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Farmers rule!

Farmers filled the corridors of the state Capitol, lobbying lawmakers on agricultural issues and getting honored in the House and Senate.

Both chambers approved a resolution recognizing farmers “for their vital contributions to the security and economic well-being” of the state and nation.

The rice farmers lobbied legislators on a bill to be considered in a Senate committee March 10 that could change the way the Rice Research and Promotion Board promotes markets rice.

Dairy farmers were on hand to support legislation aimed at saving the state’s small dairy farms. The measure passed the House.

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Pryor visit

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor stopped by the Joint Budget Committee today to say hello and to say he is trying to schedule some meetings where legislators can get more information on the  federal stimulus money the state is to receive soon.

The state’s share of the $787 billion package President Obama signed into law this week is expected to be about $2.1 billion. 

“It’s important for you all to get accurate information on what is in this, what isn’t and how this will work,” Pryor told lawmakers.

Pryor, who served in the state House and as state attorney general before being elected to the U.S. Senate, also said Gov. Mike Beebe is to be in Washington, D.C.,  this weekend for a National Governor’s Association meeting and will be briefed on how much the state will receive.

Like former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday, the senator also sang praises of the state’s current economic situation and budget and noted that many other states are suffering and face budget cuts because they’ve spent more money than they raise in taxes.

Arkansas law prohibits deficit spending.

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Clinton time at the state Capitol

Surprise. Bill Clinton arrived later than expected at the state Capitol this morning and stayed past noon. 

The former president and Arkansas governor was about 40 minutes late for a meeting with senators in the Senate chamber and spent about a half-hour visiting with old friends and discussing the  state of the state and nation. Among the throng was Secretary of State Charlie Daniels. He says Clinton “talked with folks that have been here a long time and he talked about the stimulus plan.”

Clinton later walked over to Gov. Mike Beebe’s second-floor office, and the two of them, along with state Sen. Mary Ann Salmon of North Little Rock and others, walked up one  flight to the House chamber, where Clinton addressed a joint session of the House and Senate. 

During his half-hour speech, the former governor told lawmakers to be thankful of Arkansas’ Revenue Stabilization Act, the law that prohibits deficit spending by the state. Clinton says Arkansas’ economy is much better than many other states.

Afterward, Clinton visited with a variety of people on the House floor and in the House Quiet Room, including Rep. Uvalde Lindsey, D-Fayetteville, who served as Clinton’s state budget director in 1983. Lindsey says he got to chat with the former president for about 30 seconds.

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Adding Capitol parking

Some of the most important maneuvering done at the state Capitol during legislative sessions will be a little easier when the General Assembly convenes in January.

With parking at a premium, Arkansas Building Authority director Ann Laidlaw says work to add about 160 new spaces in the Capitol complex should be completed by the end of the year.

About 50 of the new spaces will be located around the grassy mall area sandwiched between the Big Mac building and state Department of Education building, across from the west entrance to the Capitol.

The rest of the spaces are being added to the parking lot between the Justice Building and the Ledbetter Revenue Building southwest of the Capitol.

Cost of the project is about $430,000, which is funded by General Improvement Funds from the governor’s office.

Earlier this year, lawmakers discussed building a 2,000-space parking deck to relieve parking problems that have existed at the Capitol for decades. Laidlaw said the price tag would have been more than $10 million. This spring, the Capitol Parking Control Commission agreed to add surface parking after a consultant’s report concluded it would be more cost effective to redesign existing parking lots.

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It’s a girl

Lt. Gov. Bill Halter and his wife, Shanti, are celebrating their own set of winning numbers today: 6 pounds, 8 ounces and 19.5 inches long.

Those are the birth measurements of Julia Nancy Halter, born today at Baptist Health Medical Center in North Little Rock.

Julia is the Halters’ second pre-election baby. The couple’s first daughter, Lauren, was born shortly before the November 2006 election that ushered Bill Halter into office as lieutenant governor.

“God has blessed us with a second beautiful, healthy baby girl,” Halter said in a news release issued by his office. “Mother and daughter are doing great. Lauren is very excited about her new baby sister and I couldn’t be happier. We want to thank everyone who has kept us in their thoughts and prayers.”

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Lottery to stay on ballot

A proposed constitutional amendment to create a state lottery will remain on the November general election ballot, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled today.

The court rejected arguments by the Family Council Action Committee that the wording of the ballot measure proposed by Lt. Gov. Bill Halter was incomplete and misleading; did not define the term “state lottery,” and did not disclose that the measure could open the door to casino gambling.

Halter and the Family Council Action Committee have scheduled separate news conferences later today to discuss the ruling.

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