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State Capitol in review - Aug. 20, 2014

Two Arkansas senators have said they would lead a bi-partison effort to get rid of the office of lieutenant governor when the legislature convenes in January. The effort would take a voter approval of a constitutional amendment. The legislature can refer up to 3 proposed amendments during a regular session.

The senators estimated it would save the state $450,000 a year. Their proposal would state if the governor cannot full fill his duties, the state’s attorney general would assume the governor’s duties and vacate the office of attorney general. The proposal would outline a line of succession.

Arkansas prison officials are proposing to build a new 1,000-bed unit with plenty of secure, isolated cells for repeat offenders and inmates who continuously cause trouble. The projected cost is between $75 and $100 million. Under the state constitution the legislature has ultimate authority to determine spending by state agencies, and will consider the proposal during the 2015 regular session. The session convenes in January, but in October legislators will begin a detailed review of all spending requests in preparation for writing an overall state budget next year.

The Correction Department operates state prison units and the Board of Correction oversees the department. The board recently voted to seek funding for a new unity, with an estimated operating budget of $19 million a year. A maximum security unit for inmates who consistently cause management problems would be more expensive because it would have more individual cells than prison units with barracks style housing.

One possible source of funding, if approved by lawmakers, would be an increase in license plate fees. Revenue could finance a bond issue. The board anticipates that cities and towns will bid to become the site of the new prison because it will create about 230 jobs. The unit will take up about 400 acres. The Arkansas inmate population is more than 17,000 and growing. One reason for a recent growth spurt is that prison officials tightened parole policies.

Arkansas recently hosted the annual meeting of the Southern Legislative Conference, which was attended by legislators and policy makers from 15 southern state and border states. During a study session on prisons it was reported that there are more than 577,000 inmates incarcerated in the southern states, compared to about 325,000 in 1993. Arkansas was one of the states whose inmate population has grown in recent years.

Gov. Mike Beebe said the state Department of Education and EducationSuperHighway, a national nonprofit group dedicated to improving internet access in schools, have determined that shifting $15 million in annual spending now going to outdated copper networks, combined with better leveraging of federal funding, would allow Arkansas to become the first state in the country to meet the goal of linking every K-12 student to high speed broadband.

State and local law enforcement have begun the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over Campaign which will pair increased public awareness with high-visibility enforcement, resulting in fewer drunk drivers on Fort Smith and area roads. The campaign will continue through Sept. 1.

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

Greenwood, AR 72936.

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