Interesting Bits :: Happening Around Arkansas

Crittenden County Farmers Market is back June 8th!

Farmers, Gardeners, Food Trucks and local artisans!  Call Morgan to reserve your spot!

Arkansas to Participate in Summer Food Program for Kids

Beginning this year, Arkansas will participate in a new program to help address food insecurity experienced in the summer months by many students and their families, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced Tuesday, Jan. 2.

The Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer Program for Children, or “Summer EBT,” will provide grocery-buying benefits to families with school-aged children who qualify for the free and reduced-price lunch program. Summer EBT is part of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) broader summer nutrition program efforts, which also include to-go or delivered meals in rural communities and group meal sites for kids.

Through Summer EBT, families will receive approximately $40 per month per eligible child in grocery benefits. Children who are directly certified for free school meals through programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or Medicaid or who have applied for and were deemed eligible for free or reduced-price lunches will qualify for Summer EBT.

Summer EBT cards are fully funded by the federal government, although costs to administer the program are split between the state and the federal government. States were required to notify the USDA of their intention to implement the Summer EBT program in 2024 by Jan. 1.

Nearly 315,000 children in Arkansas may be eligible for Summer EBT benefits in 2024, according to estimates by the Food Research Action Center. The map below shows percentages of children deemed eligible for free or reduced-price lunches by school district in the 2022-23 school year. As the map demonstrates, district-wide eligibility ranges widely — from 21% to 98%.

The Summer EBT program was informed by previous demonstration waivers for the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer for Children program and the Pandemic EBT program established during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The USDA cites the success of these programs in reducing child hunger and improving diet quality as the basis for Summer EBT.

Long-term implementation of COVID-era innovations and flexibilities was a recommendation cited in the Arkansas Governor’s Food Desert Working Group report. ACHI was a participant in the working group and helped to inform the recommendations cited in the report. ACHI has also developed an explainer on food deserts — areas where people have few to no convenient options for obtaining affordable and healthy foods — which are a contributor to food insecurity.

Food insecurity — defined as limited or uncertain access to adequate food — is a major issue in Arkansas. Nearly 17% of Arkansas households were food-insecure between 2020-2022, the highest among all states and the District of Columbia. Nationally, approximately 11% of households were food-insecure during the same timeframe.

23 people arrested during two-day operation by state police in Crittenden County

 

CRITTENDEN COUNTY, Ark. – In just over a day, 23 people were arrested in Crittenden County, according to Arkansas State Police (ASP).

ASP said state police worked with the West Memphis Police Department, Marion Police Department and Crittenden County Sheriff’s Office in a 33-hour saturation of Crittenden County that started on Thursday, May 9. During that time, 372 citations were issued, and 23 people were arrested on charges including possession of guns, drugs, DWI and fleeing, according to state police.

Eleven guns were seized, two stolen vehicles were recovered and “a variety” of illegal drugs were confiscated, including Fentanyl, prescription drugs, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana, ASP said.

Civic Arkansas Listening Sessions Begin May 9

The Institute has begun scheduling local listening sessions as part of the next phase of Civic Arkansas. We are excited to move into this phase of our work, seeking to learn directly from Arkansans. We will start with listening sessions in May at the following locations:

  • Van Buren County: May 9 from 6-7:30 p.m.
    • Van Buren Courthouse Annex at 1414 Hwy 65 S, Suite 131 in Clinton, AR
  • Crittenden County: May 21 from 6-7:30 p.m.
    • Eugene Woods Civic Center at 212 W Polk Avenue in West Memphis, AR
  • Clark County: May 28 from 5:30-7 p.m.
    • Henderson State University’s Garrison Grand Ballroom at 1100 Henderson St. in Arkadelphia, AR
  • Faulkner County: May 30 from 5:30-7 p.m.
    • Faulkner County Library at 1900 Tyler St. in Conway, AR

If you would like an invitation to one or any of these listening sessions, please fill out the brief form below.

The goal of each session is to engage as many people as possible from as many backgrounds as possible (e.g., social, economic, racial, and political). Each 90-minute listening session will be hosted by a local community partner and facilitated by Institute staff. We hope to hear about the magnificent work happening in towns, cities, and counties to improve the lives of Arkansans and build social connectedness. We hope to learn about barriers keeping individuals from volunteering, organizing neighborhood or community events, meeting city officials, participating in local government, and registering and exercising the right to vote.

Shana Chaplin, Chief Program Officer

“Local people solve local problems best. That belief drives us to listen and learn in order to then facilitate civil dialogue within communities and organizations as we seek solutions. The Arkansas Civic Health Index Report highlights our state’s strengths in collective impact, owing to the ‘small-townness’ of Arkansas. Only by continuing to engage each other in conversation and learning from one another can we maintain that path.”

What is Civic Arkansas?

Civic Arkansas is our latest initiative to amplify civic engagement across our beloved state. The insights from the Arkansas Civic Health Index Report drive the creation of this program. Until now, no published report has described the conditions of civic and political engagement in Arkansas. Following the report’s advice, we want to encourage civil conversations about important topics, and we have the perfect process to do so — the Rockefeller Ethic. We invite you to join us in making Arkansas a state known for its robust civic engagement.

Arkansas Supreme Court

Arkansas Supreme Court reverses West Memphis Three ruling, allows for DNA testing

The Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday to reverse a circuit court’s ruling could lead to additional DNA testing in the 31-year-old West Memphis Three murder case.

Damien Echols’ appeal to the state’s high court stems from his pursuit of exoneration. When three eight-year old boys were killed in 1993 in West Memphis, Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, all teens at the time, were convicted of their murders.

Echols was sentenced to death, but DNA testing later established that neither Echols, Baldwin nor Misskelley was the source of any of the biological material tested.

All three men were released from prison in 2011 after entering Alford pleas, receiving a time-served sentence plus 10 years’ suspended sentences. Echols has continued to maintain his innocence and sought exoneration.

In January 2022, Echols filed a petition to conduct additional DNA testing under Act 1780 of 2001, which permits those convicted of a crime to access new testing developed through technological advances to demonstrate their innocence.

The Crittenden County Circuit Court in June 2022 denied Echols’ petition, saying it could not grant habeas corpus relief because he was not in custody at the time of his petition. Habeas corpus requires a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or court.

Echols appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court, arguing that the plain language of the law provides that a person convicted of a crime may make a motion for additional testing.

Writing for the majority, Associate Justice Karen Baker agreed, saying that “it is clear that ‘any person…who has alleged actual innocence of the offense or offenses for which the person was convicted’ is entitled to petition for a writ of habeas corpus.”

“Therefore, we conclude that the circuit court misinterpreted the plain language of Act 1780 and, as a result, clearly erred when it dismissed Echols’s Act 1780 petition on the grounds that he was not in State custody at the time it was filed,” Baker wrote. “Accordingly, we reverse and remand.”

Special Justice Mary Carole Young joined the majority opinion, while Chief Justice Dan Kemp and Associate Justice Cody Hiland did not participate.

Associate Justices Shawn Womack and Barbara Webb, and Special Justice Marcia Hearnsberger dissented.

In her dissenting opinion, Webb said “the majority’s decision obliterates any sense of finality in our criminal justice system” because their interpretation of Act 1780 means anyone convicted of crime, regardless of whether they’re in state custody, could “seek DNA or other scientific testing even if it would not prove their innocence.”

Webb argued Echols was not entitled to habeas relief because he’s not in state custody and DNA testing would not prove his innocence because his first conviction didn’t rely on DNA evidence. Webb wrote that the jury was presented with evidence that Echols knew facts that weren’t public knowledge and multiple witnesses testified that Echols confessed to the murders.

“In reaching its decision, the majority ignores common sense and basic legal principles to embark on a fruitless endeavor to exonerate a depraved murderer,” Webb said. “Their decision only serves to reopen old wounds for the victims’ families and the West Memphis community.”

Additionally, Webb argued, Echols is not entitled to habeas relief because “his guilty plea constituted his trial, and his conviction is not subject to collateral attack.”

Regarding the 2011 Alford plea, Baker noted in the majority opinion that “unlike a traditional guilty plea, an admission of guilt is not inherent in an Alford plea.”

“As such, we disagree with the State that Echols’s Alford plea precluded him from later challenging his conviction on the grounds of actual innocence pursuant to Act 1780,” she wrote.

Echols said in a social media post Thursday that he hopes the court’s decision will help the case come to a resolution.

“Hopefully this will allow us to solve this case once and for all,” he said. “Thank you to everyone who has supported us for the past 31 years. I’ll keep you posted as things move forward.”

 

AMERICAN PICKERS to Film in Arkansas

The American Pickers are excited to return to Arkansas! They plan to film episodes of The History Channel hit
television series throughout your area in June 2024.

AMERICAN PICKERS is a documentary series that explores the fascinating world of antique “picking” on The History
Channel. The hit show follows skilled pickers in the business, as they hunt for America’s most valuable antiques.
They are always excited to find historically significant or rare items, in addition to unforgettable Characters and
their collections.

As they hit the back roads from coast to coast, the Pickers are on a mission to recycle and rescue forgotten relics.
Along the way, they want to meet characters with amazing stories and fun items. They hope to give historically
significant objects a new lease on life while learning a thing or two about America’s past along the way. The Pickers
have seen a lot of rusty gold over the years and are always looking to discover something they’ve never seen
before. They are ready to find extraordinary items and hear fascinating tales about them.
The American Pickers TV Show is looking for leads and would love to explore your hidden treasure. If you or
someone you know has a unique item, story to tell, and is ready to sell…we would love to hear from you! Please
note, the Pickers DO NOT pick stores, flea markets, malls, auction businesses, museums, or anything open to the
public.

If interested, please send us your name, phone number, location, and description of the collection with
photos to:

americanpickers@cineflix.com or call (646) 493-2184

facebook: @GotAPick

 

 

Ribbon cutting held for Arkansas’ newest solar energy center

WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. (WMC) – Community members and elected officials gathered in West Memphis, Arkansas, on Thursday to celebrate the commissioning of the state’s newest solar energy center.

According to city officials and the project developer, the Big Cypress Solar Energy Center will deliver 20 megawatts of clean, renewable energy to West Memphis Utility customers with the capacity to generate up to 180 megawatts of solar power.

“West Memphis Utilities is building a better Arkansas with innovative ways to give our customers reliable, affordable and sustainable power,” said West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon. “Energy generated at Big Cypress Solar Energy Center is a perfect example. It adds to our portfolio of energy technologies, while ensuring we get the most value from our clean energy investments.”

The facility began commercial operation in January 2024. 300 jobs were created during its construction.

A subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources built, owns, and operates the facility. The company is the world’s largest generator of renewable energy from the wind and sun, and a world leader in battery energy storage.

NextEra Energy Resources is also developing the West Memphis Solar project.

“We are proud to work with the City of West Memphis to bring cost-effective, solar energy to its customers,” said Chelsea Howard, vice president of origination at NextEra Energy Resources. “This solar energy center will generate clean energy and at the same time provide significant tax revenue to Arkansas for years to come.”

The solar center is expected to add $7.9 million in tax revenue for Crittenden County over the next 35 years.