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Arkansas Senate

A bill that would implement stricter scrutiny of absentee voting applications in Arkansas has received final legislative approval and is heading to the governor's desk.

The Arkansas General Assembly has given final approval to a bill that would allow college athletes to enter into contracts and make money off their name and likeness.

Arkansas House

A bill that increases sentences for those who knowingly commit certain crimes against "recognizable groups" in Arkansas is on its way to the governor’s desk. The Arkansas House gave final approval Monday to Senate Bill 622.

The bill is defined by some as hate crimes legislation, while others say it is not specific enough to be considered as a hate crimes bill.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, surrounded by Arkansas lawmakers and educators, signs the two bills into law Monday during a ceremony at the state Capitol.
Governor's Office / YouTube

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a pair of identical bills Monday that will raise the state’s median teacher salaries by $2,000 and create a fund to help lower-paying districts reach that amount.

Senate Bill 504 by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, and House Bill 1614 by Rep. Bruce Cozart, the chairs of the Senate and House Education Committees respectively, will raise the target median teacher salary to $51,822 for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years. The House and Senate Committees afterwards would jointly set the statewide target median salary.

Guests inside Barton Coliseum on Jan. 10, 2020. An exhibit opening later this month looks at the many memorable concerts that took place there over the decades.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The Old State House Museum’s exhibit “Play It Loud: Concerts at Barton Coliseum” opens virtually on Friday, April 23 with a tour at 7 p.m. on the museum’s Facebook and YouTube channels. It will showcase concert memorabilia donated to the Old State House’s collection by the Arkansas State Fair and private donors.

Visitors to the museum will be able to view the exhibit starting April 27 during regular business hours, Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. COVID protocols will be in place at this time including masks and social distancing.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas House Minority Leader Rep. Tippi McCullough, D-Little Rock, said the abrupt ending to the Thursday judiciary committee that debated a hate crimes bill has raised more questions than answers.

House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Carol Dalby, R-Texarkana, called the vote on SB 622 for supporters of the bill and then quickly adjourned the committee before a roll call vote could take place. SB 622 is a class protection bill that enhances time served for certain violent crimes and is touted by some as an alternative to hate crimes legislation.

Arkansas House

A bill that seeks to add prison sentence enhancements for Arkansans who are convicted of violent crimes that deliberately target people in “recognizable and identifiable” groups or classes is heading to the state House for a final vote.

Arkansas Health Secretary José Romero at a press conference on Jan. 18 shortly before he was vaccinated for COVID-19.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The Arkansas Senate narrowly voted Thursday to keep state Health Secretary Dr. José Romero in his position, despite criticism from some senators over his actions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The half-hour of debate also included an ongoing theme of some senators accusing the executive branch of wielding too much power during the health emergency. Romero was appointed to the position by Gov. Asa Hutchinson last May, and continues to have the governor’s support.

U.S. Rep. French Hill announced plans Thursday to introduce the PPP Revenue Adjustment Calculation to Increase Capital Accessibility Long-Term, or the PRACTICAL Act, next week in Congress.
Talk Business & Politics

U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, announced plans on Thursday to introduce a change to the Paycheck Protection Program that he touted would help small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hill, R-Little Rock, said he was introducing the PPP Revenue Adjustment Calculation to Increase Capital Accessibility Long-Term, or the PRACTICAL Act, next week in Congress. In Arkansas, more than 14,000 businesses have received $4.6 billion through PPP funding over the course of the pandemic. Hill said it has helped save more than 375,000 Arkansas jobs.

medical care health doctor
Pixabay / WIkimedia Commons

The Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee advanced a bill Wednesday that would dissolve the State Medical Board at the end of this year and let House and Senate leaders each appoint one-third of its members.

Senate Bill 570 by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro, would end the terms of each of the members of the Arkansas State Medical Board by Dec. 31. They would be replaced or reappointed by that date.

Arkansas Senate

A bill that would enhance prison sentence lengths in Arkansas for defendants who commit a “serious felony involving violence” against someone in an “identifiable group,” is on its way to the state House of Representatives.

David Monteith / KUAR News

Last April, when much of the state was shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, calls to Arkansas' child abuse hotline dropped significantly. Teachers — the group most likely to spot and report suspected maltreatment — had shifted to virtual classrooms and were having less interaction with students.

Moshe Safdie, founder of Safdie Architects, and Alice Walton, founder and board chairperson of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, show plans for the expanded facility.
Stephen Ironside / Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in northwest Arkansas announced plans Wednesday to increase its size by 50% to showcase the museum’s growing collection and welcome more visitors.

According to a news release, the Bentonville museum will add 100,000 to the 200,000-square-foot facility. Envisioned to support Crystal Bridges’ commitment to free access to art for all, the new space will increase capacity for presenting art and exhibitions, educational and outreach initiatives, cultural programming, and community events.

Arkansas House

A bill that would have banned businesses in the state from mandating its employees get COVID-19 vaccinations has failed in a House committee.

House Bill 1547, which would make employers wait years after a COVID-19 vaccine has been officially approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before requiring its employees to get it, failed to receive the needed support on Tuesday from the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee to move on to the House.

Michelle Smith, director of the Arkansas Department of Health Office of Health Equity and HIV Elimination, discussed vaccine distribution in minority communities Tuesday.
Governor's Office / YouTube

Arkansas health officials are focused on boosting vaccine numbers ahead of any rise in COVID-19 variants, getting more vaccines to minority groups, and overcoming vaccine “resistance,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday (April 6) during his weekly COVID briefing.

“We have to overcome resistance. We have to overcome the challenges of a rural state,” the governor said.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson walks into a press conference Monday where he announced his veto of legislation that would prohibit gender transition procedures from being performed on people under the age of 18. Lawmakers overrode the governor's veto Tuesday.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas lawmakers on Tuesday made the state the first to ban gender confirming treatments and surgery for transgender youth, enacting the prohibition over the governor’s objections.

The Republican-controlled House and Senate voted to override GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of the measure, which prohibits doctors from providing gender confirming hormone treatment, puberty blockers or surgery to anyone under 18 years old, or from referring them to other providers for the treatment.

An abandoned railroad right-of-way near Hazen. The report says rural areas like this saw a population decline of 3.3% over the last decade.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

According to the 2021 Rural Profile of Arkansas, the state’s rural population decreased about 3.3% between 2010 and 2019, while the overall population of Arkansas grew by more than 3% during that same period. However, about 41% of the state’s population still resided in rural counties in 2019, which was higher than the national average.

Wayne Miller, professor of Community, Professional and Economic Development for the Division of Agriculture, and co-author of the 2021 profile, said the publication highlights both the challenges and successes of rural communities in the state.

Ernest Hemingway and Pauline Pfeiffer on their wedding day in 1927.
Arkansas State University

PBS is premiering a highly-anticipated six-hour documentary this week on Ernest Hemingway, directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The iconic literary figure spent time in northeast Arkansas along with his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer. Today, the property in Piggott has been restored as part of the Arkansas Heritage Sites program run by Arkansas State University.

Arkansas Senate

An Arkansas Senate committee has advanced a bill that some are defining as anti-hate crime legislation, while others say it does not go far enough.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announcing during a press conference Monday that he would veto a bill banning ban doctors in Arkansas from treating transgender youth with hormones, puberty blockers or surgery.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed a bill Monday that would prohibit gender transition procedures from being performed in state on individuals under age 18, but he acknowledged the veto likely will be overridden.

House Bill 1570, the Arkansas Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, would prevent physicians from performing the procedures. It also would ban the use of public funds or the providing of insurance coverage for them.

Arkansas Legislature

A bill that would remove Arkansas’ unique statute allowing tenants to face criminal charges for not paying rent has failed in the state legislature.

House Bill 1798, sponsored by Fayetteville Democratic Rep. Nicole Clowney, failed to pass in a meeting of the House Insurance and Commerce committee Monday.

Wikipedia

State lawmakers will take an extended break following this year's legislative session. When they return in the fall, they'll begin the process of re-drawing the lines of the state's four U.S. Congressional districts. 

Redistricting happens every 10 years, following the U.S. Census. State lawmakers re-draw lines for U.S. House districts, while the state Board of Apportionment, made up of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state, re-draws state House and Senate districts. 

Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration building in Little Rock.
KUAR News

Tax revenue through the first nine months of Arkansas’ fiscal year is up 7.5%, and the fiscal year-to-date revenue surplus – “net available revenue” collected beyond what was estimated – totaled $549.9 million.

Arkansas House

The Arkansas House has passed a bill that makes a variety of changes to the state’s absentee voting process.

Members voted 74-22 Thursday, largly on bipartisan lines, in favor of House Bill 1715. It now goes to the Senate.

Advocates for renters in Arkansas have launched a service to assist those who are faced with eviction.

During a news conference Thursday, the Democratic Party of Arkansas, alongside Young Democrats of Arkansas and Arkansas Renters United, announced a new hotline aimed at addressing evictions and providing information on the federal eviction moratorium that is still in effect.

On Monday, the federal government extended the moratorium on evictions through the month of June.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas is one of the only states without some type of hate crime law on the books, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said more than once it’s a top priority for him during the current legislative session. SB622, filed Thursday will attempt to solve that problem.

Arkansas Senate

A bill that would have eliminated the ability for Arkansans to early vote the day before Election Day failed to advance a Senate committee on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 485 would modify the early voting period for primary and general elections to where it ends at 4 p.m. the Saturday before Election Day as opposed to 5 p.m. the Monday before Election Day. 

Arkansas House

The Arkansas Legislature has passed a new version of its Medicaid expansion program.

The House voted 64-34 Tuesday to pass Senate Bill 410, meaning it now goes to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, where if signed, the bill will become law.

Sen. Tom Cotton speaks at Tuesday's press conference against the federal election bill that passed in the House earlier this month and is now before the Senate. Also with him at the press conference are Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, Sen. John Boozman
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

As the U.S. Senate considers a major overhaul of federal election law, five Arkansas Republicans spoke against it Tuesday in Little Rock. The legislation was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on March 3, with all Republicans voting no.

But passage in the Senate looks less likely because of a 50-50 split between parties and some Democrats, like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, expressing opposition. Arkansas’ two senators said at the press conference they don’t expect it will pass.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday the statewide mask mandate will be lifted, and people aged 16 or older are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Governor's Office / YouTube

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday (March 30) lifted the statewide mask mandate even as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged governors to not lift such restrictions. Gov. Hutchinson also on Tuesday opened vaccine eligibility to all Arkansans age 16 and older.

“It is an appropriate time to lift the statewide mask mandate,” Gov. Hutchinson said, noting that the criteria of having fewer than 750 COVID-19 hospitalizations has been met.

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