Saturday, March 30, 2013

TOP STORY >> Vaquero’s willing to give back

Leader staff writer

Vaquero’s Mexican Grill next to AllFam Bowling in Cabot is serving up “More Mex than Tex” dishes with a side of family fun and Christian values.

Owners Thomas Whitten-burg and Shane Hamilton are proud to contribute to local charities while offering their customers the freshest of ingredients.

When a church group eats at their restaurant, 10 percent of the sales go back to the church. Vaquero’s has also donated gift cards to fundraisers for Little Rock Air Force Base organizations and youth groups.

Seniors and military families enjoy a 10 percent discount. Kids eat free on Tuesday nights.

Whittenburg said, “We saw the restaurant as a way to grow, in our eyes, the kingdom, to win souls. As such, it’s doing really well.”

But, he continued, “What really makes us so different is the style of food we have.”

Whittenburg touted the quality of the ingredients used in Vaquero’s $7 to $10 offerings.

“The chicken I buy (from Sanders farms) is slaughtered on Friday and in the restaurant on Sunday night. Buy it fresh and you get a better texture and flavor,” he said.

Vaquero’s also has a machine that makes tortillas from scratch.

The restaurant will be introducing a new menu with new flavors and healthier side items this year.

Whittenburg said he is also expanding its catering service.

The owner added that he is looking at opening new locations in the Little Rock area and out of state. Franchise opportunities are available.

The restaurant’s diverse menu and friendly atmosphere earned it first place as best Mexican eatery in KATV’s Little Rock A-List.

For more information, including contests and specials, visit the restaurant’s Facebook page,, website,, or sign up for its texting or e-mail service.

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville schools meeting set

Leader staff writer

Six studies over the past 35 years all say the same thing: Jacksonville can support its own school district without upsetting the required black-white ratio for either Jacksonville or the Pulaski County Special School District.

The Jacksonville/North Pulaski Education Corps will host a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the community center to highlight the latest report, which was released earlier this week.

This study, prepared by Dr. Winston Simpson, echoes the same conclusion from studies done in 1978, 2002, 2006, 2008 and 2010 that Jacksonville can operate its own school district.

Mayor Gary Fletcher has said that the lack of a local school district has been a detriment to the city’s economic growth.

The push for an independent local school district started in the 1960s. It has gained momentum ever since because part of the newest Jacksonville school is 40 years old and the perception, if not reality, is that tax money from Jacksonville was going to support county schools and construction south of the city.

There was also the long-term leadership disarray in the district, which resulted in the state taking it over in 2011.

The latest study shows the proposed Jacksonville school district would encompass 100 square miles all within the confines of the city and have 4,000 students and 11 schools – Adkins Pre K Center, Arnold Drive, Bayou Meto, Murrell Taylor, Pinewood, Tolleson and Warren Dupree elementary schools, Jacksonville Middle School and North Pulaski and Jacksonville high schools — all sliced from PCSSD.

Two other closed school buildings would be included: Jacksonville Elementary and Jacksonville Girls Middle School.

The study, using 2012 enrollment figures, shows that the new district “would have minimal effect on the racial makeup of the remaining PCSSD and that the racial makeup of the new district would include a slightly higher percent of black students than currently exists in the current PCSSD. The new Jacksonville district would be 48.1 percent black. PCSSD is 44.2 percent black.

The county district collects 40.7 mills in property taxes, which comes to almost $96 million. If Jacksonville gets its own district, the taxation rate would remain at 40.7 mills, but could be voted higher.

Splitting PCSSD into two would give Jacksonville $13.8 million of the tax levy and the smaller PCSSD would still get $83 million. Both districts would also receive desegregation money as long as the state continues to make those types of payments. Currently that would be $3.9 million for the Jacksonville district and $16 million for the decreased county district.

Daniel Gray, a spokesman for the local education group, is happy with the study’s results, but added that it was “pretty much as expected. Previous feasibility studies have shown an independent Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District were plausible, and this latest study continues to support that position.”

Gray also said, “The latest study goes into more detail in a variety of areas and makes the strongest case year to support our efforts.”

The study backs up what Jacksonville and the school board said they knew in 2009 — that city schools and the district would be better off if Jacksonville split from PCSSD. That was before the state came in and dissolved PCSSD.

The district passed a resolution last year in support of a new Jacksonville school district. The city must now petition the state Education Department to take the issue before the federal court monitoring PCSSD on desegregation issues. The court could give the city permission to hold a special election on forming the new Jacksonville district.

State Rep. Mark Perry, who is also a member of the local coalition, said, “There’s light at the end of the tunnel. We need the people of Jacksonville and North Pulaski to show up and get these signatures gathered so we can get this issue before Judge Marshall and make this district a reality.”

TOP STORY >> School chief backs effort for sales tax

Leader staff writer

Cabot’s superintendent thinks residents should vote “yes” in the upcoming sales tax extension election.

Early voting begins Tues-day on the one-cent sales tax that would pay for $40 million in projects.

The head of schools spoke as a community member and not officially for the district.

“The needs of our community are great and it is my opinion that we are putting ourselves at a disadvantage if we do not move forward,” Tony Thurman said in an e-mail to The Leader. The newspaper asked for his position on the proposed extension that would pay for a baseball field and outdoor swimming pool complex off Hwy. 321, sewer improvements in the Hwy. 5 area to help attract businesses, a new library in the old Knight’s building on Main Street, the north interchange, expansion of the community center and a drainage project in the Highlands area.

“This is a great time to consider such an option because (interest) rates are so low and funds can be stretched further,” Thurman said.

“We need a library that can adequately accommodate our community. We have worked with the library board and there is a willingness to offer more programming for children and adults. Unfortunately, they are unable to provide many of the services offered in other communities simply because our facility is inadequate. We need a location that is centrally located with adequate parking that has the space to provide the library resources being provided in neighboring communities,” Thurman explained.

“We have an opportunity to do great things in our parks and recreation department. My children are involved in our community youth programs, so I know firsthand where we stand in comparison to our neighbors. We are woefully behind providing facilities that provide enough space for our children to participate in activities. We cannot host top quality baseball and softball tournaments that would bring untold numbers of fans to Cabot because we do not have adequate facilities to even be considered for such large scale possibilities.”

Cabot’s Allman/Bevis Sports Complex — the city’s ballparks — is located at 3001 S. First St.

Thurman continued, “I encourage anyone who hasn’t seen our community pool in a few years to drive past the location on Richie Road. I would also encourage them to drive past locations in Jacksonville, Searcy, Maumelle, Conway and Bryant and compare facilities.

“We should not be satisfied with the recreational facility we are offering for our families. We want people to remain in our community and spend locally, yet we aren’t offering the facilities to make that a reality. Cabot is about kids and family and we do not have an adequate pool and recreational facility to provide an affordable place for families to spend time together without leaving the area,” Thurman said.

Cabot has an indoor pool at its Veterans Park Community Center, 508 N. Lincoln St. Jacksonville has an indoor pool at its community center, 5 Municipal Drive, and Splash Zone, it water complex on Martin Street.

“This is a great opportunity for us to take a giant step forward in our community without the need to add an additional tax to our patrons. The sales tax being considered has been collected for years and everyone, regardless of where they live, will contribute to our progress each time they make a purchase in our community.”

Early voting starts Tuesday and continues through April 8. Election day is Tuesday, April 9.

Voters will be asked to approve $9.5 million to build a north interchange; $2.6 million to turn the old Knight’s building on Main Street into a library; $5.46 million to expand and renovate the community center; $13.5 million for a baseball and swimming pool complex as well as two new softball fields on Hwy. 321; $8.2 million to improve the wastewater collection system, and $500,000 to improve drainage in the Highlands subdivision.

Proponents of the baseball project say the city has needed new fields for many years. The commission that runs parks has been asking the parents of the children who use city parks to register and vote for the tax extension.

Thurman said, “Our school system is rated as one of the highest performing and considered one of the most progressive districts in Arkansas. We have great families that want to be a part of our community and our school system. These same families that we want to join our community have options on where they will purchase a home and they research and visit communities before deciding where they will call home.”

The district’s 2011-12 enrollment for all of its 15 schools was 10,121 and still growing.

“Though our school system can compete with any districts in central Arkansas in terms of overall quality, these families also seek a community that provides the total package for children and adults. This includes a great parks and recreation program with varied offerings being implemented in nice facilities. They want a nice, affordable, family-oriented place to swim with their children on beautiful days without driving to Jacksonville, Maumelle or Little Rock. They want a library system that offers programs and resources for adults and children.

“Many choose to work in the metropolitan area but live in areas such as Cabot. The commute can be long and frustrating some days, but it is worth it for many people to have their children and grandchildren attend school in a quality system and live in a great community with an emphasis on family and children.

“We need to provide the same opportunities not only for potential families but for our existing families that deserve the same resources afforded to other communities.

“This is not only about attracting new families,” he said, but also about providing “our existing families with the amenities that should be a part of a family-oriented community like Cabot.”

As for the sewer part of the tax extension, he said, “There are obvious benefits to the sewer upgrades. Basically, the system needs work and it will be paid for either by supporting this tax extension or applying it to current rates.”

Friday, March 29, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke takes second in home relays

Leader sportswriter

Nine schools participated in Thursday’s Lonoke Jackrabbit Relays, and the Lonoke boys totaled 115 points for second place, which was nine points shy of Maumelle’s 126. Maumelle also won the girls’ division, dominating the competition with 171 points, which was nearly 100 points more than second-place Stuttgart’s 82.

The Lonoke girls tallied 40 points in the competition, which was good for fifth place behind fourth-place Riverview. Haiden Jeter played a big role in helping Lonoke take fifth place according to coach Nathan Morris.

Jeter is steadily getting better in all events as the track season gets underway. She finished second in the 800-meter run Thursday, bettering her fifth-place finish in the event last week at Heber Springs.

Jeter also placed third in the high jump, second in the triple jump, and was part of the 1600-meter relay team that finished third along with Savannah Holman, Janice Chapman and Samaria James.

“She’s a pretty talented runner,” Morris said of Jeter. “She finished second in the 800 tonight and she finished fifth last week at Heber Springs, and she’s just now getting back into race shape. We feel like she can really do something at district in the 800.”

Holman, who’s a first-year participant, placed fifth in the high jump, sixth in the 100-meter hurdles, and fifth in the 300-meter hurdles. Chapman placed fifth in the shot put and sixth in the 100-meter dash. James also placed in the triple jump, finishing fourth.

The Lonoke boys had three first-place finishes Thursday. Chris Smith won the pole vault event. Jeffrey Norwood won the 800-meter run, and the 400-meter relay team of Eric Williams, D.J. Burton, Brent Sims and Blake Mack took first as well, which was no surprise to coach Tim Scarborough.

“That’s probably our best race throughout the track meet,” Scarborough said of his relay sprint team. “These guys made it to state last year. We’re looking to repeat there, but we’re looking to have a better showing at state. Although we made the finals, I think we got seventh in the state. So we’re looking to do a little bit better than that this year.”

Williams finished a nose-shy of first place in the 100-meter dash with a time of 11.43, which was easily enough for second. Mack and Burton provided Lonoke’s points in the high jump. Mack took fourth place and Burton finished just behind him at fifth.

Dylan Goforth had a solid showing in the field events as he placed third in both the shot put and discus throw. The 3200-meter relay team of Norwood, Tykel Gray, Robert Buchanan and Levi Ward took second place, while the 1600-meter team of Mack, Ward, Caleb Bailey and Stephon Carthron also finished second.

Gray finished third in the 1600-meter run, while Buchanan finished sixth. Dylan Walker took sixth in the 110-meter hurdles, and fourth in the 300-meter hurdles. Smith also placed in the 800-meter run, finishing fourth.

Carlisle was also at the event, and although it didn’t have enough participants to make a big impact in the overall team points standings, the participants it did have made a strong showing. John Reynolds won both the shot put and discus throw, and his sister Erica won the discus and placed third in the shot put.

John Reynolds also placed in the 800-meter run, finishing fifth. First-year participant Tim Pershbacher also provided the Bison with some points as he placed sixth in the 3200-meter run. John Reynolds’ solid day came as no surprise to coach Brandon Barbaree.

“Well John, he’s just a competitor,” Barbaree said. “He competed last year in the decathlon, and he almost placed at state in the discus last year. So I knew he’d do well in this meet and he’ll have a chance to place at state this year.”

Both Lonoke and Carlisle will compete in meets next week. Lonoke will be at Beebe on Thursday for the annual Badger Relays, while Carlisle will travel to DeWitt for the Dragon Relays.

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Devils dominate

Leader sports editor

The young Jacksonville softball team got a pair of easy wins Tuesday, hammering Little Rock McCellan in both games of a 5A-Central doubleheader. Jacksonville blasted through the Lady Lions 17-0 in game one, then made it even worse in game two, winning that matchup 21-0.

Freshman pitcher Kimberly House threw two no hitters to pick up both wins on the mound. She also got three base hits, including two doubles and four runs batted in to lead the way at the plate in game one.

Emily Lovercheck had two base hits and drove in three runs while Bailey Jones also picked up a pair of singles. The Lady Devils put game one away quickly, scoring 12 runs in the bottom of the first inning. They added five more in the second and those were the only two at bats the team needed.

Game two was even worse, as a number of Lady Red Devils got two base hits each. House and Jones added another pair of hits two their totals. Senior Mailani Walker got two hits, including a bases-clearing triple. Freshman Kinley Burrows got a pair of hits with a double. Alexis Goodman reached base on every at bat with two hits and two hit batsmen, and freshman Zylah Richardson got two base hits. Junior speedster Sacha Richardson played the role of House’s courtesy runner, and finished with nine stolen bases in the two games combined.

Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham was pleased with the performance. While uncompetitive games such as these many times do little to help a good team, Hickingbotham says that’s not the case for his squad, whose lineup of 15 players consists of 10 freshmen and sophomores.

“It’s confidence,” Hickingbotham said. “We tried to work on executing situations and we did that pretty well. You can use these kinds of games to teach a young team and I thought we learned a little bit tonight.”

Jacksonville (6-3, 4-0) started play in the Jae Lynn Russell tournament yesterday at Dupree Park, and will continue today. That tournament championship game is slated for 5:30 p.m. next week, Jacksonville has a big early conference showdown with preseason favorite Sylvan Hills. That game is set for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at Dupree Park.

SPORTS STORY >> Badgers earn easy sweep of Mustangs

Leader sports editor

Senior pitchers Jared Aschbrenner and Brandon Stane led the way for Beebe in a pair of 5A East Conference shutout victories over visiting Forrest City on Tuesday as the Badgers routed the Mustangs 17-0 in the first game and got by with a 4-0 win in the nightcap of a league twin bill at Gillam Fields.

Aschbrenner and Stane, both signed to play college baseball next year, delivered one hitters against a Mustangs team that struggled tremendously at the plate throughout the evening. Beebe (7-4, 2-2) run ruled the Mustangs after four innings of the opener, but inconsistencies at the plate in the second game made the score appear closer than the actual game.

“We got 13 guys to the plate in the first inning,” Beebe coach Mark Crafton said. “One reason was because of poor defensive play on Forrest City’s part. We took advantage of some fastballs and balls in the dirt to take some extra bases, steals. You add some hits in here and there, it can get away from you in a hurry. The second game was a totally different story. We had too many guys left on base; I think we left 11 guys stranded. We had men in scoring position and just didn’t perform, didn’t execute plays.

“It wasn’t that we were overpowered pitching wise, we were just trying to push too much doing things we weren’t capable of doing. A win is still a win, we just didn’t do the things we needed to do.”

Aschbrenner struck out five batters while giving up one walk and one hit, and allowed another FC batter to first with a hit-by-pitch in the top of the third inning.

“He was effectively wild in that first game,” Crafton said of Aschbrenner. “It’s been a while since he’s had conference action, but he was a little wild, but he was effective, got his groundouts and strikeouts, pop ups. He got the job done. Of course Brandon Stane in the second game, he was overpowering for the Forrest City bats and was able to keep them at bay.”

Senior Than Kersey led off with a triple in the bottom of the first inning of the first game before Stane reached on an outfield error, and both runners scored on a single grounder to left field by Aschbrenner. Senior first baseman and future Lyon College player Cody Reaves also benefitted from an FC error to reach first and send Aschbrenner home for a 3-0 Beebe lead.

Reaves advanced two batters later when Pete Drennan walked and scored on another error off of Angus Denton’s infield grounder. A walk for Byers Halford loaded the bases, with Drennan and Denton scoring off another Mustangs error on an infield hopper by Tyler Burge from the bottom of the lineup.

That gave the Badgers a 6-0 lead, and another hit for Kersey, this one a single, sent courtesy runner Gus Wisdom in for Halford to make it 7-0 before Burge came in on a groundout by Stane.

Beebe added two more scores in the bottom of the second before batting around the lineup again in the third inning for seven more runs.

Justin Browning and Aschbrenner doubled while Denton singled with the rest of the Badgers’ scores coming courtesy of walks and errors by Forrest City.

Kersey was 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI while Aschbrenner was 2 for 4 with a double and 4 RBIs.

“We just need to see improvement in consistency with the bats,” Crafton said of the first month of the season. “Especially with runners in scoring position, that’s the biggest key right now. Defense, we have our good days and bad days, but for the most part, we play solid defensively.”

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot boys win, girls tie with Central

Leader sportswriter

A pair of second-half goals by junior forward Trevor Reed made the difference for Cabot as the Panthers defeated Little Rock Central 3-1 at Panther Stadium on Thursday.

Reed broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth minute of the second half with a straight-ahead dribbler that gave the Panthers (2-4-1, 1-1) a 2-1 lead, and finished off the Tigers with an identical strike with less than eight minutes remaining in what was essentially a nonconference matchup between two 7A/6A East Conference teams.

“Two great individual efforts from Trevor Reed was the difference,” Panthers coach Steve Porter said. “But I think we squandered a bunch of other chances, especially towards the end once we kind of established the lead. I thought it was not one of our better games overall. Previous games, we’ve played much better and lost. It’s good to get the win and prepare to play Mountain Home on Tuesday.

“We’ve played well, and now we’re starting to win. Hopefully, we can continue to play well and win in the future.”

The Panthers took an early 1-0 lead when Blakelyn Devore cross-assisted Evan Wilson, who got past the Central goalkeeper in the second minute. The Tigers answered during the 35th minute to tie the score 1-1 at the half.

“Soccer can be so much about inches and luck,” Porter said. “In other games, we controlled possession better than the opponents, created just as many chances and just not scored. You take your victories when you can, and we’re happy to win, but we need to play better in the future.”

Reed created his own opportunities on each of his second-half goals, dribbling in from the side and charging the goal to catch Central’s goalkeeper out of position each time.

“I think he’s one of the best juniors in the state,” Porter said. “He has the potential to go on and play at the college level and do really well. He works hard, is a really great kid. He’s everything a coach would want, but, as a coach, I don’t want us to be overly reliant on one player. We have some other good players on the team who can contribute and do well, and they need to.”

The Lady Panthers have become experts at avoiding losses, but for the fourth time this season, could not find a way to get the advantage on the scoreboard as they tied Little Rock Central in a scoreless 0-0 defensive struggle. Although Cabot (5-2-4) and Central are both expected to be contenders in the 7A/6A East Conference this season, Thursday’s matchup was not the one that counted towards conference as the new policy is for all league teams to meet only once instead of two times as in previous seasons. That meant no penalty-kick shootout when the clock expired and no score for either club.

“This is the one that was not on the original schedule set by the A.D.s” Lady Panthers coach Kerry Castillo said. “We just decided to play each other to get a harder competition game. We really didn’t do some of the things I would have liked to see us do. Our style of play was a little different. We just wanted to test the waters a little to see what they brought.”

Castillo did not show his entire hand during the contest, holding breakout scorer Jessica Souza to primarily a defensive role at the center midfield, while the Tigers seemed to do the same with some of their personnel.

“Didn’t want to show all of our cards just yet,” Castillo said. “It was a very athletic up-and-down game. I thought we played pretty well as far as defensively and our organization, we just boomed the ball up and down too much, that’s just not our style of play. Our back line had a really good game, Devin Patterson, Codee Park, Melody Sampson, Kristen Oitker, all four played really well, and smart.”


The North Little Rock Lady Wildcats got on the winning side of things in 7A/6A East Conference play on Tuesday with a 7-0 shutout victory over West Memphis to improve to 2-5 overall and 1-1 in league play. Senior standout Katie Van Pelt led the way with four goals, while fellow senior Jordan Toler scored one goal and had two assists.

“It was definitely good to get that first conference win,” Lady Wildcats coach Justin Musick said. “We had been on a losing skid, but it feels like maybe we’re starting to turn things around and head back in the right direction. Hopefully, it will continue into more of our conference games.

The Wildcats boys team had an equally easy time with the Blue Devils in an 8-0 shutout. Jack Fleming led the way for North Little Rock with three goals while Cole Purtle scored two goals. Hobbs Knowlton, Sammy Covarrubios and Morgan Jackson all scored a goal each for the Wildcats. The win improved North Little Rock’s record to 5-0-2 overall and 2-0 in the 7A/6A East Conference.

“Overall Jack Fleming has been a good goal scorer and creator,” Wildcats coach Marc Gill said. “Cole Purtle and Ashton Miller are constantly running the sidelines and causing problems. Peyton Land has been playing really well as a stopper and has stepped up as a sophomore.”

SPORTS STORY >> Panther baseball on a roll

Leader sports editor

Recent games suggested a tough night for Cabot baseball on Tuesday, but the Panthers put forth their best effort of the season in easily dispatching Marion for an important doubleheader sweep at CHS. Cabot swept the early 7A/6A East Conference matchup by scores of 7-1 and 12-2, and they did it without one of their top two pitchers.

“We beat Jacksonville twice and we barely got by them both times,” Cabot coach Jay Fitch said. “Then Marion smoked them pretty good up at the Jonesboro tournament. So we were a little worried about their hitting coming in here, especially with one of our starting pitchers. We figured out pretty early they struggled a little bit with the breaking stuff, and that’s right down Ryan Logan’s alley.”

Logan started game one on the mound for Cabot and dominated the Patriots’ lineup. He gave up just three hits and one unearned run. He only struck out three and walked two, but Cabot got out of every jam by turning four double plays.

“I don’t know if we’ve turned four double plays all season,” Fitch said. “We had one error the whole night and turned I think five double plays total. So our defensive execution was as good as it’s been all year.”

Zach Patterson took the mound in game two and got stronger as the game wore on. He also gave up three hits and got into a little trouble in the third inning, but otherwise dominated the Patriots. He finished with 10 strikeouts and just three walks.

“I was a little worried about Zach against this team because they hit the fastball so well,” Fitch said. “Zach is our hardest thrower, but this team likes that. Tonight he had his curveball working pretty good too and when he does that, he can be phenomenal. We need to see more consistency from him, but tonight was a great start. If he can start giving us that on a more consistent basis, he can be outstanding.”

Neither team scored in the first two innings of game two, but Cabot jumped on Marion for five in the top of the third. Catcher Brent Dean started the inning by getting plunked by a pitch, but his courtesy runner was thrown out on a force play at third base.

Cole Thomas, who singled, and leadoff hitter Conner Vocque, who reached on the fielder’s choice that put out Dean, both scored on a two-RBI single by Logan. Casey Vaughan followed that with a double in the gap to left-centerfield that scored Logan. Riley Knudsen walked and Coleman McAtee drove in Vaughan with a single to left. Knudsen scored the fifth run of the frame when Kason Kimbrell’s pop up to shallow right field was dropped.

Marion put together a two-out, two-run rally in the bottom of the third. Leadoff hitter Zach Morris and Caleb Marconi drew back-to-back walks. Drake Knowton then singled to score Morris and moved to second when the throw from the outfield went to home plate.

Cleanup hitter Bailey Burford also singled to centerfield to score Marconi. Knowton also tried to score on the play, but Vaughan’s throw to home plate got him for the third out.

Thomas got another five-run rally going for Cabot in the top of the fourth by singling to right field. Vocque and Logan followed with singles and Vaughan walked to score Thomas. Knudsen flew out to right field, but his shot was deep enough to score Vocque from third. McAtee walked to load the bases. Kimbrell then hit a comebacker to the pitcher that got Logan thrown out on a force play at home for the second out. Grason Cole then singled down the right field line to drive in two runs, and Dean doubled to score Kimbrell and make the score 10-2.

Patterson’s last two innings were identical, a groundout followed by two strikeouts. Meanwhile Cabot added the two runs needed to end the game early, one in the fifth and one in the sixth. Logan doubled down the left-field line with one out and moved to third on a grounder to first by Vaughan. He then scored on a wild pitch.

The last run came when Vocque singled to drive in Cole, who beat out a grounder to shortstop for a single.

On Thursday, Cabot knocked off Pulaski Academy 4-3. Sophomore Gavin Tillery started the game and threw well for three innings. He left with the score tied and got a no decision. Knudsen pitched the final three innings and picked up the win.

The three wins this week runs Cabot’s winning streak to four games, and leaves them 8-5 overall and 2-2 in league play. The Panthers travel to Mountain Home for another conference doubleheader on Tuesday.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

GUEST OPINION >> Senate helping payday lenders

Special to The Leader

Arkansas voters in approving Amendment 89 to our state’s Constitution in 2010 voted to voluntarily raise the interest rate charged on consumer loans. Senate Bill 900 would override the will of the voters and, based on recent history, ultimately pave the way for out-of-state lenders to set up shop in Arkansas and roll back hard-won consumer protections.

SB900 provides that interest rates on consumer loans, currently capped at 17 percent annual percentage rate under Amendment 89, would be instead be set “as defined” by the Arkansas General Assembly. A famous quote from Spanish philosopher George Santayana crystallizes the danger posed to consumers by SB900: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

In the case of SB900, remembering the recent past is critically important. From 1999-2009, hundreds of payday lenders operated in Arkansas, flouting our state’s Constitution by charging triple-digit interest rates on loans and ensnaring consumers in long-term debt traps. Payday lenders set up shop in Arkansas thanks to a 1999 state law in which payday loan costs were defined as “fees” instead of interest.

The last payday lender closed its doors in Arkansas in August 2009, following a 2008 Arkansas Supreme Court ruling that threw out the 1999 law, a pro-consumer crackdown by the Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and consumer education efforts by the Arkansans Against Abusive Payday Lending coalition, of which AARP Arkansas is a founding member.

Out-of-state lenders during the 2011 legislative session attempted to secure passage of legislation similar to SB900 that would have overridden the interest-rate protections in Amendment 89 and enabled these lenders to set up shop in Arkansas, offering high-interest loans with terms very similar to payday loans. The 2011 legislation allowed add-on fees that increased the effective interest rate paid by consumers. AAAPL, AARP and the Arkansas Attorney General strongly opposed the 2011 legislation and the sponsors withdrew it from consideration.

Amendment 89 increased the maximum lawful rate of interest on consumer loans from a sliding scale to a flat 17 percent interest rate. This increase opened many additional lending opportunities while still protecting the citizens of Arkansas from high-cost predatory loans.
Section 12 of Amendment 89 authorizes the Arkansas General Assembly “by a three-fourths vote of each house” to “amend the provisions of this amendment so long as the amendments are germane to this amendment and consistent with its policy and purposes.”
SB900, backed by some of the same proponents of the 2011 legislation, would be the first step toward giving high-cost lenders a foot in the door, by authorizing the Legislature to “define” interest rates for consumer loans. SB900 as currently drafted states that the loan APR “would not exceed” 17 percent annually.

However, the effective interest rate paid by consumers would all depend on how the Legislature decided to “define” interest. No legislation is necessary to charge up to 17 percent interest on consumer loans, so the only logical reason behind SB900 is to ultimately authorize a higher effective rate, likely through add-on fees. This frankly doesn’t seem very “germane” to the intent of voters who already agreed to raise loan interest rates less than three years ago.

A second bill, which would require only a simple majority to pass, could then authorize the higher effective rate, opening the door for a repeat of Arkansas’ long payday lending nightmare. SB900 includes an “emergency clause” in which it would take effect immediately if adopted, meaning the higher effective rate could be passed during this very same legislative session.

The bottom line for Arkansas consumers is frighteningly simple: SB900 will unlock the door nailed shut for less than four years and once again expose Arkansas to the abuses of predatory lending. It took nearly 10 years for payday lenders to be driven out of our state. Arkansas does not need to repeat this unfortunate period in our state’s history.

Arkansans already increased the state’s interest rate cap in 2010. If another increase is sought, lenders and others supporting higher-interest loans should be upfront, transparent and seek a specific constitutional amendment to achieve this. The voters and consumers of Arkansas deserve no less.

H.C. “Hank” Klein of North Little Rock is the former president and chief executive officer of the Arkansas Federal Credit Union, an AARP Arkansas Leadership volunteer for financial issues and founder of Arkansans Against Abusive Payday Lending.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers hold off Kickapoo charge

Leader sportswriter

Two costly errors made Cabot’s second round game of the 2013 Central Arkansas Invitational interesting, but Conner Vocque’s run in the seventh allowed the Panthers to escape with a 3-2 victory over Kickapoo, Mo., on Friday at Lamar Porter Field in Little Rock.

Cabot (5-5, 0-2) never trailed in the game, but never led by more than one run. The Panthers led 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning and were one out away from taking that lead into the seventh and final inning. But that was when Cabot committed its only two errors of the game.

Kickapoo’s Ryan Stevens hit a hard, one-hop grounder to shortstop. Cole Thomas fielded it cleanly, but the throw to first was just out of the reach of first baseman Tristan Bulice, and Stevens made it to first base safely.

The inning appeared to be over the next at bat as Hunter Kniepfel hit a high fly ball near first base. AsBulice positioned himself to make the catch, there was confusion between Bulice and second baseman Riley Knudsen as to who called for the ball.

The ball landed between Bulice and Knudsen, and as both players looked at each other in confusion, Stevens scored from second base to tie the game at 2-2. Stevens advanced to second on a stolen base while Kniepfel was at the plate.

“We had a sophomore (Bulice) over there at first base,” said Cabot coach Jay Fitch. “He called it initially is what happened. Our second baseman comes in and says ‘bull, bull’. His (Bulice) nickname is bull. Our lingo for that is, and this is what we work on, when you want the ball, you call ‘ball, ball.’

“If not, it’s ‘take it, take it, take it.’ So that way it sounds nothing like it. But ball and bull, the sophomore thinks he’s being called off the ball. So we let it drop, but our defense was a lot better today. It was pretty crisp up until there at the end.”

Fortunately for the Panthers, they got a run when they needed it the most. Vocque, Cabot’s junior centerfielder, led off the top of the seventh with a line-drive single to left centerfield.

Vocque then got in scoring position by stealing second base with leadoff hitter Ryan Logan at the plate with no outs.

Logan advanced Vocque over to third with a sacrifice fly to deep centerfield. Bulice then came to the plate and hit a bloop single to right field to drive in Vocque and set the final score. The Chiefs (1-3) went three up, three down in the bottom of the seventh to end the game.

Junior Kason Kimbrell got the win on the mound for Cabot. He pitched two full innings with two strikeouts, no walks and no hits. Cabot’s two errors in the sixth negated Chipper Morris’s chance to get the win as he threw a one-hitter in five innings of work. He struck out eight batters, walked three and gave up just one run.

“I was really proud of our pitching effort,” Fitch said. “Chipper, he’s a senior pitcher. Again, we don’t have anyone that’s going to blow anybody away. But he knows how to pitch. His curveball, and he was dropping down a little bit today, so he was giving them different looks that kept them off balance.”

Cabot totaled seven hits in the game. Vocque and Casey Vaughan each had two hits, while Coleman McAtee, Knudsen and Bulice had a hit apiece. Chase Marable doubled to left centerfield in the third inning for Kickapoo’s only hit.

The Panthers return to 7A/6A East Conference play today as they host Marion in a doubleheader at the Cabot Baseball Complex. The first part of the twin bill starts at 4 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> March perfect for Bison boys

Leader sports editor

It’s still early, but the Carlisle Bison have started the 2013 baseball season with the same momentum and vigor that took them to the class 2A state title game last spring with a 5-0 run through the month of March.

Spring break and unpredictable weather have combined to give the Bison a two-week break before they finally picked back up on their schedule with a non-conference game at Bigelow last night.

With six seniors graduated from last year’s state runner-up team, this year had all the indications of a rebuilding season with only one senior on the roster, but an impressive 7-3 victory over 4A contender Heber Springs served notice that the Bison are still for real. Carlisle won its first two 2A-6 Conference games with a doubleheader sweep of Palestine-Wheatley just before spring break.

The team is also adjusting to a change at the helm, as last year’s coach B.J. Greene took over at Heber Springs for 2013, while last year’s assistant and basketball head coach William Rountree took over the Bison program.

“We’ve been pleased with the start,” Rountree said. “We’ve got some younger guys who have played some, and some others with a little bit of experience, and they’ve come together and played well. We’re not into the meat of our schedule, but so far, we’ve been pleased. We’ve got to get better like everyone else, but they’ve done well so far.”

Chris Hart is the only senior on this year’s team. The two-time all-state player starts at shortstop and pitcher, and so far has a 2-0 record on the mound and is batting close to .500. Junior Josh Mathis is the Bison’s ace pitcher and leadoff batter. The all-conference player starts at first base when not on the mound, and so far is 3-0 in games he has started as pitcher.

Another junior, Austin Reed, starts at second base and shortstop, batting third in the lineup in front of classmate Deron Ricks, who leads the team in RBIs from his cleanup position.

Junior third baseman Dylan Brazeale is 8 of 9 from the plate through the first five games, while sophomore Nick Schafer solidified his spot in the lineup with a big RBI in the nightcap victory over Palestine-Wheatley.

Also in the lineup are junior Tyler Young and sophomore Thomas McCauley, with selected starts at the catcher position for sophomore Jacob Garden, who Rountree said has been solid early on.

The Bison started the season with a pair of blowout wins with a 12-1 rout over England and a 15-1 victory against Bigelow. The win over Heber Springs proceeded 8-4 and 6-4 victories over a solid Palestine-Wheatley team to give Carlisle a 2-0 league record heading into spring break.

“Palestine Wheatley is a good team,” Rountree said. “They played us tough. They’re really improved. Hazen is pretty good this year, they have a bunch of guys back. I don’t know a lot about Des Arc’s personnel this year, but through the years, they have been good.

“The way we do it in conference, it’s always doubleheaders, so you can’t afford to have a bad day. You could end up losing two if you have a bad one.”

The Bison will play a 2A-6 Conference doubleheader at Des Arc on Thursday.

SPORTS STORY >> NP softball hosts event at Dupree

Leader sports editor

North Pulaski’s Jae Lynn Russell Memorial softball tournament begins Friday at Dupree Park with one of the largest fields in tournament history. Nine teams mostly from central Arkansas take part in the eighth-annual event. A total of 18 games are scheduled over Friday and Saturday if weather holds out.

The hosting Lady Falcons start things off at 1 p.m. Friday against Mayflower. The Lady Eagles won a tournament at Sherwood Sports Complex before spring break. North Pulaski lost its last game before spring break to Lonoke while shorthanded. Before that, the Lady Falcons swept their conference opener against Pulaski Academy 24-2 and 20-0. They also beat Little Rock Christian on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the 5A Central Conference.

The winner of that game will play again at 11 a.m. Saturday. The loser plays again at 4 p.m. Friday against the loser of the other 1 p.m. game, Jacksonville vs. Maumelle.

The Lady Red Devils lost their last two before spring break and Friday will be their first game since returning to school this week. Those two losses were both close contests against Bauxite and Wynne. Against Wynne, the defending class 5A East champions, Jacksonville had a 7-3 lead in the sixth inning before things fell apart in the 10-7 loss.

Lonoke takes on Joe T. Robinson High School at 2:30 p.m. on field six, and Little Rock Hall plays the Jacksonville-Maumelle winner at the same time on field seven. The final first-round game is at 10 a.m. Saturday between Forrest City and Tuckerman.

The championship game is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Saturday on field six.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot ladies crush Marion

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Lady Panthers did not let the interruption of spring break interfere with their strong start to the 2013 soccer season with a blistering 10-0 rout against Marion on Monday. The road win lifted the Lady Panthers to 2-0 in 7A/6A East Conference play and 3-1-1 overall.

There was no shortage of scorers as eight different Cabot players put up points against the Lady Patriots, including two goals each for junior Jessica Souza and Maddie Rice. Braxton Reed, Hana Christensen, Heather Payne, Keeara Carter, McKenna Smart and Devin Patterson also sent the ball past Marion’s goalkeeper for scores in the lopsided affair.

“We possessed very well and weren’t sluggish at all after the break,” Lady Panthers coach Kerry Castillo said. “Some of our younger players showed some signs of brilliance like Hana Christensen. She’s so athletic and can control the ball on the first touch whether it’s in the air or on the ground.”

While a dominating offensive attack lit up the scoreboard for Cabot, Castillo was also pleased with his team’s defensive performance.

“Tabby Owens controlled our pace in the midfield,” Castillo said. “And our backline of Melody Sampson, Kristen Oitker, Devin Patterson and Codee Park stifled any attacks and were also very active in our possession.”

Defense has been the Lady Panthers’ calling card in the early season, as the win over Marion marked the third shutout for Cabot through five games. It all started with a 5-0 shutout over West Plains, Mo. before a 0-0 tie in regulation against Siloam Springs resulted in a 5-4 loss in the penalty-kick period. The Lady Panthers then tied Sheridan 1-1 in their final nonconference matchup, and headed into spring break with a 1-0 7A/6A East victory over North Little Rock.

Owens and Sydney Farqu-harson each scored two goals in the win over West Plains with another goal by Reed. Park was the only scorer for Cabot in the tie against Sheridan and victory over North Little Rock.

“I can’t say enough about our defenders and keeper,” Castillo said. “We played four games the last week before spring break and only allowed one goal, in which we were playing without one of our fullbacks. We’ll face a much tougher opponent in Little Rock Central later on this week.”

Cabot will host the Lady Tigers at Panther Stadium on Thursday as part of a girls’ and boys’ varsity doubleheader starting at 5 p.m.

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke hammers the Hounds

Leader sportswriter

After five innings of play, it looked as if Lonoke would easily end its 4A-2 Conference meeting against Newport with a blowout victory. However, the Greyhounds made it interesting with a sixth inning rally, but the Jackrabbits responded in the bottom part of the inning to win 14-7 Monday at the Lonoke baseball field.

“It was an ugly, windy game for both teams,” said Lonoke coach Darrick Lowery. “We both made some mistakes to help each other out. We hit the ball well. We scored every inning. That was one of our goals, just to try and keep tacking on at least one every inning. So I was pleased with that.

“Pitching, I thought we did a good job. You know, with the wind and them poking it out there every once in a while, that’s going to happen. All in all, a pretty good day.”

Led by shortstop Blake Gooden’s four RBIs, the Jackrabbits led 8-2 after three innings of play. The highlight of Gooden’s day was a three-run home run over the left field wall in the second inning that gave Lonoke (8-5, 2-0) a five-run lead.

Newport (4-4, 1-1) managed to get a run on the board in the top of the fourth, but in the bottom part of the inning, Jackrabbits’ catcher Madison James hit a two-run home run that towered over the wall in straight centerfield that put the home team up 10-3.

Lonoke grabbed its biggest lead in the fifth with a bloop single to left field by cleanup hitter Guy Halbert that drove in Gooden, making the score 11-3. Newport didn’t lie down and quit, and finally got some key hits off starting pitcher Zack Risner in the sixth.

Risner was solid through the first five innings, but the Greyhounds started connecting consecutively in the sixth, scoring four runs to cut the Jackrabbit lead to 11-7. Garrett Spears came in to relieve Risner, and put an end to the Greyhounds’ rally.

Lonoke responded by scoring three runs in the bottom of the sixth to get back to a comfortable seven-run lead. The Jackrabbits scored all three runs in the inning with two outs. Nick Graves started the two-out rally with a line-drive single to right centerfield.

Graves moved to second base on a passed ball, and leadoff hitter Shane Pepper drove in Graves the next at bat with a line-drive single of his own, this one to straight centerfield. It was Pepper’s fourth hit of the day.

A stolen base allowed Pepper to score from second as two-hole hitter Christian James hit an RBI-single to right field. James also stole second, and set the final score after crossing home plate on a fly ball to centerfield by Gooden, which was dropped by the Newport centerfielder.

The Greyhounds actually outhit the Jackrabbits, last year’s class 4A state runner-up, 15-12. But Lonoke had timely hits, and committed just one error to Newport’s four. Risner earned the win as he struck out seven and had no walks.

Even though Lonoke got the win, the head Jackrabbit sees a lot of areas where his team will need to improve if it wants to put itself in position to make another postseason run comparable to last year’s.

“There are always things we can work on,” Lowery said. “Pitching wise, we threw a few too many pitches today. That’s one thing we’ve always been keen on is trying to keep our pitch count down. And then we just need to eliminate some mental mistakes. We still had some mental mistakes today.”

Newport had seven different players with multiple hits, but Lonoke had a solid day at the plate as well. Pepper’s 4 for 4 outing led all batters. Halbert and Madison James had two hits each. Christian James, Gooden, Risner and Graves had a hit apiece.

Lonoke took a break from conference play yesterday with a game against Des Arc at home, and will resume 4A-2 play tomorrow at Southside Batesville. That game starts at 4 p.m.

TOP STORY >> Puppy-mill owner guilty

Leader staff writer

An Austin-area woman arrested last summer on multiple charges of cruelty to animals has been found guilty of some of those charges and will go before Circuit Judge Sandy Huckabee Friday for sentencing.

Jurors heard testimony for three days before deliberating four hours on March 15 and finding Sandra Nance, 57, guilty of five counts of cruelty to animals and her husband Marcus, 62, not guilty.

Both were acquitted of aggravated animal cruelty, a felony charge that implies animal torture.

The jury was not able to reach agreement on a sentencing recommendation after two hours of deliberation so Huckabee will decide that on Friday.

The judge also will decide what will become of the 137 dogs that were seized on June 28, 2012, by the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office and the Humane Society of Pulaski County where they are still held.

Until the judge says otherwise, they still belong to the Nances, said Lonoke County deputy prosecutor Ben Hooper, who handled the case with deputy prosecutor Paula Jones.

Jones also works part time for North Little Rock prosecuting animal cases.

The Nances were represented by Jerry Sallings and Seth Jewell, both of Little Rock.

Essentially, Sandra Nance was convicted for keeping her dogs in poor conditions and not providing them with veterinary care, but not of running a puppy mill but.

She raised her puppies in kennels about 100 feet from her home and sold them at a store in Searcy.

She raised several breeds including Airedale terriers, schnauzers, Chihuahuas as well as English bulldogs which she said could sell for as much as $3,500 each.

The prosecution brought in veterinarians who testified to the poor conditions in which the dogs were kept and to their deteriorated health from lack of proper medical care.

Sandra Nance’s defense was that she was able to provide proper care herself.

Cruelty to animals is a misdemeanor. Nance could be fined from $150 to $1,000 for each conviction and be sentenced to one day to one year of community service or one day to one year in jail.

A spokesman for the Humane Society said the dogs will be adopted if the judge gives his approval.

TOP STORY >> Beebe approves bonds for water

Leader staff writer

A $3 million bond issue for improving Beebe’s water service was approved by aldermen during Monday’s city council meeting.

The 20-year bond will fund two projects. Engineer Don Beavers with B and F Engineering of Hot Springs told the council one project will connect the city to the Lonoke-White Public Water Authority’s water main from Greers Ferry Lake by the end of the year.

“Beebe will get 10 percent of its water supply, about 600,000 to 700,000 gallons a day, from Greers Ferry,” Beavers said.

The water will be mixed at the city’s water treatment plant with water from Beebe’s six wells.

The second project will replace the city’s galvanized and cast-iron water main lines. All but three water mains are planned for replacement.

Water rates will not be raised to fund the two projects.

J. Shepherd Russell III, managing partner with the law firm of Friday, Eldredge and Clark of Little Rock, said the Arkansas Development Finance Authority will purchase the bond at an interest rate of 2.25 percent.

Mayor Mike Robertson informed the council that earlier in the month the Beebe VFW Post 7769 presented a $1,000 donation to the city’s animal shelter. The money is designated to pay for the sterilization costs of dogs adopted from the shelter by residents who cannot afford to pay to spay and neuter their pet.

Beebe will hold a spring cleanup during April. Residents can use the dumpsters at 209 W. Idaho St. for free all month. Hours are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Dumping shingles, tires or car batteries is not allowed.

TOP STORY >> Beebe’s veto goes before lawmakers

Leader senior staff writer

The Arkansas Senate could vote today to overturn Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto of a voter ID bill that passed mostly along party lines last week, according to Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Searcy).

There is a chance the veto can be sustained in the House, according to Rep. Jim Nickels (D-Sherwood).

“(Rep.) Walls McCrary (D-Lonoke) thought he voted against it,” Nickels said, but his vote counted as an “aye” for voter ID.

Nickels said with McCrary voting to sustain the override, there could be 50 votes against override — enough to block it unless House Speaker Davy Carter (R-Cabot), votes for it.

He said Speaker Carter usually doesn’t vote, but if he does, that would probably be sufficient to override the veto.

The bill, which originated in the House, passed the Senate on March 19 and some legislators Tuesday said they were confident of an override. Arkansas has a relatively weak governor, with only a simple majority in each house needed to override his veto.

“Senate Bill 2…is an expensive solution in search of a problem,” Beebe said Monday, upon vetoing the bill. “The Bureau of Legislative Research estimates (it) will cost approximately $300,000 in tax dollars to implement,” he said, not including future costs.

“I cannot approve such an unnecessary measure that would negatively impact one of our most precious rights as citizens,” he said.

Opponents of the voter ID law — that’s the Democrats — say it will disproportionately make voting more difficult for the poor, elderly and minorities, and that is why Republicans pushed the bill.

Republicans, including Stuart Soffer, a state election commissioner from Jefferson County, say it’s just intended to make elections fair and cost effective and should streamline voting.

But Beebe said, “At a time when some argue for the reduction of unnecessary bureaucracy and for reduced government spending, I find it ironic to be presented with a bill that increases government bureaucracy and increases government expenditures, all to address a need that has not been demonstrated.”

A recent study found only about a dozen prosecutions for voter identification fraud at the polls across the United States in the past decade.

Dismang said Tuesday that legislators are dealing with three elephants in the room — a proposed $100 million tax cut, the proposed Big River Steel plant in Mississippi County, and private option-health insurance to cover an additional 250,000 working poor in the state.

“We hope to have a bill dropped on the private option this week,” he said.

House Bill 1770, which amends and expands the state Education Departments toolkit for fixing schools or school districts designated as being in academic, fiscal or facilities distress, is on the Senate Education Committee agenda for today as well, but that doesn’t guarantee that committee will consider or vote on it today. It has 36 bills on the agenda.

“It’s hopefully presented tomorrow in the Senate Education Committee,” Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville) said Tuesday. That and a vote on the Senate floor would be the last step before sending it to Beebe.

The bill, sponsored by Perry, passed the House by an 89 to 1 margin on March 14. Twenty-five of the 30 state senators are listed as co-sponsors of the bill, so Perry said it will pass unless something goes haywire. The governor has said he would sign the bill.

The most significant changes include increasing from two to five the number of years the state can run a distressed school or district, authority to run a single school or schools within a district and authority to make any changes that don’t conflict with the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act and the Public School Employee Fair Hearing Act.

This would seem to give the department authority to abrogate the union contracts. It did that with less cover under the existing law when in addition to replacing the superintendent and dissolving the school board of the Pulaski County Special School District, state Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell allowed acting superintendent Jerry Guess to void contract language not only affecting direct cost to the district, but also indirect costs, and to decertify the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers and Pulaski Association of Support Staff as employee bargaining agents.

Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-North Little Rock), who has acted in the past to support those unions, has offered a Senate bill of her own that would “require legislative review of the administrative reorganization of school districts’ assumption of administrative authority of a school district, or closure of a school by the state Board of Education.”

Chesterfield’s husband, Emry, is president of PASS. PASS and PACT are currently suing the district in Pulaski Circuit Court over administrative actions that abrogated those employee contracts.

Chesterfield’s Senate Bill 794 was introduced in the Senate Education Committee March 5, and could be considered there today.

Perry also sponsored a bill that would define how a new district, such as the one Jacksonville has been trying to carve out of PCSSD for the past 20 years, would be funded. “It’s not been done before,” he said.

On the Arkansas State Legislature website, Perry’s HB1632 is a shell bill — one with a title and subtitle but as of yet no content.

Tuesday, Senate Bill 374, cosponsored by Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock and Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, was amended to specify the conditions under which defunct dry voting districts may vote on whether or not to allow alcohol sales.

Gray Township, which includes much of the Jacksonville area, is the area that may be most immediately affected.

The question arose when a convenience store chain, not realizing it had built a store in a dry area of a wet county, sought the ability to sell beer at its stores.

As amended, the question could be voted upon if 38 percent of registered voters in the dry area signed a petition to request such a vote.

The proposed bill would allow by-the-drink liquor sales at restaurants and beer and wine sales at groceries and convenience stores.

Perry has said such a law would be good for economic development.

Williams has sponsored a proposed constitutional amendment that would give the state Legislature the authority to set procedures and practices regarding tort reform. Currently that power lies with the state Supreme Court, he said Tuesday.