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The Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Department is reaping benefits from the sales tax levy approved by voters in 2011. The five-eighths of a cent tax has allowed the department to break ground on one new fire station and remodel two others.

Seven stations manned by the department range in age from 27 to 47 years. It is unlikely any current firemen remember the old central station on State Street that earlier had served as a livery stable for horses that pulled beer wagons.

The existing stations were built before women became firefighters. Four women are now employed by the department and more are anticipated in the future.

Two sub-stations have been retrofitted with shower and bathroom facilities for both genders. In addition, both stations had metal roofs replaced, and other improvements made, including the installation of exhaust fans in the engine bay areas.

The latter projects may be completed this month.

A new station will be constructed at 32nd Avenue and Beech Street, replacing a station constructed in 1956 at 30th Avenue and Ash Street.

All seven stations now have gas-operated generators in the event that electrical power is lost during a storm, and the tax revenue has allowed the department to purchase three new fire trucks.

Chief Shauwn Howell noted the department responds to about 4,000 calls annually, with emergency medical calls accounting for more than half of them.

Our firefighters need the best equipment and facilities we can afford to perform a crucial service, and our commitment at the polls is allowing that to happen.

Viewing executions

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A Senate panel this past week advanced legislation that would guarantee relatives of the victim of a capital crime the right to witness the execution of the person convicted of the crime.

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously endorsed the proposed legislation over the objections of the state Department of Correction. We donít always agree with the department, but this time some valid objections to the bill were raised.

The death chamber area at the Cummins Unit where condemned inmates are put to death is small, and the execution is already witnessed by the attorney and spiritual adviser for the inmate, three members of the media and six to 12 citizen witnesses. Making room for five members of the victimís immediate family would be difficult.

Executions are difficult and very emotional for everybody involved. Relatives of the victim can watch the execution from a closed-circuit TV feed, but may want to reserve five slots reserved for citizen witnesses.

Those in the media selected to witness executions donít volunteer but are assigned. The bill, which goes to the Senate, requires careful consideration.

Chairs panel

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U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., will have a larger role over federal farm spending this session as chairman of a key subcommittee that can impact Arkansas and Jefferson County.

Pryor will lead the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees roughly $21 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration and several other agencies.

The position may help ensure that the National Center for Toxicological Research at Jefferson is adequately funded. Pryor, the stateís senior senator, has worked on enhancing NCTRís nanotechnology abilities.

Congress last year enacted legislation that would authorize $25 million annually for the FDA to assess nanomaterials used in drugs and other products. The research center between Redfield and White Hall is equipped to conduct the scientific research.

In addition to the NCTR facility, the subcommittee oversees spending on agricultural research, agriculture extension services and other programs that are vital to Arkansasís rural economy.