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An Arkansas legislative committee has advanced a bill to use state surplus funds to lower an increase in teacher insurance premiums that are to hit next year.

The Joint Budget Committee on Thursday endorsed the proposal to use $43 million from the surplus to lower the premium which otherwise would increase by as much as 50 percent. The proposal is the centerpiece of a package of bills aimed at reducing the premium increase.

The surplus money and redirected surplus funds in subsequent years is expected to lower the premium increase to 10 percent.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel is offering a $119 million settlement to three districts involved in a long-running school desegregation case.

In a letter Thursday, McDaniel said any settlement must involve the Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County districts.

Arkansas pays about $70 million annually to the districts under a 1989 agreement. The offer was in response to a proposed settlement McDaniel recently received from Little Rock to phase out its payments in either a $297 million lump sum or $42.4 million a year for seven years.

Competing proposals have been filed in the state Legislature over the state's efforts to reclaim excess property tax revenues from a handful of Arkansas school districts.

Two bills were filed Thursday over the property tax issue, which is on the agenda for the special session Gov. Mike Beebe called to address a looming hike in teacher insurance rates.

Democratic Sen. Bruce Maloch filed a proposal backed by Beebe that would phase out the excess money eight districts receive from levying the state-mandated property tax millage. The money would go back to the state.

Members of Arkansas's congressional delegation supported legislation to reopen the federal government and avoid a threatened national default. 

The House voted 285-144 in support of the bill Wednesday night. Republican U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford, Tim Griffin and Steve Womack voted for the measure. 

After the House vote, Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said he reluctantly supported it. It passed the U.S. Senate 81-18 on Wednesday night with the support of Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and Republican U.S. Sen. John Boozman, according to the Senate's website.

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A hearing has been set in a lawsuit brought by a group of same-sex couples challenging Arkansas' ban on gay marriage.

Online court records show that a hearing is scheduled for Dec. 12 in state court.

A group of same-sex couples filed the lawsuit against a number of county clerks and the head of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration this year.

A domestic violence shelter in Arkansas says it's feeling the strain of the partial federal government shutdown.

Board members with a shelter called Women & Children First told reporters on Wednesday that the impasse is hurting their organization and a number of other groups that receive federal funding.

Meanwhile, in Washington, politicians were working Wednesday to end the partial government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.

An electronics recycling company says it will open a processing facility in Forrest City, creating up to 75 jobs.

AMT E-Waste Solutions says it will open an electronics waste processing facility in the former Forrest City Grocery warehouse on Scott Street.

The company says it will give residents a safe method to dispose of electronics, such as televisions, computers and cell phones.

Chief Operating Officer Matt Person says the company will focus on serving eastern Arkansas, western Tennessee and northern Mississippi.

The Little Rock School District has proposed a settlement that would phase out the desegregation money it receives from the state, but Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said the offer is a "non-starter."

McDaniel told lawmakers Tuesday that the district had recently made the offer to the state. The proposal was issued as the state is preparing to go to trial over its request to end the desegregation payments Little Rock and two other districts receive.

Mercy Health and Catholic Health Initiatives have signed a non-binding letter of intent to transfer ownership of Mercy Hot Springs hospital and physician clinic to CHI and its affiliate, St. Vincent Health System in Little Rock.

The agreement was signed Friday. The parties plan to complete the transaction by Dec. 31 once final terms are agreed to.

University of Arkansas Fayetteville
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The University of Arkansas says as many as 100 of its employees could be furloughed this week because of the partial federal government shutdown.

Officials say they're working to reduce the number of affected employees. But the school said Monday that it's reviewing all faculty, staff and student employees who are paid fully or partly through federal funds.

Furloughed employees will receive official notice from the university's human resource office.

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