From the Arkansas Statehouse...

Week in review.

In General Business on 21 February 2009 at 3:39 pm

After weeks of negotiation, House and Senate leaders unveiled part of draft legislation that will create a lottery in Arkansas. The current bill, which is subject to change before it is officially filed, includes tough ethics rules and an express ban on video lottery and casino gambling. The second half of the draft legislation, which deals with lottery-funded scholarships, is slated to be released next week. It is expected to be more controversial than the first part of the bill.

The Senate sent a ban on partial-birth abortion to Governor Beebe’s desk. He has said he will sign the measure. The House voted to repeal the state tax on charitable bingo, though the bill may receive amendment in the Senate. Supporters of the repeal say the tax is an unfair burden on non-profits and that it limits their ability to fund worthy activities such as scholarships. Opponents argue that the tax cut will limit bingo oversight and allow commercial operators to move into the state. The Department of Finance and Administration has protested the loss of $1.2 million in revenue from the tax. The House also approved fee hikes for wine and spirits permits. The new fees, which have already made it through the Senate, will allow Alcoholic Beverage Control to ramp up enforcement and improve its technology. The measure stoked controversy when first debated in the Senate; some small wholesalers said the permit increases would put them out of business. It has since been revised to charge lower fees to wholesalers who distribute under a certain volume.

The House State Agencies Committee approved a measure to eliminate the partisan election of prosecutors. Opponents argued that the measure is itself partisan. The Senate Judiciary Committee recommended a bill making it a misdemeanor to transmit voyeuristically obtained images; in the face of opposition from defense lawyers, it deferred action on a bill to enhance penalties for domestic assault carried out in the presence of a child.

Former President Bill Clinton addressed a joint session of the legislature in front of two full galleries. He arrived forty minutes late and encouraged lawmakers to provide means for more efficient energy in buildings. A House committee declined to recommend that the blue catfish become the official fish of Arkansas. The ichthyological honor is currently unclaimed. Another House committee recommended a byzantine procedure to determine who rightfully controls the remains of dead people. The Senate told Turkey to stop harassing the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church.

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