Beebe signs into law 'private option' plan
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Gov. Mike Beebe has signed into law a measure reauthorizing Arkansas' compromise Medicaid expansion for another year.
Beebe on Friday signed the budget bill for the "private option" plan that was approved last year as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health law.
Through the private option, Arkansas is using federal Medicaid funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents. Nearly 94,000 people are receiving subsidized insurance through the program, the first of its kind approved by the federal government.
The program's future had been in jeopardy, but survived a defunding push in the House earlier this week.
Arkansas lawmakers advance $5B budget bill
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas lawmakers have endorsed a $5 billion budget bill that boosts funding for public schools and prisons and sets aside $19 million in rainy day funds for the state.
The Joint Budget Committee on Friday advanced identical versions of the budget bill, formally known as the proposed Revenue Stabilization Act. The measures are set to go before the House and Senate next week.
The legislation closely mirrors the budget that Gov. Mike Beebe presented in January. It calls for a $65 million increase in funding for public schools, and additional money for the state prison system.
The move clears the way for the Legislature to wrap up this year's session next week.
ARKANSAS TREASURER TRIAL
Broker says treasurer took $6K at Arkansas Capitol
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A broker who handled a large share of Arkansas' bond business says he gave the state's former treasurer $6,000 at her Capitol office because she needed help through a rough patch in her life.
Steele Stephens told jurors at Martha Shoffner's bribery and extortion trial Friday that Shoffner's mother had recently died and she had recently lost an apartment and state car.
Stephens said he felt sorry for the former treasurer, and thought giving her money could be good for business.
Shoffner is accused of taking $36,000 from Stephens and directing state business his way. Stephens said the first transaction occurred at the state Capitol, and that after it occurred Shoffner said, "I hope there's no cameras in here."
Prosecutors have given Stephens immunity. Shoffner's lawyer says no crime occurred.
Huckabee: Obama has diminished American might
OXON HILL, Md. (AP) - Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee says the United States' standing in the world has diminished under President Barack Obama, and its next leader faces a tough task in rebuilding America's might.
Huckabee on Friday has told an annual gathering of conservative leaders and activists that "no one trusts us, no one listens to us, no one respects us, no one fears us." Huckabee is weighing a presidential campaign in 2016 and says the United States has reduced its military power and other nations have taken advantage of it.
Huckabee says that as a result, Russian President Vladimir Putin only shakes when he takes his shirt off in the Russian winter but not when Washington threatens him.
Huckabee is speaking at the second day of the Conservative Political Action Conference.
SCHOOL BUS WRECK
1 killed when van rear-ends Quitman school bus
QUITMAN, Ark. (AP) - Authorities say one person in a van was killed when the vehicle collided with a school bus carrying students from the Quitman School District.
Arkansas State Police say the van rear-ended a school bus that was carrying three students Friday morning. State police spokesman Bill Sadler says one of the people in the van died in the collision.
Neither the students nor the bus' driver were injured in the collision.
The wreck happened on a state highway in Cleburne County. More details are expected to be released once a preliminary crash report is completed.
MAJESTIC HOTEL FIRE
Trespassers suspected in Majestic Hotel fire
HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) - Hot Springs' fire chief says trespassers likely set the fire that destroyed the Majestic Hotel -- but that the cause may never be determined because it wasn't safe to send investigators inside the building before it was torn down.
Fire Chief Ed Davis says investigators believe the Feb. 27 fire was likely set by either "urban explorers" or homeless people who were inside the abandoned building on a regular basis. Davis tells The Sentinel-Record that someone may have set the fire to keep warm, not as an attempt to burn the building down.
Davis says he decided not to send firefighters inside the building during the blaze because of safety concerns - so he chose not to send fire marshals in afterward.
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