Roundup of Arkansas editorials

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Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Texarkana Gazette, July 14, 2014

Final decision?

In December of last year, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby struck down as unconstitutional Utah's Amendment 3, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman, saying it violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment. He issued an injunction barring Utah from prohibiting same-sex marriages.

The state appealed to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and asked for a stay on the ruling pending that appeal. The appeals court said it would fast-track the appeal but declined to stay the lower court ruling.

In the meantime, hundreds of same-sex couples obtained marriage licenses and were married in Utah.

Well, Utah didn't like that very much so they asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay Judge Shelby's ruling.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued an injunction staying the judge's ruling "pending final disposition of the appeal by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit."

Late last month the 10th Circuit announced its decision. And it wasn't what Utah officials wanted to hear.

For the first time, a federal appeals court ruled that marriage is a right not only for heterosexual couples, but for same-sex couples as well.

A historic and controversial ruling, to say the least.

That doesn't mean same-sex marriages will resume any time soon in Utah, though.

The court stayed its ruling until the state could appeal to the nation's highest court. And last week Utah did just that.

The Supreme Court is on hiatus until the first Monday in October. So there will be a wait until we know any more.

What will the court do?

Well, they can decide to hear the case. They could wait until other such cases wind their way through the appeals process and combine them with Utah's appeal. Or they may reject the appeal and let the 10th Circuit's ruling stand.

We don't see that last happening.

It looks like the question of whether gay marriage is a Constitutional right will finally make its way to the Supreme Court in its next term. And how it will be decided is anyone's guess.

There are almost certainly four votes in favor of gay marriage as a right. And four votes against it.

That leaves Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy — the court's swing vote — as the key player in this.

What will he do?

Kennedy has a mixed record on gay rights. For example, he voted to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act but voted to uphold the right of the Boy Scouts of America to prohibit homosexuals from becoming scoutmasters.

That means his vote on the Utah case is anybody's guess.

Stay tuned.

Fort Smith Times Record, July 13, 2014

Different goals should lead to different tests for alternative schools

Although we have always supported the hypothetical goal of leaving no students behind, we also have always held that in reality, not all students will make the same progress. Thus we have argued that alternative schools like Fort Smith's Belle Point secondary school, which enrolls students who do not succeed in traditional schools, should not be judged by the same criteria as traditional schools face.

Alternative schools offer direct intervention and immediate support for students who aren't going to make it without those two things. Certainly there are as many reasons to divert students to alternative settings as there are students, but Fort Smith schools Superintendent Benny Gooden, speaking last week to the state Board of Education, listed categories that comprise many of the reasons. Behavioral issues, troubles with the law, substance-abuse issues, pregnancy, poverty and homelessness are common among the students, he said, as reported in Friday's edition.

By their very definition, alternative schools serve students who aren't achieving at desired levels. The schools aim to shore up students in whatever way they need so they can achieve at those levels — and go back to traditional classrooms. To judge alternative schools by test results is illogical. Once many students reach desired scores on tests, they are returned to traditional schools, where they will again be judged by traditional standards. Moving many students on this trajectory is one measure of success for alternative schools.

But there are many others. In some cases, keeping the students in school is an end in itself. Many will get their only healthful meals of the day there. Some will benefit from exposure to admirable adult role models. Others will discover their time to find or cause trouble is limited. Some may experience coherent rules, consequences and rewards for the first time in their lives.

Election Commissioner Tony Wood could have expanded his comment Thursday to include the schools themselves when he said about the students: "I think success for these kids has a different definition."

The students who attend Belle Point are not throw-away kids; they are students who need extra care in handling. The alternative school may well be a "place of last resort," as Superintendent Gooden described it, but that does not make it the end of the line for the students. It is rather a lifeline for many and a road to a brighter future for some.

Alternative schools, like other schools and like students, need to be evaluated, but evaluating these places of special care should not be punitive, any more than assigning students to the school is punitive. We, through the Board of Education, need to identify realistic and worthwhile goals for the schools and for the students. That doesn't mean leaving them behind. It means doing all we can to help them to get to a good place.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 15, 2014

Bad ideas galore

It's not that all the ideas that make it onto the ballot in Arkansas are bad ones. It just seems like it this year.

Happily, a couple of proposals about legalizing marijuana aren't going to be on the ballot this November. Not enough signatures. Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Arkansas.

Then there's that drive to raise the minimum wage in Arkansas to $8.50 by 2017. Even though the change could hurt a lot of workers in lower-paying jobs.

Why? Well, here's what the Congressional Budget Office said in a study earlier this year: A plan to raise the federal minimum wage might indeed mean more pay for some 16.5 million workers in this country — in the course of leaving half a million more without any job at all.

Anybody who thinks businesses that employ minimum-wage workers are just going to eat the increased expense of doing business hasn't been paying attention. It's time all of us did, even if it means taking a refresher in Economics 101.

Then there is the bunch that wants to make the whole state wet. No, no, Woodruff County, we're not talking about more rain. We're talking about booze— a commodity near and dear to many a newspaperman's heart. It's said that, back in the day, many an editor kept a bottle in the lower right-hand drawer of his desk— if only he could find it. The drawer, we mean.

And what would any confab of journalists be without an open bar to relieve the ennui of evening sessions? Answer: It would be even more boring than a confab of journalists. (We believe the collective noun for such a gathering is a clatter, as in a clatter of editorial writers.)

So on first blush, and second, and third, you would think a proposal to allow the sale of booze — excuse us, alcoholic beverages — anywhere in this good old populist/puritan Arkansas would be one that all good and true editorial writers could drink to.

Except ...

If the voters in County X choose to ban the sale of alcohol in their own county, why shouldn't they be able to? It's called local control, or, where alcohol is concerned in this state, local option.

No, it doesn't make economic sense to us, either. (Or any other kind.) Think of the loss of tax revenue pouring into surrounding counties.

Then think about all those people driving half an hour or longer to the nearest liquor store. Worse yet, think about them driving back from the liquor store after they've started imbibing. Some folks in the southern part of the state drive to Louisiana to get their booze. Laissez les bons temps rouler! In the Pelican State, liquor stores have drive-through windows — where you can pick up a daiquiri-to-go. Complete with a straw. Drinking and driving may be against the law in Arkansas, but in Louisiana it's tradition.

But there are a lot folks in this state who just don't want a liquor store on every corner. Or even beer at the nearest convenience store in handy reach of the kids.

Sure, those same counties have a lot of private clubs with alcohol permits, bless them all to pieces. As a late, great quote-machine named Will Rogers once said, prohibition is better than no liquor at all.

But why should those of us with a taste for something other than sweet tea impose our tastes on others? Why should folks living in Pulaski County, the oil patch in El Dorado or the Delta counties tell those primitives off in the piney woods or faraway hills whether to let their stores sell booze?

Answer: They shouldn't. Why not leave that decision to the locals? And learn to live with democracy. Think globally but drink locally! Those who object to living in a dry county can organize and change the law — in their own county.

Here's a better way of doing all this: A couple of groups in Saline and Craighead Counties collected signatures earlier this year to put alcohol sales on the ballot come November.

In those counties only.

Today the county clerks in those locales are verifying signatures. If enough names are verified, the people in Saline and Craighead Counties will decide the matter. Their matter.

Just as if this were a state where, as the motto says, the people rule.

Maybe there's some good reason why local voters shouldn't be allowed to decide a local issue. And if we ever hear one, maybe we'll change our early, incautious impulse to oppose this statewide proposal. But we ain't heard one yet.

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