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A call to arms … against milk bills

The executive director of the Arkansas Hospitality Association has issued a call to action to anyone who’s got a beef with dairy farm relief legislation.

In an e-mail to would be opponents of  legislation designed to subsidize small dairy farmers in the state when prices fall,  Montine McNulty says the measures would raise the cost of all dairy products.

The bills are slated for consideration Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development. McNulty’s e-mail urges those opposed to the bills to show up and say so at the meeting.

House Bill 1451 by Rep. Johnny Hoyt of Morrilton and a companion bill, Senate Bill 934 by Sen. David Wyatt of Batesville, would add a fee to the wholesale milk price to provide subsidies for struggling dairy farmers.

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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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Edwards wins House seat in recount

The Pulaski County Election Commission just finished their recount for the House District 38 race, and Democrat John Edwards has been declared the winner over Republican Kelly Eichler. The difference was 77 votes. Eichler asked for the recount after unofficial results on Election Day had her trailing by 74 votes.

Election Commission Chairman Kent Walker said it took about seven hours to count the ballots, which included provisional ballots and military overseas ballots not originally counted.

When the Legislature goes into session in January, the House will include 71 Democrats, 28 Republicans and one Green Party member.

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Easy being Green

It may look at first glance like a typo, but for the first time Arkansas has a state legislator with a “G” after his name instead of a “D” or “R.”

Rep.-elect Richard Caroll, G-North Little Rock, and other newly elected House members met at the state Capitol today to pick seats, make committee selections and learn their seniority rankings for the coming legislative session. The state’s first legislator from the Green Party of Arkansas was assigned the 90th ranking in a drawing for new members.

Carroll said he got along well with the House’s Ds and Rs.

“They’re very open and very friendly,” he said.

Carroll, a Democrat before he switched parties this year, accepted an invitation from House Democrats to caucus with them.

Meeting with the full House on Friday was exciting and a real learning experience, he said.

It was also “a little confusing,” he admitted.

“They move fast on what they want you to do on decision-making and everything,” Carroll said. “I was elected just three days ago, and now we’re making decisions where we’re going to be and when we meet in the Legislature and everything.”

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