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A higher calling

John Thomas, longtime vice president of the Family Council, is leaving the organization today to start the new year as full-time pastor of The Journey Church in Little Rock.

“I’ll miss the great work that Family Council is doing, but I look forward to the new venture ahead,” Thomas says in an e-mail.

The Family Council scored several political victories during Thomas’ time with the Christian conservative group, including passage of the 2004 constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and this year’s success of Initiated Act 1 banning unmarried couples from adopting or foster parenting children in Arkansas.

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Lottery on ice?

Two groups opposed to a state-run lottery want legislators to ignore the lottery-authorizing amendment voters approved on Election Day.

United Methodists Against Gambling announced today it will ask legislators to forego writing rules for creating and operating a state lottery next year. Instead, the group wants lawmakers to refer to the 2010 general election a proposed constitutional amendment to restrict the definition of state lotteries to exclude all games of chance except the sale of lottery tickets.

Jerry Cox of the Family Council says his group supports the idea of a constitutional amendment in 2010 that either defines lotteries in the state constitution or bans casinos.

One lawmaker whose committee would help write rules for running a state lottery says it would be “insulting to the people of Arkansas” for the Legislature to ignore the will of the electorate.

Senate State Agencies chairman Steve Faris, D-Malvern, says he’s willing to discuss any and all ideas, but he says asking the Legislature to reject what voters overwhelmingly approved is not an option.

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Arkansas Poll

Arkansans appear ready to back John McCain for president on Nov. 4, according to results of the annual Arkansas Poll released Thursday.

The poll shows McCain with a 51 percent to 36 percent lead over Barack Obama among registered voters. The poll by the University of Arkansas has a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.

Results of the comprehensive survey can be found at the Arkansas Poll Web site.

When asked about Initiated Act 1, which would prohibit unmarried couples living together from adopting or foster parenting children, 55 percent of respondents said they opposed the measure proposed by the conservative Family Council.

Arkansans do seem to like Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’s proposal for a state-run lottery to fund college scholarships, with 65 percent of those polled saying they favored Proposed Constitutional Amendment 3.

An overwhelming 56 percent of respondents said the economy was the most important issue facing Arkansans today. Last year, about 29 percent cited the economy as the key issue,

“In our 10 years of polling, no issue has ever been ranked that high,” said Janine Parry, a UA political science professor and director of the Arkansas Poll.

Also, only 27 percent of Arkansans said they approved of the job President Bush is doing. That’s substantially down from the president’s first year in office, when 87 percent approved of his job.

Approval ratings for other politicians were: Gov. Mike Beebe, 74 percent; Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., 54 percent; Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., 56 percent; Rep. Marion Berry, D-Gillett, 50 percent; Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Little Rock, 57 percent; Rep. John Boozman, R-Rogers, 52 percent; and Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, 62 percent.

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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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Group to fight foster parenting policy

A coalition formed to oppose an initiated act to ban unmarried couples living together from adopting or serving as foster parents in Arkansas says it also will fight a state policy banning placement of foster children with “cohabitating adults.”
Members of Arkansas Families First say they will testify in opposition to the policy at a Department of Human Services hearing on Thursday. The group requested the hearing after learning recently that the policy, which was put in place through a directive in 2005, has never been formalized.
“We simply do not have enough foster homes in the state, and by creating blanket policies such as these that arbitrarily disqualify potential foster-care homes, that just simply does more harm to children, and they’ve already been through a lot,” said Jennifer Ferguson, deputy director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
The Family Council, which authored the proposed initiated act on adoption and foster parenting that will appear on the November ballot, plans to testify in support of the DHS policy. Family Council Executive Director Jerry Cox called Arkansas Families First’s request for a hearing “an unnecessary distraction.”
“The Department of Human Services is trying to protect children,” he said. “These groups have stepped in, they have an agenda, and now they’re complicating the process. I think that’s unfortunate for the children of Arkansas.”
Cox said the Family Council will continue to campaign for its initiated act, which would differ from the state policy in that it would ban both adoption and foster parenting by unwed couples, whereas the policy only addresses foster parenting.
The hearing will be 10 a.m. Thursday at the Department of Human Services’ main office in downtown Little Rock.

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Court sets arguments in lottery amendment challenge

The Arkansas Supreme Court today set oral arguments for Oct. 13 in the Family Council Action Committee’s lawsuit challenging Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’s proposed constitutional amendment to create a state-run lottery to fund college scholarships.
The Family Council contends the wording of the ballot question is inaccurate, incomplete and misleading. Halter says the wording, which was approved by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, is clear.
The Family Council wants the court to strike the measure from the ballot or rule that any votes cast on the measure cannot be counted.
Early voting for the Nov. 4 election starts Oct. 20.

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