State Rep. Jim Dotson (R-Bentonville).
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

A scaled back education bill to create a voucher-like program – which channels public dollars to private schools through individual education savings accounts- is headed to the Arkansas House floor. On Tuesday a legislative committee approved the amended bill, which was sent back down from the full chamber earlier in the week.

Instead of a permanent system it’ll be a four-year pilot program. The amended bill also pares back the state’s investment from $6.5-million in tax credits a year, to $3-million.

Arkansas’s 91st General Assembly has hosted serious discussions on healthier eating (only) on food stamps and on Sharia Law, guns on college campuses and sanctuaries on those same campuses for undocumented immigrants. Less attention until late had been given to the roughly two dozen bills that seek to shape up — or water-down, depending on your bent — the state’s half-century old Freedom of Information Act.

State Rep. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock).
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

In a close vote Monday, a measure to create an animal abuse registry failed in the Arkansas House. The bill by State Representative Clarke Tucker would have required felony animal abusers to register - for a limited period of a time - with the Arkansas Crime Information Center.

Animal adoption centers and stores would have then had the voluntary option of consulting the list. Sellers would still not be banned from pursuing business or selling animals to those on the list. But Tucker hoped adoption centers could use the information when exercising their discretion.

File photo: Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaking to reporters at the Capitol
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

The state of Arkansas has secured a new supply of a lethal injection drug and is set to begin executing eight inmates in a 10-day period next month.

Difficulty stocking the three drugs used in lethal injections has thwarted the state’s efforts to kill inmates in the past, along with routine court challenges. But after a U.S. Supreme Court decision last month not to review Arkansas’s execution procedure the state is poised to resume executions after an 11-year lull.

The Arkansas Senate has again rejected an effort to ban smoking medical marijuana after opponents said the move undermines a voter-approved initiative that legalized the drug for people with certain ailments.

The Senate voted 15-11 Monday against the proposal to change the constitutional amendment voters approved in November legalizing medical marijuana to ban its smoking. The measure needs at least 24 votes to advance to the state House.

Arkansas Department of Workforce Services / Arkansas Department of Workforce Services

According to the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, unemployment in the state dropped to 3.8 percent in January, which is a record low. The national unemployment rate was 4.8 percent.

The report released Monday reflects data on jobs and joblessness from January 2016 to January 2017. The sector showing the most growth in Arkansas over the year was "professional-scientific-technical services," which added 2,400 jobs.

The same week that federal Republicans unveiled a proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the ARKids First program which they say sent the state’s uninsured rates for children plummeting from 25 percent to less than five percent.

ARKids First offers a Medicaid option for kids from low-income families as well as a second option for kids from moderate-income families.  Two parents with two kids on a household income of less than $51,273 would be eligible for ARKids B, while a single parent with one child and an income of less than $22,748 would be eligible for the Medicaid option.  The program is not often referred to as Medicaid but simply as ARKids First.

On this week's podcast the KUAR News team tackles the emerging overhaul of healthcare at the both federal and state level. The Speaker of the House is moving forward with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act but Arkansas's congressional delegation has plenty of reservations about the replacement plan.

On the same as the national GOP plan unveiling, Governor Asa Hutchinson released his plan to seek new changes to Medicaid Expansion. The Republican governor's proposed waivers to the Affordable Care Act enabled plan could cost 60,000 low-income residents insurance coverage. 

State Rep. Dan Douglas (R-Bentonville).
Arkansas Times/Brian Chilson

A pair of highway funding bills – which would be referred out to voters in November – is making headway in the Arkansas Legislature. A House committee easily advanced a bond issue proposal on Thursday morning and then a new tax on gasoline. Bill sponsor Dan Douglas, a Republican from Bentonville, said he doesn’t relish the idea of a new tax but it’s needed.

“Do I like doing this? I wish we had a goose that laid golden eggs,” said Douglas, “Cause we could fund all sorts of issues but we don’t have that goose.”

Dirk DeTurck sits in a rocker on the front porch of his rural Conway home, nervously smoking a cigarette. The retired native New Yorker and U.S. military veteran says his neighborhood, filled with petroleum field workers, is not where he intended to settle when he moved to Arkansas. He gazes north towards the Ozark foothills. In 2004 that's where he built his 5,000 square-foot dream homestead on six acres perched atop a mountain ridge in between the towns of Guy and Greenbrier in Faulkner County.

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