Monday, April 02, 2007

Early Monday morning summary

A committee impaneled to investigate the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau concludes that bureau leaders broke at least three state laws and a local ordinance, but its final report didn’t identify those responsible. The report noted “some employees in key roles did not possess the necessary skills needed to perform their jobs.”

Arkansas’ search for a new basketball coach turns a week old today. Creighton Coach Dana Altman still appeared to be a candidate Sunday, while Memphis’ John Calipari says he never was a candidate. The Democrat-Gazette reports that 80 year-old athletic director Frank Broyles reportedly offered Capiari $2 million annually. Broyles' forced retirement was announced earlier this year in the wake of massive disruptions in the football program,

The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas reports problems with their water supply threaten to limit growth in 15 communities in Northwest Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma. The Benton/Washington Rural Public Water Authority is rapidly reaching the point where it won't be able to treat enough water to fill the needs of its 60,000 customers.

Rep. John Boozman of Rogers will leave today on a week long trip to Europe and Africa to study transportation and visit military bases on those continents.

The Legislature is quickly moving toward ending the session by Tuesday, including passing the Revenue Stabilization Act, which sets priorities for spending nearly $9 billion in state money.

Mirror versions of the General Improvement Fund bill, which details how to spend the state's $919 million surplus, were approved in both the Senate and House on Friday will be discussed by the other chamber today. Agendas for both the House and Senate are full of budget bills and concurring amendments. The legislature expects to conclude tomorrow.

The industry backed Payday Lending bill, which contained language explicitly allowing discrimination against military personnel, was defeated by the full state house Friday. The “window dressing” bill authored by backers of lenders that frequently charge interest of up to 3000% for small personal loans, went down by a final vote of 21 – 57.

After opposition from the insurance lobby, many of which have multi-billion dollar profits, last-minute negotiations have not produced a source for financing trauma centers statewide. Discussions will continue today,

A House-passed bill to let teachers give candy as rewards to students fell flat in a Senate committee Friday after state Surgeon General Joe Thompson likened the practice to training laboratory rats with treats.

A House committee rejected Tuesday a measure that would create a system to track narcotic pain medication prescriptions.

Two people have died in Arkansas in recent months after being electrocuted while trying to strip copper wire from utility polls. In the past year, police have a reported a dramatic increase in copper thefts from construction sites and utility polls across Arkansas. The state Legislature this session has approved and the governor has signed into law three bills intended to enhance the penalties for thieves and require better bookkeeping by scrap metal recyclers.

Mike Huckabee says he remains focused on his 2008 presidential bid and will not challenge Sen. Mark Pryor next year.

Former state Sen. Bill Gwatney will be the Democratic party’s new chairman. He was elected Saturday at a state committee meeting in Hot Springs.

A circuit judge denied a motion for a mistrial Friday in the Lonoke corruption case after a convicted felon testified outside the jury’s presence that one of the three defendants asked him to kill both a prosecution witness and Lonoke County Prosecuting Attorney Lona McCastlain. The man said the co-defendant, Bobby Junior Cox, also asked him to set fire to McCastlain’s home and the Lonoke County courthouse.

Despite heavy rains, almost 100 prisoners who had been housed at jails outside Jefferson County were moved to their new home away from home Saturday as the new adult jail opened as scheduled.

The number of employed Arkansans increased by 9,600 in February as the state’s unemployment rate fell one tenth of a percentage point to 5.0 percent.

Layoffs at Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.’s Texarkana plant will begin at the end of May but the previously announced number of up to 500 may be reduced.

El Dorado-based Murphy Oil Corp. paid its highest-ranking executive almost $5 million in total compensation in 2006, according to its annual proxy statement filed Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Claiborne C. Deming, president and chief executive officer, received $4,978,179 in salary, bonus, incentives, other compensation and the estimated value of stock options and awards granted during 2006.

The state of Louisiana and a Louisiana conservation group have each appealed permits allowing El Dorado and three companies to pipe treated wastewater to the Ouachita River, claiming the plan is riddled with problems that would make their way downstream.

CenterPoint Energy customers can expect to see natural-gas bills increase by about 8 percent for the next few months, according to summer season rates filed Friday with state regulators.

Dizzy’s Grill & Bistro has made local history, as the first restaurant in Saline County to receive a state permit to sell alcoholic beverages. Owner Darla Huie says being able to sell drinks with meals will be good for business in the dry county. She can sell alcohol only to customers who become members of her establishment. Huie plans to charge $25 for a five-year membership.

Arkansas farmers plan to increase the number of acres they plant this spring in corn and grain sorghum by 195 percent and 217 percent, respectively, according to a report issued Friday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The Little Rock Nine will be the honored guests of a fundraising gala in New York in April. The African American Experience Fund of the National Park Foundation will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High School at its third annual fundraising gala.

An assistant band teacher at Bryant High School who faces four counts of felony sexual assault involving a student has been arrested for violating conditions of his bond, police said. Joseph Bresnahan was reportedly communicating with Bryant students, and the police department asked the prosecutor to revoke Bresnahan’s pretrial release.

A fast-food worker had her son punch her in the face in an attempt to stage a robbery outside a Fayetteville KFC restaurant. Tina Marie Brown and Brandon Lee Deere were arrested on charges of theft and filing a false police report.

Arkansas Symphony Orchestra Music Director and Conductor David Itkin has taken a similar position with the Las Vegas Philharmonic, but he’ll remain on the podium of the Little Rock-based orchestra, where his contract goes through the 2009-10 season.

Crews working on the rehabilitation of the Arkansas 7 Interchange of the Martin Luther King Jr. Expressway in Hot Springs will begin working on Central Avenue this week. Weather permitting, crews will begin the overlay of Central Avenue through the interchange on Monday. The work will be done during nighttime hours to minimize the impact on travelers.

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