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State Capitol in review

In November of 1998, the tobacco settlement agreement involved major tobacco companies, 46 states and five territories. Tobacco companies make annual payments nationwide. Overall, they have paid an estimated $246 billion.

How much Arkansas receives from the settlement fluctuates each year on the basis of the tobacco companies’ revenue. In 2013, the state received $75.5 million. Most years the amount is between $50 and $60 million.

Voters approved an initiated act in 2000 to lay out how the state spends the money. The act spreads the funds across several programs not directly related to tobacco, such as medical care for the elderly, members of minority groups and rural communities, expanded Medicaid access for pregnant women, those with low incomes and bond payments for new medical facilities. Each program gets a percentage. This year the state will spend $17.5 million on cessation and prevention. About 25 percent of adult Arkansans smoke, down from 30 percent in 2000.

Since the state of Arkansas began selling lottery tickets in 2009, about 30,000 students each year have received Academic Challenge Scholarships paid for with the proceeds from the lottery. However, the revenue generated by lottery sales has steadily dropped off, from more than $100 million annually to about $90 million.

As a consequence, the legislature restructured the way scholarships are awarded, to ensure that there is sufficient money in the program to pay for scholarships for all eligible students.

In 2014 the next major question facing lottery officials will be whether or not to add electronic bingo and lottery games that an individual plays on a computer monitor. States that have added monitor games have increased lottery revenue dramatically.

However, many elected officials and religious leaders oppose the idea of state government encouraging people to play a lottery game on a video monitor. They say that people with gambling problems often abuse monitor games. One of the reasons that electronic games boost lottery revenue is that they are installed in clubs, bars and restaurants.

Arkansas poultry growers rank third in the nation in production of turkeys, second in the production of broiler chickens and ninth in the production of eggs. We are the only state to rank in the top 10 in all three categories.

This week will begin the New Year of 2014. I want to wish each of you a very blessed year ahead. 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. Have a great New Year.

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