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State Capitol in review - April 23, 2014

Arkansas highway officials have announced that they will rename a section of Interstate 540 and U.S. 71 in western Arkansas as I-49. This is a stretch of highway between Alma and Bella Vista.

Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department also is requesting from the federal government to rename the part west of Fort Smith with the same designation. This is the tract across Chaffee. The department plans to post nearly 700 signs along the existing 65-mile stretch within the next month. When I-49 is completed, it will stretch from the gulf of Mexico north to Canada.

Arkansas lottery sales, which finance college scholarships, have steadily declined since the first tickets were sold in 2009. In the past couple of years, revenue for scholarships has declined from almost $100 million annually to an estimated $82.7 million this year. Last week the state Lottery Commission voted to proceed with plans to install monitor games, on which people can play a lottery every four or five minutes while looking at a computer screen.

The Lottery Legislative Oversight Committee, which hears regular reports from the Lottery Commission, voted to oppose the computer monitor games. In spite of the non-support by the legislators, the Lottery Commission voted to proceed with monitor games. The Legislative Committee and the governor voiced concerns that the games could gradually evolve into a version of slot machines that would be available in multiple locations around the state.

The Lottery Commission said it would not. The director of the Lottery Commission estimated that installing the monitor games could increase revenue by $4 to $5 million a year.

At this time freshmen at a four-year university, who qualify, would receive $2,000, as sophomores they get $3,000, then $4,000 as juniors and $5,000 as seniors. Students at two year colleges would get $2,000 a year for both years.

The court hearing the suit contesting the Arkansas prohibition on same sex marriage heard final arguments and the judge said that he would rule in about two weeks. Arkansas’ ban on gay marriage is based on Amendment 83 passed by popular vote in 2004 and statutory law that dates back 17 years. Several courts in other states have overturned the state gay marriage bans.

In September, the Fish and Wildlife Commison listed the Neosho mucket and the rabbitsfoot mussel, about a 6-inch long mussel, as an endangered species. It wanted to designate hundreds of miles of Arkansas rivers and streams as critical habitat for these mussels across the state. Many in our state said that this would lead to major restrictions on use by landowners and business’ operation. The Arkansas legislature, governor and many organizations asked for a smaller protection zone.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has now said they will reopen public comments period about their proposal to designate hundreds of miles of area in the state to these mussel preservation. The comment period has not begun yet and I will let you know where to go to make comments when announced.

May 5 begins early voting and May 20 is the primary election. Remember to bring a photo identification. Some people do not vote in the primary elections because they do not think it is that important and wait until November.

However, many races are decided in this election since there is not an opposite party candidate in the race. You do have to designate which party ballot you want to vote in. In the primary you have to choose between the Republican or Democrat ticket to vote.

In November you vote on one final ballot. Your vote in the primary will determine the winner in some cases and in other cases will determine who wins the nomination in that party to go on the general ballot in November. Either way, your vote is important.

If you would like to contact me, please email me at bruce.hollarnd@senate.ar.gov or call my office at 650-1884 or write me at P.O Box 2387, Greenwood, AR 72936.

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