Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Tuesday morning summary

Arkansas doesn’t meet the federal government’s criteria for public-disaster aid but asked for it anyway because of exceptional damage done Feb. 24 by a tornado that hit the Desha County city of Dumas, according to an Arkansas Department of Emergency Management official.

Lawmakers will have the missing piece of the plan to fund Arkansas' 450,000-student school system today when they learn the price tag for repairing school buildings around the state.

The Senate passed legislation that would authorize state auditors to more closely track public school athletic expenses.

The House voted down, 43-49, HB 1504 by Rep. Keven Anderson of Rogers, which would have changed the maximum number of charters the state Board of Education could issue from 24 to 48. There are currently nine charter schools in existence and three more are expected to open in the fall.

State lawmakers are set to debate an outright ban on homosexual adoption and foster parenting, a much-discussed feature of last year’s political campaigns that arrived in legislative form just before Monday’s bill-filing deadline.

The Arkansas House of Representatives on Monday passed a bill that would allow small wineries, both within the state and outside of it, to sell their products in Arkansas grocery stores.

Senate Bill 196, approved by the Senate Transportation Committee, provides that teens won’t be able to get a learner’s permit until age 15 (up from the current age of 14), drive with more than one passenger unless an adult is present, drive while using a cell phone to talk or text message, or drive late at night.

In addition, failure to wear a seat belt will become a primary offense, meaning that police can stop and ticket a driver solely for not wearing a seat belt.

A legislative committee endorsed Monday a bill that would extend from 30 days to 180 days the period that Arkansas Teacher Retirement System members must be separated from their jobs before they are considered retired. It would also limit to “one” the number of times an individual could rescind their retirement.

The state’s Office of Information Technology and the vacant chief information officer post would be axed under a bill filed on Monday and backed by Gov. Mike Beebe. The governor asked the Joint Budget Committee to withdraw the office’s proposed appropriation for the next biennium from further consideration. That will save almost $1 million in each of the next two years.

A bill filed by Rep. David Johnson would allow voters in cities with city manager forms of government, such as Little Rock, to strip city managers of their powers, having them instead report to a more powerful mayor.

Kelly Lackey Waller says she had smoked “ice” - a form of methamphetamine - with Kelly Campbell in a shed behind Campbell’s home two or three times. Testimony continues today in the corruption trial of Campbell; her husband, former Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell; and Bobby Junior Cox, a bail bondsman.

For the first time in more than 2 1/2 years, the average price of houses sold in Arkansas dropped slightly in January, according to statistics released Monday by the Arkansas Realtors Association.

Researchers have uncovered evidence that a major fault line may exist near Marianna. Dr. Haydar Al-Shukri, with the Applied Science Department at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said a research team has been studying sand blows, or sand volcanoes, which are the remnants of major earthquakes that are believed to have occurred in the past several thousand years.

UALR has scheduled a noon news conference today to discuss the state of a program that has suffered consecutive losing seasons. The Democrat-Gazette reports that an assistant coaching slot may be filled by former Arkansas Razorbacks All-American Joe Kleine is one possibility. Kleine, who played 15 seasons in the NBA and lives in Little Rock was a member of the United States’ 1984 Olympic gold medal-winning team.

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