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State Capitol in review - April 30, 2014

The Arkansas Legislative Council last week voted to use $2 million in the state’s “rainy day” funds to offer nearly two-thirds more Governor’s Distinguished Scholarships to eligible students. The scholarships pay up to $10,000 per year for public or private colleges or universities in the state.

The scholarship requires students to enroll in the fall semester immediately after graduation.

The agency had funding to offer the scholarship to 300 students, but wanted to extend the offer to another 193 who were eligible. To receive the Governor’s Scholarship students must score 32 or higher on a single ACT or get a combined score of 1410 from the math and critical-reasoning sections of the SAT. It also requires a grade point average of 3.5 or above or selection as a National Merit Finalist.

The Legislative Council consists of senators and representatives who meet regularly in the interim between sessions, in order to monitor state government operations. The council oversees activities such as transfers of funds within an agency, to ensure that funds are spent by executive branch agencies in compliance with appropriation bills.

Also, the council tracks significant personnel moves by state agencies, such as promotions and pay raises. After the $2 million of the rainy day fund is spent there will be about $12 million left in the fund.

An Arkansas judge struck down the state’s new voter ID law on Thurs, saying it violates the state constitution by adding a requirement that voters must meet before casting a ballot. The judge voided the measure in a lawsuit over the way absentee ballots are handled under the law. A separate lawsuit had been filed last week directly challenging the law, which requires voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot. The state Board of Election Commissioners has asked the attorney general’s office to appeal the ruling, and it will do so.

Backers in the Legislature said the law was aimed at reducing voter fraud, while opponents said it would disenfranchise voters.

Many elected officials and civic leaders met at the Capitol last week to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Community Development Block Grant program. Grants come from the federal government. Many are administered through the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, which has received more than $19 million a year for the past few years.

Their purpose is to benefit communities with families of low and moderate incomes. The larger cities receive CDBG funds directly from the federal government and the AEDC administers the grants for smaller towns. In the 40 years of the CDBG program, Arkansas communities have received more than $700 million in grants. The grants are for a variety of uses, including water systems, streets, community and senior centers, and child care facilities. Also, they have been used to provide loans to private businesses that create new jobs.

Remember early primary voting begins Monday with elections being May 20. You vote in either the Republican or the Democratic Primary. The choice is yours, but you can vote in only one.

If you would like to contact me, please email me at bruce.holland@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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