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Monday, Sep. 1, 2014
Update on School Buses, Lottery Profits
Posted Thursday, August 28, at 9:14 AM
Almost 60 percent of Arkansas public school students take the bus to school, and each morning they spend an average of about 49 minutes on the bus, according to an extensive survey by legislative analysts. On average, they spend another 49 minutes riding home...

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Getting Up to Speed on the Education Superhighway
Posted Thursday, August 21, at 9:03 AM

The legislature has begun the complex task of providing school districts in Arkansas with expanded broadband access. Innovations in computers, phones and the Internet are being introduced at an ever faster pace. Schools with outdated equipment risk falling further behind those with newer technology...

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State to Study Prison Expansion, Costs
Posted Thursday, August 14, at 8:38 AM

Arkansas prison officials are proposing to build a new 1,000 bed unit with plenty of secure, isolated cells for repeat offenders and inmates who continuously cause trouble. The projected cost is between $75 million and $100 million. Under the state constitution the legislature has ultimate authority to determine spending by state agencies, and will consider the proposal during the 2015 regular session...

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Tourism In Arkansas an Economic Postive
Posted Thursday, August 7, at 8:28 AM

The Arkansas tourism economy grew by 3.35 percent last year and the number of visitors to the state increased from about 22 million to 23 million, according to the state Parks and Tourism Department. Those visitors spent more than $5.9 billion in Arkansas, proving yet again how important tourism is to the state's economy. The previous year's travel expenditures were $5.7 billion...

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Tax Free Weekend, Medicaid Fraud Updated
Posted Thursday, July 31, at 8:50 AM

Arkansas will hold its annual sales tax holiday on Saturday, Aug. 2, and Sunday, Aug. 3. The legislature created the sales tax holiday by approving Act 757 of 2011. The intent of the act is to help families with children in school, and is commonly known as the "Back to School" sales tax holiday. However, everyone benefits from the holiday, whether or not they have children of school age...

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Changes May Be Coming to Immunization Laws in Arkansas
Posted Thursday, July 24, at 8:55 AM

Under new immunization requirements being considered by the state Board of Health, children who will be 11 or older on Sept. 1 must have a Tdap shot in order to attend a public or a private school. The Tdap shot protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis...

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Budget Surplus in Arkansas is No Accident
Posted Wednesday, July 16, at 5:32 PM

Thanks to very conservative budgeting by the Arkansas legislature, state government ended Fiscal Year 2014 with a surplus of almost $79 million. The state already had almost $96 million in unobligated funds left over from previous surpluses. Also, between now and the end of Fiscal Year 2015, which just began on July 1, the state is expected to gain an additional $5 million in interest earnings. ...

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Lottery, Prisons and Teacher Insurance Top Special Session Issues
Posted Thursday, July 10, at 9:19 AM

The legislature wrapped up a three-day special session after approving bills to increase the capacity of state prisons, to hold down anticipated costs for public school health insurance and to impose a moratorium on fast-paced computerized lottery games...

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Special Session For Specific Problems
Posted Thursday, July 3, at 8:52 AM

The problems being addressed by the legislature in this summer's special session have been building for years. Consistent and sharp increases in health insurance costs have been a growing problem for public school employees for more than a decade. For even longer, dramatic increases in the inmate population have caused budget problems for lawmakers and officials of the state Correction Department, which operates state prisons...

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Update on State Finances
Posted Thursday, June 26, at 9:32 AM

When the board of the state Teacher Retirement System voted last week to increase its investment in a northeast Arkansas steel mill, it renewed questions about the role of government in private enterprise. For several generations elected officials at all levels of government have emphasized their support for policies that create jobs and promote economic development. ...

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Update on Feeding Kids, State Revenue
Posted Thursday, June 19, at 5:20 PM

Last year Arkansas saw record growth in its programs to feed hungry children over the summer, and the same state agencies and non-profits are hoping to build on that success again this summer. Arkansas had the largest increase in summer meals served to children, of all the states in the country. ...

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New EPA Regulations As They Affect Arkansas
Posted Thursday, June 12, at 9:51 AM

The big news in government last week, at both the federal and local levels, was the announcement by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of proposed new restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions by power plants that burn coal. Two state agencies will be responsible for implementing the new rules in Arkansas. They are the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and the Public Service Commission (PSC)...

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State Leaders Look Ahead to Energy Needs of the Future
Posted Thursday, June 5, at 9:24 AM

It can take several years before the effects of legislation is fully appreciated, and that has been the case with the package of energy bills approved last year by the legislature. For example, Arkansas now has a handful of stations that sell compressed natural gas (CNG), and thanks to rebates and incentives in Act 532 of 2013 there likely will be more in the near future. ...

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Deadline Nears for College Scholarship Applications
Posted Thursday, May 29, at 9:40 AM

The deadline for applying for Academic Challenge Scholarships is June 1, and the applications are available online at the website of the state Higher Education Department. That address is: www.adhe.edu High school graduates who intend to go to an Arkansas college or university are eligible if their grade point average is 2.5 on a scale of 4.0, with an "A" being a 4.0 and a "B" being a 3.0. ...

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Highway Projects on Hold Amid Funding Concerns
Posted Friday, May 23, at 10:29 AM

The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department has suspended plans to begin 10 highway construction projects because of uncertainty that there will be enough money to pay for them in the Federal Highway Trust Fund. The revenue for road projects comes from state and federal taxes. Some projects rely more heavily on federal grants, with the state having to match only a small portion of the total cost...

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Voter ID Law Still in Effect
Posted Thursday, May 15, at 9:35 AM

Arkansas citizens who go to the polls on May 20 to vote in the preferential primary elections must present a government-issued photo ID in order to get a ballot. People who vote early between now and election day will also have to show a photo ID. The May 20 primary will be the first statewide election in Arkansas conducted under the provisions of Act 595 of 2013, which requires voters to present an identification card with a photograph...

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Work Continues on Public School Employee Health Insurance
Posted Thursday, May 8, at 9:08 AM

A legislative task force is working on structural changes to the public school employees' health insurance system, in an effort to keep it financially sound and to prevent dramatic increases in premiums for teachers and school staff. The changes under consideration include higher deductibles and increased employee contributions. ...

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Scholarship Effort Updated, CDBG Anniversary Noted
Posted Wednesday, April 30, at 2:42 PM

The Legislative Council approved dipping into a rainy day fund to pay for an additional 193 Governor's Distinguished Scholarships next fall. The state had enough funding for 300 scholarships, but more students were eligible this year and decided to attend an Arkansas university. Usually about 20 percent of eligible students leave the state, or the country, for college. If they don't study in Arkansas they forego the scholarship, which can be worth up to $10,000...

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Lottery Profits Still in Decline
Posted Wednesday, April 23, at 4:44 PM

Arkansas lottery sales, which finance college scholarships, have steadily declined since the first tickets were sold in 2009. Lottery officials and legislators expected a drop off because other states with lotteries experienced the same reduction in sales after the initial excitement wore off. In the past couple of years, revenue for scholarships in Arkansas has declined from almost $100 million annually to an estimated $82.7 million this year...

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New Rules for Absentee Voting
Posted Thursday, April 17, at 10:14 AM

Absentee voters would get a grace period in which they can present election officials with a copy of their photo ID, under a new rule approved by the state Board of Election Commissioners. However, the procedure by which the rule was issued is under legal challenge. The Board voted on the rule to clarify provisions of Act 595 of 2013, which requires voters to present a government-issued photo ID in order to get a ballot...

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Arkansas State Senate Week in Review
State Senator Robert Thompson
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State Senator Robert Thompson (D) of Paragould serves in the Arkansas Senate.