Education Committee and the House City, County and Local Affairs where she chairs the Local Government Personnel Permanent Subcommittee. She also serves on the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee and Joint Performance Review.

Speaks has served previous terms as Baxter County Treasurer and Justice of the Peace.

She says the committees in which she currently serves brings her closer to her constituents.



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Speaks also co-chaired the Alzheimer's Committee with a desire to help families devastated by the disease.

She remains an advocate for Arkansas State University Mountain Home, including the new technical center. The technical Center received the largest chunk of General Improvement Funds (GIF), at $16,500, which was part of the $70,000 worth of GIF funds she helped distribute since 2015.

Speaks also had partial responsibility for getting a GED program at the university so locals would no longer have to travel an hour-and-a-half to get to the nearest testing site.

Speaks is a mother of one daughter and lives in Mountain Home with her husband Benny.


Future of many concealed instructors uncertain following enhanced rules passage

Efforts to expand the state's concealed carry legislation took four years to gain passage. But when the Arkansas legislature adjourned earlier this year the state was now the 10th in the nation with a campus carry law.

The new enhanced concealed carry law morphed out of a bill originally intended for faculty and staff at public universities. But tweaking of the bill in the Senate led to expanded locations and enhanced training requirements.

The new enhanced concealed carry law created a special licensing program allowing permit holders to bring weapons not just to public college campuses but to certain government buildings and bars. With its passage, legislators forged a compromise requiring State Police to set training guidelines within 120 days upon the law's effective date on September 1st.

The new law quietly faded from the news until last week when the State Police's newly drafted rules reached the legislature's Administrative Rules and Regulations Committee Tuesday, where Senator Scott Flippo of Bull Shoals holds membership.

By Friday when the rules reached the full Legislative Council, the governing body when lawmakers are not in session, Senator Flippo says it became a circus-like atmosphere. He says there were multiple motions and a great deal of confusion. However, ultimately, the State Police rules were approved. Senator Flippo says he joined the prevailing side of the measure he described as far from perfect.



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Passage also required additional training, not just for those wishing to secure an enhanced permit, but for all of the state's 1,100 certified concealed carry instructors. If the instructors fail to secure the additional training, they lose their certification.

Senator Flippo says he is concerned about this instructor training based on the feedback he is receiving.



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Senator Flippo says he is confident when the General Assembly convenes remaining issues with the new law will be addressed.

Two questions remain. When the legislature convenes in 2018 it will be for a fiscal session, requiring approval of two-thirds of the membership in both chambers to address legislation other than those dealing with the budget. Short of waiving the rules, that would mean it will be 2019 before considering amendments to the new law.

The second question regards the State Police. Senator Flippo says it remains to be seen if the State Police will begin pulling the licenses of those instructors who do not step forward to complete the enhanced training or wait until the legislature has the opportunity to address the measure.

According to State Police, Arkansas is home to nearly 225,000 concealed handgun license holders.


Prison parolee released Friday

A Mountain Home man, 40-year-old Terry Palmere, was paroled into the community on Friday.

The notification of Palmere's parole came from the Arkansas Victim Information and Notification System (VINE).

On Monday, a VINE noticed indicated a verdict has been reached in Palmere's parole hearing and his parole has been approved. Palmere was sentenced to 13 years in the Arkansas Department of Correction in March 2014 on a number of charges ranging from theft of property, being a felon in possession of a firearm and battery.

Palmere has a lengthy record, including a number of violent acts, dating back to 1994.

According to the Arkansas parole Board Policy Manual, the release of an inmate is subject to conditions imposed by the Board and to supervision. Supervising officers work for the Arkansas Department of Community Correction.

Eligibility dates are automatically computed by the Arkansas Department of Correction based on the crime and date of the conviction and the length of the sentence.


Former Melbourne legislator, judge fits description of conspirator

Further details are surfacing connecting a former Melbourne legislator, county judge and lobbyist to a New Jersey man who pleaded guilty Monday in Missouri fedearl court to a single count of conspiracy.

Arkansas Business reports the New Jersey man, 62-year-old Donald Andrew Jones, was involved in a conspiracy with Arkansas lobbyists, one fitting the descriptions of former state Rep. Eddie Cooper of Melbourne. Cooper also served as Izard County judge and went on to become a registered lobbyist.

The second lobbyist in the conspiracy appears to be Milton "Rusty" Cranford of Rogers. Cranford has been identified as a participant in the kickback scheme to which former state Rep. Micah Neal pleaded guilty in January.

Neither Cooper nor Cranford has been charged with any crimes.

The Missouri prosecution of Jones involves the same nonprofit health care provider that allegedly paid kickbacks to Neal. The provider, Alternative Opportunities Inc., did business as Dayspring Behavioral Health Services.

Jones waived indictment in the Western Division of Missouri and pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy. He admitted conspiring with at least five other people to use nearly $1 million from Alternative Opportunities for personal inrichmen and for direct political activity forbidden by tax-exempt nonprofit organizations. Alternative Opportunities is now part of Preferred Family Healthcare, Inc. of Kirksville, Missouri. The Associated Press says Preferred Family Healthcare is a Springfield-based nonprofit.

Jones also agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors investigating the conspiracy and any other crimes about which he has knowledge.

In Jones' plea agreement, an unindicted conspirator, "Person #7," is described as a resident of Melbourne, who was an Arkansas legislator from 2006-11 and a registered lobbyist from 2011 on. Person #7 was also a member of the Alternative Opportunities board of directors from 2009-2015, and an employee of Alternative Opportunities from 2010 until February 2017.

All of these identifying characteristics generally match with Cooper. Arkansas Business notes the Batesville Guard newspaper reported earlier this month Cooper was fired in April, the day after he informed the Alternative Opportunities board of directors of a pending federal investigtion.


Twin Lakes Recovery sues City of Cotter

The Twin Lakes Recovery Center of Northern Arkansas, one of a series of state-wide community based re-entry facilities, has filed suit in U.S. District Court against the City of Cotter citing violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.

The Twin Lakes Recovery Center opened its doors in April 2016 after being granted a license by the state earlier that year. The facility housed prison inmates in a six-month program designed to help them prepare for parole status. At one time it housed 10 inmates and was licensed for up to 23.

At the center of the dispute is action taken by the City of Cotter to terminate Twin Lakes Recovery's occupational permit, saying the facility opened in April but the center's officials did not request the document until May. As a result, city officials contended the facility had opened without notification to surrounding residents of its existence.

In a June 2016 meeting, most of the attendees said they were not against the program itself, but their main issue was the location. The center was located on Highway 62 less than a mile from the Cotter School District campus and the Walnut Lane Apartments, a senior apartment complex.

That month, the 10 inmates previously housed in Cotter were relocated to similar facilities around the state.

In the lawsuit filed November 30th, Twin Lakes Recovery, with its principal place of business now in Flippin, notes it is licensed by the Arkansas Department of Community Correction under state statute to operate a re-entry facility, including in the City of Cotter.

It further notes, municipalities and local government subdivisions in Arkansas are not vested with veto power over the Department of Community Correction. The Arkansas Constitution prohibits municipalities from enacting any ordinance contrary to the general laws of the state.

In addition, it notes there is no provision for termination in the city's ordinance regarding occupational tax permits. There is also no provision in the ordinance suggesting its purpose is to protect the health and safety of any persons.

In a letter dated June 10th, 2016, the City of Cotter notified Twin Lakes it would be terminating its occupational tax permit. Prior to this occasion, no business operating within the City of Cotter had ever had its occupational tax permit terminated. In response, Twin Lakes maintains on numerous occasions it had requested, unsuccessfully, for reinstatement of its permit.

The action by the City of Cotter, Twin Lakes Recovery maintains, is both a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against the facility's former residents, as well as the Fair Housing Act.

Through the suit, Twin Lakes seeks to prohibit the City of Cotter from blocking the operation of a re-entry facility and from terminating its occupational tax permit.

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