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Speaking for Baker

Republican state Sen. Gilbert Baker says he has hired Alice Stewart as deputy campaign manager and spokeswoman for his U.S. Senate campaign.

Stewart, a former television news reporter, was spokeswoman for Mike Huckabee when he was Arkansas governor and later served as national press secretary for Huckabee’s Republican presidential campaign last year.

Baker, one of seven Republicans vying for the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Senate incumbent Blanche Lincoln next year, says of Stewart:

“Her experience on the state and national level will be a great asset as we work to deliver the message of common sense, conservative leadership.”

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Kudos at the Capitol

A senior analyst with the Legislature’s research division has earned special attention from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Mark Hudson is among 19 legislative staffers or divisions to receive a  Legislative Staff Achievement Award at the NCSL’s annual conference held this year in Philadelphia.

“Staff who receive this award have demonstrated excellence in supporting the work of their state Legislature and have helped strengthen the legislative institution,” said NCSL Staff Chair Nancy Cyr.

Hudson works with the state House and Senate education committees.

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In defense of Sotomayor

LITTLE ROCK — Dustin McDaniel will argue a lost cause on national television this evening.

Make that a lost case.

Arkansas’ Attorney General is to appear on CNN at 6:30 p.m. to defend U.S. Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s 2007 ruling in favor of the city of New Haven, Conn., in a lawsuit by white firefighters filed after the city threw out a test for promotions when no black firefighter scored high enough to qualify.

In a 5-4 decision today, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ruling by a three-judge panel that included Sotomayor, saying the city’s actions discriminated against white firefighters.

McDaniel joined several other state attorneys general in filing a brief urging the high court to uphold the appeals court ruling.

A supporter of President Obama’s nomination of Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, McDaniel, will argue on CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight there were clear precedents for the lower court decision and that opponents will use the reversal as a “political red herring” to try and derail her nomination to the high court.

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Lottery update UPDATED

Robbie Wills, D-Conway

Rep. Robbie Wills, D-Conway

In a memo to House members, Speaker Robbie Wills has provided a summary of draft legislation to create Arkansas’ voter-approved lottery for college scholarships. The memo is available here.

Wills filed a shell lottery bill before the session started, and the Conway Democrat has said that when the bill is amended to add details — as of this afternoon no amendment has been filed — it could be over 100 pages long.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter has called a press conference for 11:30 a.m. Tuesday in his office at the Capitol to release the results of a new poll concerning the lottery.

You may recall Halter took his scholarship lottery proposal to Arkansas voters last year after the Legislature two years ago declined to refer it to the 2008 general election ballot. Voters approved a constitutional amendment authorizing a state-run lottery by a wide margin in November.

Since, Halter has been recommending to the Legislature how the lottery program should be structured.

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Budget panel endorses first bill

LITTLE ROCK — The Joint Budget Committee today endorsed its first bill this session, House Bill 1061, the general appropriations bill that authorizes the expenses of the executive, legislative and judicial branches for the next two years.

The bill lists the annual salaries for top officials within those branches for fiscal year 2009-2010. Some examples include $87,352 for the governor; $42,219 for lieutenant governor; $72,794 for attorney general; $17,865 each for the Senate Pro Tem and the House Speaker, and $15,953 for each of the other 99 House members and 35 senators.

Also during today’s budget committee, it was announced that the change to annual sessions, which was approved by voters in November, will be discussed at length at next Wednesday’s Joint Budget Committee meeting.

Amendment 86 requires the General Assembly to meet in regular session every year instead of every other year. The Legislature will continue to meet in odd-numbered years under provisions of the state’s 1874 constitution. The Legislature will also meet in even-numbered years to consider budget matters as required by the new constitution beginning next year.

Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle, has already filed a bill asking that voters in the 2010 general election to repeal Amendment 86.

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Greenberg withdraws in vitro fertilization bill

LITTLE ROCK — Rep. Dan Greenberg, R-Little Rock, today withdrew his  bill that would have required insurance companies in Arkansas to stop providing health coverage for in vitro fertilization.

“There’s credible national estimate that the cost of that mandate increases the cost of insurance about 3 to 5 percent nationally,” he said. “I was trying to figure out whether that was true in Arkansas and not just nationally … and it turns out that’s a hard question to answer,” he said.

The lawmaker also said he realized that there is some question as to whether eliminating the mandate would actually reduce overall health costs by 3 percent to 5 percent because of the obligations insurance companies already have to their customers.

“I’m very interested in reducing the cost of healthcare, I’m very uninterested in taking away a benefit that people have come to rely on,” he said.

Arkansas is one of just 13 states that mandate coverage for in vitro fertilization, he said.

Act 779 of 1987 mandated insurance companies include in vitro fertilization under maternity benefits. The new law went into effect in on Jan. 1, 1988, but only for polices written or renewed after that date.

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McDaniel to discuss much anticipated cruelty bill

LITTLE ROCK – Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has set a news conference for noon Wednesday to discuss details of his planned animal cruelty legislation that would make torture of a dog, cat or horse a felony.

The news conference is to be held in the Old Supreme Court Room at the state Capitol.

McDaniel has been working for about a year with animal advocates, and those who have opposed an animal cruelty bill, like the Arkansas Farm Bureau, in previous sessions.

The Arkansas Farm Bureau board of directors recently voted to support McDaniel’s current measure because it limits who can enforce the law and takes in consideration routine farm practices.

The legislation would make animal cruelty a felony on first offense, and it would make cock fighting and dog fighting felonies.

The Legislature rejected a proposal during the 2007 regular session.

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UA parking creating heartburn at the Capitol

University of Arkansas Chancellor David Gearhart got an ear full from lawmakers today about the $50 fine students are getting for parking illegally on the Fayetteville campus.

“This is an area where I continue to have heartburn,” said Rep. David Dunn, D-Forrest City, who has two children attending the university and complained he’s paid $200 in parking tickets already this fall.    

Gearhart acknowledged the fine is excessive but told lawmakers it’s about driving home to students the need to observe parking regulations on the Fayetteville campus.

UA officials say parking fines generate about $2 million annually for the university’s parking and transit budget. That’s in addition to the $2 million that campus parking fees contribute to the kitty.

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