Monday, March 19, 2007

Very early Monday summary

Wal-Mart claims to be dropping its bid to establish a bank after months of debate over whether the world’s largest retailer should be allowed to gain the added financial power of a federally insured bank. Wal-Mart was accused of lying about its’ by a key congressman last week after memos to banks renting space in the retailers stores were made public.

Special masters Bradley Jesson of Fort Smith and David Newbern of Little Rock appointed by the Supreme Court to review legislative response to the Lakey View decision, say the state attorney general’s office and school districts seem to agree that the legislators have made education the top funding priority. But Jesson and Newbern’s report also said “an important question remains” with respect to how the state determines its share of the expense for academic facilities.

State legislative leaders say they expect to reach agreement soon on this year’s edition of the Revenue Stabilization Act, a key law in the state government budget. It will regulate the flow of state revenue to state agencies for the next two fiscal years.

Of the 34 proposed constitutional amendments that have been introduced in the current legislative session, eight remain alive for possible referral to the voters in 2008, including one that would authorize a state lottery.

Senate Bill 811, passed by the Senate last week, would direct the state office that enforces child support orders to refer some of the most egregious cases to local prosecuting attorneys. More than $600 million in child support is owed to Arkansas custodial parents, but fewerthan 50 parents were prosecuted in 2006, said Sen. Sharon Trusty, a Republican from Russellville who is sponsoring the bill.

Arkansas college and university sophomores will no longer be required to take standardized exams before advancing to junior-level courses. A law signed by Gov. Mike Beebe last week eliminated the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency Exam, also known as the Rising Junior Exam.

State Rep. Bryan King of Berryville, agreed Friday to drop House Bill 2298, which would have allowed some farmers to spread chicken litter as fertilizer while waiting for state-mandated plans meant to protect watersheds.

More than $5 million in claims against the state are pending before the state Legislature, including a $200,000 wrongful conviction claim that’s been the subject of much debate among lawmakers. It’s the first time the state Claims Commission has recommended the Legislature pay a former prison inmate for being wrongly convicted.

An attorney for Faulkner County’s anti-alcohol forces suggested they switch their focus to backing new legislation rather than continuing to fight losing battles against individual requests for private-club liquor permits. David Hogue of Conway says the time may have come to consider a compromise that would allow liquor-by-the drink, but not package stores, in the mostly dry county.

The committee investigating the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau says the troubled city agency needs a series of new policies and more controls. Still, committee Chairman John Plegge said, “We haven’t found any smoking guns.” Plegge said he doesn’t believe, for instance, that anyone did anything intentionally wrong by giving longtime bureau chief Barry Travis a $25,500 retirement gift last year.

Former Little Rock School District Superintendent Henry Williams has been accused of funneling thousands of dollars into his personal accounts from the school district he led in suburban St. Louis. Williams, who was relieved of his duties as superintendent of the Riverview Gardens School District, was charged with two felony counts of stealing and three felony counts of attempted state income-tax evasion and faces up to 37 years in prison if convicted.

A Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission panel Friday recommended a broad review of a 10-year-old policy that guides the purchasing practices at the state’s largest airport.

The state panel that oversees judges’ conduct voted on Friday to hold a formal disciplinary hearing into whether state Appeals Court Judge Wendell L. Griffen violated rules intended to safeguard the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

A small-town Arkansas mayor will face a $500 fine after taking a city-owned car filled with re-election campaign signs into neighboring city, then calling for a police cruiser to drive him home after the car broke down. The Arkansas Ethics Commission fined Gould Mayor Lloyd Parks for breaking state law twice during the October incident.

The Rogers School Board will hear a committee's recommendation for adoption of a new science textbook for high school that invites students to “critically analyze the theory of evolution in order to understand both the theory and how the evidence that supports it falls short.”

Antwain Robinson, a starter at defensive end in 13 Arkansas football games last season, was arrested Sunday on a shoplifting charge, according to authorities in Washington County.

A Fayetteville couple, charged with battery and accused of holding their children under hot, running water, pleaded not guilty in Washington County Circuit Court. Johnny L. Harper and Natasha M. Adams are charged with battery and permitting the abuse of a minor.

A Hope woman accused of stabbing a Tyson Foods co-worker over an argument about cutting up chickens now faces a second-degree battery charge. Zula Allen is accused of stabbing Arletha Williams in the back. Williams, who suffered a punctured lung, underwent surgery at Howard County Memorial Hospital.

The controversy over traces of Liberty Link found in the Cheniere long grain rice variety last year has expanded in recent weeks to include Clearfield 131. That discovery will affect rice producers in Northeast Arkansas where the Clearfield and Cheniere variety had been planted on several thousand acres, area agriculture officials said.

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