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(Yellville) – Arvest Bank is now accepting letters of request from area non-profit organizations for the 2015 Charity of the Year program.

The organizations selected by the committee of associates will benefit from the funds raised through the annual Arvest Charity Golf Tournament. Charitable organizations in Baxter, Boone and Marion counties in Arkansas and Howell County, Missouri are encouraged to apply.

The committee will choose up to three charities to be the recipients of all tournament proceeds. Non-profit organizations within the four county area are encouraged to apply to become “Charity of the Year.” Final selection is based on past, present and future financial needs, along with other criteria. To qualify, the charity must be a designated 501(c)(3) charitable organization and must submit a letter to the committee explaining why they believe that their organization should be selected.

Letters of application for the 2015 Charity of the Year are due no later than Friday, April 17. All applications should be mailed to Arvest Bank Charity Committee, Attn: Tiffany Watkins, P.O. Box 325, Yellville, AR, 72687, or they can be emailed to twatkins@arvest.com.

This year marks the 19th annual golf tournament, with over $16,000 raised during the 2014 program.

The 19th Annual Arvest Charity Golf Tournament is scheduled for Saturday, August 29 at the Twin Lakes Golf Course in Mountain Home. Sponsorship opportunities for the event are available at all levels. Call 870-449-7164 for more information.

(Little Rock) (AP) – Arkansas lawmakers have given final approval to a religious-freedom bill that has drawn sharp criticism from opponents who say it opens the door to state-sanctioned discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The House voted Tuesday to approve the measure, which prohibits the state and local governments from infringing on a person’s religious beliefs without a “compelling” interest. The measure now heads to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has said he will sign it into law.

If enacted, the move will make Arkansas the second state to enact such a law this year. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a similar bill last week, and 19 other states have comparable measures on the books.

Hundreds of protesters filled the Arkansas Capitol urging Hutchinson to veto the bill.

(Little Rock) (AP) – Arkansas lawmakers have given initial approval to legislation outlining the state’s nearly $5.2 billion budget for the coming year and a plan to tap $40 million from the state surplus for various one-time needs.

The House on Tuesday approved by a 92-0 vote the proposed Revenue Stabilization Act, which sets spending priorities based on expected revenue. An identical version of the measure cleared the Senate on a 27-6 vote.

The proposal boosts funding for public schools, prisons and Medicaid, with a 1 percent cut to most other agencies.

Identical bills calling for the governor and the Legislature to split $40 million from the surplus for various projects was approved by the House on a 86-0 vote and the Senate by 33-0.

The measures head toward final votes later this week.

(Little Rock) (AP) – Notifications being sent to thousands of people on Arkansas’ compromise Medicaid expansion telling them the program is ending would also include information about a task force looking at alternatives for coverage, under a measure heading to the House.

The Senate approved by a 26-3 vote a proposal to add information about the task force to notifications approved by the Legislature. The notifications are being sent to those enrolling or renewing their coverage in the “private option,” which uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for the poor.

Lawmakers have voted to extend the private option another year while the task force comes up with recommendations, which could include some form of Medicaid expansion similar to the private option.

by Allen Reed, AP

(Little Rock) (AP) – A bill designed to restart executions in the Arkansas by allowing an alternative lethal injection procedure and hiding the source of the drugs was endorsed by a Senate panel.

The Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs advanced the bill to the full Senate in a voice vote Tuesday. It would allow the Department of Correction to use a combination of three drugs or a barbiturate for executions. The agency would also be barred from releasing who makes or supplies the drugs.

Defense attorneys say the secrecy provision in the bill violates a previous contract with the state and that death row inmates will sue if it is passed.

An attorney general spokesman has said that agreement shouldn’t prevent the Legislature from amending the law.

Rep. Justin Harris

Rep. Justin Harris

(Little Rock) (AP) – Arkansas lawmakers have given final approval to a bill banning the informal transfer of adopted children known as “re-homing,” a measure prompted by a legislator who gave away his adopted daughters to a man who later admitted to sexually assaulting one of them.

By 88-0 and 89-0 votes, the House agreed to changes to legislation criminalizing the practice of giving an adopted child to an unrelated family without state oversight and another proposal that the state create new services for parents after they adopt.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he plans to sign it into law.

The ban was proposed after the Arkansas Times reported that Republican Rep. Justin Harris of West Fork gave his adopted daughters to a man who later admitted to sexually assaulting one of the girls.

by Summer Ballentine, AP

(Jefferson City) (AP) – Missouri senators moved one step closer to enacting a tracking database for prescription drugs on Monday, despite years of failure amid privacy concerns.

The legislation would create a program that monitors when prescriptions for drugs considered controlled substances are written and filled, with the goal of stopping so-called doctor shoppers from amassing pills to use recreationally or sell.

State lawmakers have resisted enacting such a program for more than a decade because of worries about the security of a government database with medical information. The release of the state’s concealed carry information by the Highway Patrol in 2011 further fueled criticism of creating another database.

Missouri now is the only state without a prescription drug monitoring program, but compromises Monday could mean the bill has a better chance of passing.

Debate continued for hours as lawmakers weighed protecting private medical records, enacting safeguards against potentially deadly drug addictions and giving police additional tools to crack down on drug abuse.

Changes included a mandate that the database be encrypted, a sunset requiring a vote of approval to renew the program in 2020 and other limits aimed at clamping down on who can see the data and when.

Senators also slashed the length of time data would be saved. The original bill would have required the prescription information be purged every two years, but that was cut to 180 days.

Bill sponsor and Republican Sen. David Sater, a pharmacy owner from Cassville, said restricting access to that information could limit its effectiveness. But he said the concessions were worth paving the way for a voice vote Monday for initial approval of the bill, which he called “a step in the right direction.”

Even with the amendments, some senators were reluctant to support the bill.

“I still feel like this is not a good idea,” Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, said after roughly five hours of debate.

A second full Senate vote is needed before it can move to the House, which has already passed a similar bill.

(Jefferson City) (AP) – The Missouri House is moving forward with a measure that would limit growth in the state’s spending based on increases in population and inflation.

House members gave initial approval Monday to a constitutional amendment that would require a reduction in state income tax rates after increased revenues fill reserve funds.

Republican Rep. Eric Burlison, of Springfield, says his proposal ensures the state will more carefully use taxpayer funds.

He says when revenue has grown in the past, lawmakers have simply spent the increases.

Democratic opponents say the measure would hamstring lawmakers in the budgeting process. They say it would make paying for schools, roads and other priorities more difficult.

The measure faces another vote in the House before going to the Senate. It would have to be approved by voters.

(Jefferson City) (AP) – Despite concerns from Republican lawmakers about Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s withholding money from programs this year, most of his 2015 supplemental budget request is moving forward.

A Missouri House panel on Tuesday approved additional spending for 2015, including $120 million in general funds.

Republican lawmakers have previously criticized the request while the governor’s office continues to withhold about $451 million from other priorities this year.

State budget director Linda Lueberring says the additional money is for bills that have to be paid.

About $82 million of that is for increased costs in the state’s Medicaid pharmacy program, primarily from the high cost of providing new Hepatitis C drug Sovaldi.

The measure must be approved by the full House before going to the Senate.

by David A. Lieb, AP

(AP Photo)

(AP Photo)

(Jefferson City) (AP) – Missouri auditor’s spokesman Spence Jackson stayed on the job following his boss’ suicide, but a note found at his apartment shows he apparently was concerned about the potential of getting laid off when he decided to also kill himself.

Police investigating Jackson’s apparent suicide released, at his family’s request, the contents of a brief hand-written note that authorities said Tuesday was on the living-room table in Jackson’s apartment. His body was discovered Sunday in the bedroom.

The letter, dated Friday, said: “I’m so sorry. I just can’t take being unemployed again.”

Preliminary findings from the medical examiner’s office indicate Jackson died Friday afternoon or evening from a single gunshot wound to the head, Jefferson City Police Capt. Doug Shoemaker said. He said the case is being investigated as a suicide.

Jackson’s death came a month after state Auditor Tom Schweich, who was seeking the Republican nomination for governor, fatally shot himself Feb. 26 at his home in the St. Louis suburb of Clayton. Their deaths have shaken Missouri politics – particularly the Republican Party – heading into an important 2016 election featuring races for most of Missouri’s top offices.

Schweich had told an Associated Press reporter just minutes before his death that he was ready to go public with allegations that the chairman of the Missouri Republican Party had told donors that Schweich was Jewish. Schweich, who was Christian but had Jewish ancestry, said he perceived the remarks as anti-Semitism.

After Schweich’s death, Jackson was outspoken about negative politics and called for GOP Chairman John Hancock to resign. Hancock has not done so, and he has said any comments he might have made would have occurred before Schweich set him straight about his religion.

Shoemaker said Jackson’s family asked that the note’s contents be released to eliminate speculation and “help potentially clear some things up.”

Jackson’s friend Jeff Layman also released a written statement Tuesday on behalf of the family, who thanked people for their prayers and described Jackson as “a kind, caring and loyal person” who “was passionate about his career and for the elected officials, candidates and causes he represented.”

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon appointed longtime aide John Watson to temporarily oversee the auditor’s office after Schweich’s death.

Watson met with about a dozen senior staff members, including Jackson, to inform them they would keep their jobs under his watch. But Watson told them that when a permanent replacement is appointed, “I can’t assure you that everyone’s position will be maintained,” according to David Luther, who was filling in Tuesday as the auditor’s office spokesman.

Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said Tuesday that the governor hopes to announce a permanent selection for auditor “very soon.”

It’s common for governors to appoint people of their own party to fulfill vacancies. Those appointees often bring in their own top staff.

Republican consultant James Harris said he had spoken with Jackson about a week ago and offered to help him try to find a new job.

“When a new auditor comes in, there’s a high probability that there would be staff changes,” Harris said Tuesday. “I mentioned, `Hey, can you get a resume to me?’ … and I’ll start looking around.”

Harris and Jackson had worked together in Republican Gov. Matt Blunt’s administration. After Blunt chose not to seek re-election in 2008, Jackson was without a job for a while, but eventually worked as communications director for Jordan Valley Community Health Center in Springfield from April 2010 to April 2011.

He left because “he enjoyed the political realm and was hoping to rejoin that,” Jordan Valley CEO Brooks Miller said.

Jackson was announced as Schweich’s media director in October 2011.

Jackson had taken off work Thursday – the one-month anniversary of Schweich’s death – and had worked until about noon Friday and never returned, Shoemaker said.

“We’ve spoken to those who were there and talked with him, and they reported no behavior out of the ordinary,” Shoemaker said.