Monday, March 26, 2007

Monday morning summary

The House has placed the $456 million school facilities appropriation bill on hold at the request of Rep. Bill Sample of Hot Springs who says that he campaigned for a millage hike in the Lake Hamilton School District last year and, based on information from that the Department of Education, he told voters the state would kick in about $4.17 million to be used for building repairs. The millage passed by just 29 votes. Now, Sample says, he is being told that the district will receive just $3.8 million.

The Arkansas House passed a bill that would allow for a voter-approved bond issue of up to $750 million as a way to pump more money into school building improvements and help bring the long-running Lake View case to an end.

The state House of Representatives passed Gov. Mike Beebe’s proposal to establish a pilot merit-pay program in up to 12 Arkansas public school districts.

Arkansas’ House of Representatives is one of three chambers nationally to pass a bill aimed at forming an “interstate compact” to elect the president of the United States by popular vote.

A bill to change the requirements for third parties to get on Arkansas' ballot is likely to result in a lawsuit against the state if it is signed into law in its present form, according to both supporters and opponents of the measure. "This is going to land the state in court again, and I believe the secretary of state's office could easily protect the state from litigation on this issue," said Rita Sklar, executive director of the Arkansas chapter of the ACLU.

A bill that would have increased welfare payments to grandparents who have legal custody of their grandchildren was voted down by a House panel Friday.

The House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to develop an immigration policy that includes a guest-worker program.

The House Rules Committee rejected a bill that would allow people to voluntarily restrict themselves from buying alcoholic beverages. The legislation also would have required retailers to “card” every person buying alcoholic beverages regardless of their age.

Little Rock, Pulaski County Special and Fort Smith are among 18 school districts warned by the Arkansas Department of Education to meet student achievement goals on state tests this spring or face penalties.

The Pine Bluff Commercial reports tons of debris have been hauled off from Dumas, making the tornado-marred landscape look better, injuries are healing, many businesses are back in operation, and the kids will be playing ball in a few weeks. Arkat, a local pet food manufacturer and major employer, was destroyed and very few of the Arkat employees have returned to work

A Fort Smith police officer is dead after helping a mother retrieve her child from a residence where she previously had a run-in with her ex-boyfriend. Officer Daniel C. Martinez was shot in the head Friday evening and Donna Stevens was shot in the back, shoulder and elbow. Richard Englebright, the suspect and the brother of Stevens’ former boyfriend, fled from the home in a car and killed himself before Oklahoma Highway Patrol officers found him near Spiro, Okla.

Gravette school officials reprimanded a former teacher in early January for continuing contact with a student, according to a letter obtained by the Morning News of Northwest Arkansas from the school district. Police arrested the teacher, Casey Helms, Wednesday in connection with a felony charge of first-degree sexual assault after he admitted to investigators he had a consensual sexual relationship with the 17-year-old student.

Two admitted drug dealers testified Friday in day 12 of the Lonoke corruption trial, one describing Kelly Campbell as his best customer for Ecstasy pills and the second saying he sold crack cocaine for then-Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell. Judge John Cole issued an order requiring Lonoke City Council members to discuss a recent executive session concerning a local police officer who is also a potential prosecution witness with the defense attorneys.

Scott Widen pulled his two children out of school so they could say goodbye to Fred and Grinch before a Rogers veterinarian euthanized the sickened cats on Monday. Widen said after Menu Foods failed to return one of more than 100 phone calls, he filed a federal lawsuit Friday against the company he believes is responsible for the cats' deaths.

2-year-old Faith Reed, whose family lives near Rison in Cleveland County, is dead after a utility vehicle she was riding in ran off into a pond near the Monticello Speedway on Saturday night, Reed had been sitting in a Polaris Ranger, a golf cart-size utility vehicle, with her mother, Elizabeth, about 11 p.m. when the vehicle suddenly accelerated and ran into the pond.

A suit filed by two Pulaski County residents, citing “deceptive marketing practices,” alleges that Arkansans are buying overheated motor fuel that is costing them millions of dollars in lost energy.

Fourteen residents opposed to Entergy Arkansas Inc.’s proposed electric substation in west Pulaski County have filed a lawsuit to block its construction.

After three and a half years of serving local students, Focus Learning Academy, an open-enrollment charter school in Conway, will soon be closing. Leroy McClure Jr., who applied for the charter, says it has been difficult for the school to carry out its mission because of a decline in enrollment which led to decreased funding.

North Korea has granted visas to a few Americans for a visit to the country at the end of April - led by Arkansas tour guides. It’ll be the second try for Little Rock-based Poe Travel, which gained permission last year for a September visit only to have the country revoke the visas after flooding caused a famine.

In an initial court appearance, bond for Earnest Gail Lail, 67, of Salisbury, N.C., was set at $5 million. He remains in the Crawford County Adult Detention Center. Authorities in Fort Smith and Alma said they intended to seek aggravated robbery warrants today for Lail for robberies earlier this year. He may be a suspect in a North Little Rock incident. Lail’s has served approximately 40 years in federal prison for multiple bank robberies.

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