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(Little Rock) (AP) – Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has approved the wording of a ballot proposal to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the state’s anti-discrimination protections, clearing the way for supporters to gather signatures for the measure.

Rutledge on Tuesday certified the proposed initiated act, which would expand the state’s civil rights act. Rutledge’s certification means supporters of the measure can begin gathering the nearly 68,000 signatures from registered voters required to put the proposal on next year’s ballot.

The measure was proposed after Gov. Asa Hutchinson allowed legislation to go into law that prohibits local governments from adopting anti-discrimination ordinances that offer protections that go beyond state law.

(Mountain Grove) – The Wright County Sheriff’s Office is partnering with the Mountain Grove VFW for a prescription pill take-back event on April 8.

The event, which will run from 11 AM to 4:30 PM at the VFW location at the intersection of Bell Crossing and Wheeler Arch roads, will collect outdated or unwanted prescription medication for proper disposal. Organizers say only pills will be collected, and no liquid medication will be accepted.

For more information, contact the Wright County Sheriff’s Office at 417-741-7576.

The Sinking Creek bridge. (MoDOT photo)

The Sinking Creek bridge. (MoDOT photo)

(Sikeston) – The bridge over Sinking Creek on Route 19 near Round Spring in Shannon County has been reduced to one lane with a weight restriction of 20 tons due to bridge deterioration.

MoDOT officials say the reduction comes after routine bridge inspections, and the reduction will stay in place until funding for a bridge replacement becomes available.

The bridge is striped and marked with signs, and motorists are urged to use caution and watch for opposing traffic when traveling in area.

This two-dimensional acrylic painting created by Jenna Collier of Glenwood School took best of show honors at the 2014 Art Around Town exhibit. This year’s event is set for April 8-19 at the Gallery on the Mezzanine at the West Plains Civic Center and is being hosted by the Missouri State University-West Plains University/Community Programs (U/CP) Department.  (Photo provided)

This two-dimensional acrylic painting created by Jenna Collier of Glenwood School took best of show honors at the 2014 Art Around Town exhibit. This year’s event is set for April 8-19 at the Gallery on the Mezzanine at the West Plains Civic Center and is being hosted by the Missouri State University-West Plains University/Community Programs (U/CP) Department.  (Photo provided)

(West Plains) – Artwork by area elementary school students will take the spotlight during the annual Art Around Town exhibit April 8-19 at the Gallery on the Mezzanine at the West Plains Civic Center.

Sponsored by Missouri State University-West Plains’ University/Community Programs (U/CP) Department, the event, in its 15th year, will feature two- and three-dimensional pieces by children in grades kindergarten through eighth from the Dora, Fair View, Glenwood, Howell Valley, Mtn. View-Birch Tree, Richards, Thayer, West Plains and Willow Springs school districts.

Thirty pieces of artwork from each school district – a total of 270 pieces – will be displayed in the exhibit.

The exhibition also will include an awards ceremony at 2:30 PM Sunday, April 12, in the civic center theater, followed by reception on the mezzanine. The works will be juried by art instructors from the region.

Area residents are invited to view the pieces during regular civic center hours, 8 AM to 8 PM Mondays through Fridays and 1-5 PM Saturdays and Sundays.

For more information about Art Around Town, contact the U/CP office at 417-255-7966. For more information about U/CP programs, visit the department’s website at wp.missouristate.edu/ucp.

(West Plains) – Work has started on the West Plains Transit Facility, according to city clerk Mallory Hawkins:

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The deadline for the lifeguard positions is today, April 1.

(Jefferson City) (AP) – Missouri lawmakers, who over the years have voted to honor a state dinosaur (the hadrosaur), state exercise (jumping jacks) and state dessert (the ice cream cone), are considering clamping down on the state’s laundry list of official symbols.

A measure up for a vote in the House would cap state symbols at the current 28, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The legislation targets pending bills to anoint “Jim the Wonder Dog” as state Wonder Dog and “Old Drum” the state historical dog, along with one to name the white-tailed deer as the state game animal.

Lawmakers, typically urged by constituents or niche interest groups, often anoint what they see as Missouri mainstays, such as big bluestem grass, the paddlefish and mozarkite, the state’s lithological emblem.

Most common among states are official flowers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The pink or white Hawthorn tree flower – not to be confused with the state’s official tree, the flowering dogwood – earned that distinction in Missouri.

Every state has a collection of official symbols. Iowa has the least with eight, and Massachusetts the most with 44.

Rep. Tom Flanigan, a Carthage Republican, is sponsoring the bill to block adding more to Missouri’s list.

(Jefferson City) – 33rd District Senator Mike Cunningham says Senate Bill 30, which would increase the penalty for knowingly allowing a minors to drink or possess alcohol or failing to stop a minor from drinking or possessing alcohol, was heard in committee earlier this month:

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Senator Cunningham adds the same panel also heard Senate Bill 31, which would modify provisions relating to controlled substances and requires probation and parole officers to arrest people suspected of violating their conditions of release:

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Senator Cunningham also says Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 42, both of which would modify provisions relating to elementary and secondary education, are not good for his district:

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Cunningham also shared his thoughts on the 2016 budget, and funding for area schools:

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The Missouri Senate went back in session on Monday, after a week-long spring break to mark the end of the first half of the session.

(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.