Arkansas Capitol Almanac

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Associated Press

Posted on February 9, 2013 at 8:03 AM

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas lawmakers face range of challenges as they seek to craft a new school choice law

Arkansas lawmakers are weighing competing proposals over how to rewrite the state's school choice law that a federal judge last year ruled as unconstitutional because it relied too heavily on racial criteria.

Both education advocates and lawmakers say Arkansas should develop a new law so the fate of district-to-district transfers isn't left in the hands of the courts. There are currently three different suggestions.

One proposal would let students to transfer to another district as long as it doesn't conflict with any pending desegregation court order. Another allows school districts to opt out of the law if they think it would lead to racial segregation in their schools. A third bill places limits on transfers based on a district's percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch.

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Arkansas House approves bill that would toughen the state's human trafficking law

The Arkansas House has approved a bill intended to toughen the state's law against human trafficking.

The House voted 91-0 Friday for the bill that would offer new protections for victims of human trafficking, such as allowing them to sue their abductor for damages. The legislation would also broaden the definition of human trafficking and create new penalties for knowingly patronizing a prostitute who is a human trafficking victim.

The bill sponsored by Republican Rep. David Meeks of Conway also creates a task force to make recommendations on how to further address human trafficking in the state.

Republican Sen. Missy Irvin of Mountain View is sponsoring an identical version of the bill that passed in the Senate Thursday by a 34-0 vote.

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Ark. House Speaker says he expects ban on most abortions after 12 weeks to pass next week

Arkansas House Speaker Davy Carter says he expects legislation to ban most abortions at 12 weeks into a pregnancy will pass.

Carter told reporters Friday he anticipates the bill will pass the House next week — but declined to say whether he supports it. He previously raised concerns about the constitutionality of the original bill that would've prohibited abortion as early as the sixth week of pregnancy.

The bill by Republican Sen. Jason Rapert was amended to prohibit most abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected 12 weeks into pregnancy. It includes exemptions for rape, incest and the health of the mother.

The Senate passed the original version and must approve the amendment before it goes to Gov. Mike Beebe. Beebe has said he still thinks the measure is unconstitutional.

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Ark. Democrats file legislation requiring churches allowing concealed guns to post signs

Two Arkansas lawmakers are proposing that churches allowing concealed handguns under recently approved legislation be required to post signs informing the public of that decision.

Democratic Reps. Darrin Williams and Reginald Murdock on Friday proposed the requirement as a follow up to a bill that Gov. Mike Beebe is expected to sign into law allowing concealed handguns in churches and other places of worship. Churches are currently on a list of places where concealed weapons are specifically prohibited.

The bill filed Friday requires churches that allow concealed handguns to post signs at each public entrance. It also specifies who at the church decides whether it will allow concealed handguns and addresses liability issues for the churches.

A spokesman for Beebe said the governor supports the follow up legislation.

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Ark. House panel approves bill to allow rewards for employees who expose waste in government

An Arkansas House panel has approved a measure allowing state employees to receive an award if they expose waste and inefficiencies that lead to savings for the state.

The House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs voted Friday to advance a proposal that would amend the state's whistleblower law. Under the bill, if an employee's report leads to savings for the state, the employee could receive 10 percent of those savings.

Republican Rep. Nate Bell is sponsoring the legislation. He says the financial incentive is needed to deter inefficiency in government. Some lawmakers on the panel said they were concerned it would cost the state money to investigate more reports of waste.

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Legislative auditors say Ark. Medicaid program paid $1.3M to ineligible recipients

Legislative auditors say Arkansas' Medicaid program paid more than $1.3 million to ineligible recipients since 2009, and a House Republican leader says it points to the need for reforms in the $5 billion program.

The Arkansas Division of Legislative Audit said Friday the error rate among recipients it's tested for eligibility increased from 3.2 percent in 2011 to 14 percent last year. But the Department of Human Services said that increase reflects a change in the types of recipients legislative auditors tested.

DHS had wrangled with lawmakers last week over the release of the audit and complained that an early version of the report was using questionable methodology. Legislative audit delayed the report's release as they talked with DHS about the concerns.

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Quote of the day:

"We want to make it so parents can send their children to schools that fit their needs, not based on their ZIP code."

Laurie Lea, who leads A-Plus Arkansas, a group that advocates unfettered school choice, in comments to lawmakers considering three plans to rewrite Arkansas' school choice law.

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