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Lottery wheels turning

The state lottery should move a step closer to becoming a reality next week, House Speaker Robbie Wills advises.

Wills says he is “shooting for Tuesday” to name his three appointments to the nine-member lottery commission.

The governor, the House speaker and the Senate president pro tem each get to make three appointments to the commission. Sen. Bob Johnson announced his appointments Wednesday, the same day Gov. Mike Beebe signed legislation to create the commission.

Johnson named former congressman, university president and state Supreme Court justice Ray Thornton to a six-year term, businesswoman Patty L. Shipp of Morrilton to a four-year term and Little Rock lawyer Derrick W. Smith to a two-year term.

A spokseman for Gov. Mike Beebe said he did not know when Beebe would announce his appointments.

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Halter to testify on lottery

The man who put Arkansas’ state-run lottery on the ballot in 2008 will be among the witnesses offering testimony when legislation to set up the lottery makes its debut in House and Senate committees Tuesday.

Lt. Gov. Bill Halter will testify for the legislation in the House Rules and Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs committees, spokesman Garry Hoffmann advises. The committees will consider matching bills by House Speaker Robbie Wills, D-Conway, and Sen. Terry Smith, D-Hot Springs.

Halter previously has urged legislators to include strict ethics rules in the legislation, create a simple application process for the scholarships the lottery will fund and offer large scholarship amounts.

Asked if Halter’s testimony Tuesday will include a request for amendments to the lottery bills, Hoffmann declined to comment.

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Lottery bill on schedule for March 11 committee appearance

House Speaker Robbie Wills says work on merging the two halves of the lottery bill — the business model and the scholarship rules — and incorporating suggestions from lawmakers and others is proceeding swiftly, but the legislation may not get filed this week.

Wills informs that he is aiming to file the long-awaited legislation on Friday, but “we reserve the right to take the weekend.”

The bill-filing deadline for the 2009 session is Monday, but because Wills has already filed a shell lottery bill, he can amend the bill at any time.

Whether he amends the bill this week or early next week, Wills says he plans to present the bill in the House Rules Committee on March 11. If that happens, the bill, which has more than 60 House sponsors, could be on the House floor as early as the following day.

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Lottery meeting Wednesday — maybe

House Speaker Robbie Wills told House members today that details of the scholarship portion of the draft lottery bill may be discussed in a committee meeting Wednesday. 

Wills says a joint meeting of the House Rules Committee and the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs has been tentatively set for Wednesday afternoon, upon adjournment of both chambers, to discuss the lottery bill, which is still under construction. 

“We are working throughout the day and night and most of the day tomorrow preparing that, so please be on standby. We will confirm that 100 percent during the session tomorrow,” Wills announced during today’s House session.

The committees met last Wednesday to discuss the portion of the bill concerning the structure of the lottery.

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Draft of lottery bill online

A draft of a portion of pending legislation to create Arkansas’ lottery — the portion concerning only the lottery’s structure, not the scholarships it will fund — is available here.

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Friction over lottery

A freshman House member moved today for a special House session on Friday to discuss the lottery, but House Speaker Robbie Wills refused to recognize the motion.

Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison, made the motion on the floor during today’s House session. He said later he believes the time has now come, after weeks of work by select groups of legislators, for the House as a whole to discuss the lottery.

Wills said he denied the motion because he does not believe a special session of the entire House is necessary at this time. He said he spoke to freshman House members in detail about the lottery on Monday, and the House Rules Committee and the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs will meet jointly Wednesday for another lottery discussion. Everyone is invited to attend that meeting, he said.

Wednesday’s meeting will be in the Old Supreme Court room at the Capitol upon adjournment of the House and Senate.

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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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Lottery summary in the works

House Speaker Robbie Wills say he’ll have a summary of upcoming legislation to create a state-run lottery  in the hands of House leaders by this weekend. 

The Conway Democrat says he wants  to get feedback  from House committee chairmen before sharing the summary with the rest of the House membership and the press, possibly as early as Monday. 

House members should be grateful for the summary. Wills has said the actual bill could be as long as 100 pages.

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Do-something Legislature?

State Rep. Robbie Wills used a prop to make a point today in his first address to the House as its new speaker.

The Democrat from Conway held up a device he called a “do-nothing” — a novelty item that at one time was offered for sale at his family’s business in Pickles Gap. The device had a crank which, when turned, did nothing.

“Don’t be a do-nothing,” Wills told newly sworn House members. “Be a do-something.”

Wills offered a list of things he wants lawmakers to accomplish this session, starting with going beyond adequacy in funding public education.

Wills says he also wants to continue investing in work force training, fund infrastructure improvements, extend broadband access to every area of the state and promote job growth.

He urges lawmakers to be “ambitious” on health care issues, funding a statewide trauma system, community health centers, in-home care for the elderly, cancer treatment and Medicaid and expansion of the ARKids First health coverage program for the children of Arkansas’ working poor.

Wills urged House members to make the “courageous decision” to raise the cigarette tax to pay for health care projects because “it’s the right thing to do.”

Wills named chairmen and vice chairmen to a number of House committees, a list of which can be found here.

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To each his own

Lt. Gov. Bill Halter says it’s OK with him if his crowning achievement — a state lottery — isn’t Gov. Mike Beebe’s top priority in the upcoming legislative session.

Beebe says balancing the state budget, funding public education and cutting the grocery tax are higher on his to-do list for the session than creating a structure for the lottery Halter pushed and voters approved in the November general election.

But incoming House Speaker Robbie Wills and Senate leader-to-be Bob Johnson this week identified the lottery issue as their main focus for the session that convenes Monday.

Halter says today, “Everybody’s going to have different points of view about that, and there are several significant issues obviously before the Legislature … People just rank them differently, and that’s fine.”

Halter briefly ran against Beebe as a candidate for governor in 2006 before switching to a campaign for lieutenant governor. The former Clinton administration official then led the effort to put the lottery measure before voters as a way to fund college scholarships. Beebe didn’t take a stand on the lottery until announcing as he left the voting booth he had voted against it.

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