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(Little Rock) (AP) – Arkansans who apply for certain job-training benefits and other family aid could be required to take a drug test under a bill endorsed by a House committee.

The House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor sent the bill to the full House in a voice vote Thursday. It would create a two-year pilot program in which the Department of Workforce Services would be required to question applicants and to refer people deemed as suspicious for drug testing.

The change would apply to about 12,000 people in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. All recipients in counties bordering Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Tennessee would be screened because those states have similar laws. Opponents questioned whether the $2 million-plus cost of the program is a good use of taxpayer funds.

(AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

(AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

(Little Rock) (AP) – Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says there’s no room in his proposed budget for additional tax cuts, despite a renewed push to find funding for an exemption for military veterans.

Hutchinson told reporters on Thursday that a $102 million middle class income tax cut he signed into law last month and an effort to restore a capital gains break that was scaled back to help pay for that reduction are all that his proposed budget can afford.

The chairman of the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee on Wednesday left open the possibility of an exemption on veteran’s retirement pay, and asked the lieutenant governor to work with lawmakers on finding a way to fund it.

(Little Rock) (AP) – An Arkansas House committee has again rejected a proposal to support religious expression in a student’s coursework or attire.

Opponents have said the bill is unnecessary and unconstitutional.

The House Education Committee in a voice vote Tuesday did not advance a bill to bar school districts from discriminating against a student or parent on the basis of religion.

Republican Rep. Justin Harris of West Fork says his bill is needed to protect free speech. He amended the bill after it failed last month to allow an exception for schools to take action against a student whose clothing causes a disruption.

No one testified against the bill Tuesday.

(West Plains) – All are invited to a free showing of the documentary film “First Generation” by filmmaker Adam Fenderson at 7 PM Saturday, March 28, in Melton Hall Room 112 on the campus of Missouri State University-West Plains.

The film is being shown by officials with the office of student life and development in conjunction with its showing at the same time on the Missouri State University-Springfield campus as part of the Department of Media, Journalism and Film’s Film Series.

Following the showing, those attending the local presentation will, via interactive television (ITV), join a panel discussion featuring Fenderson, Missouri State University System President Clif Smart, a first generation student and a Springfield high school counselor, who will discuss the special hurdles that confront first generation college students and explore ways in which our community can work together to help Missouri’s first gen students experience greater success in college.

Narrated by Golden Globe nominee Blair Underwood, “First Generation” tells the story of four high school students – an inner city athlete, a small town waitress, a Samoan warrior dancer and the daughter of a migrant field worker – who set out to break the cycle of poverty and bring hope to their families and communities by pursuing a college education. Shot over the course of three years and featuring some of the top educational experts in the United States, this 95-minute documentary explores the problem of college access faced by first generation and low-income students.

For more information about the local presentation of “First Generation,” call the Missouri State-West Plains student life and development office at 417-255-7233. For more information about the film, visit

(Jefferson City) – Missouri Senators continued debate on economic development during the first half of the 2015 legislative session, and there are different methods that some senators say the goal can be attained.

Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, says as part of updating state buildings, Fulton State Hospital needs to be replaced:

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Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, says he has a bill that would increase the state’s minimum wage to $10 per hour:

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Another major issue from the first half of the Missouri Senate’s session was a bonding measure. Senate Bill 330 and Senate Concurrent Resolutions 8 and 9 are sponsored by Sen. Mike Parson, who says the state capitol is one of the buildings that needs work:

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Sen. Paul LeVota adds that he agrees with the need for the bonds:

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Those bonding measures await action from the Missouri House of Representatives.

The legislature was on spring break this week, and legislators will return on Monday to begin the second half of the session.

Audio provided by the Missouri Senate.

(Mountain Home) – A property auction that was scheduled to be held by the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office on Monday will be held at a later date.

The sheriff’s department announced Wednesday that a lot of land in Red Apple Acres at 79 Crestway in Gassville will be auctioned off April 20 at 10 AM at the property location. The auction was originally scheduled for March 30 at the Baxter County courthouse.

The house will go to the highest bidder. For more information, call the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office at 870-425-7000.



(Willow Springs) – The Willow Springs branch of US Bank was recently recognized as being a top branch.

The bank, located at 207 East Third Street, exceeded the 2015 criteria established by the Community Banking Academy of Banking for sales campaign success, and was recognized as a Top 1% Branch in Community Banking for their accomplishment.

U.S. Bank has 4 different campaigns throughout the year, each requiring growth for consumer and business lending, among other criteria. In 2014, the Willow Springs branch, with only 6 full-time employees, exceeded each of the goals that were set for them throughout each of the campaigns, and also achieved a growth of over $1.2 million in business loans.

Also recognized was Amber Rose, who was awarded the Star of Excellence award, which recognizes the top 5% universal bankers throughout the company. This year the reward involves an all-inclusive trip to Washington D.C. and also includes prizes for their achievements.

Amber Rose

Amber Rose

Recognized employees include:

Amber Rose- Achieved Star of Excellence in Quarter 2, 3, and 4 of 2014 and also Annual Star of Excellence
Heather Butler- Achieved Pinnacle in Q4 of 2014
Amanda Zitter- Achieved Star of Excellence in Q4 of 2014
Shelly Carroll- Achieved Stellar Teller in Q2 of 2014

(Joplin) (AP) – The city of Joplin has sued a Texas-based company that it hired to help in recovery efforts from the devastating 2011 tornado, accusing it of fraud and seeking at least $1.5 million in damages.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Jasper County Circuit Court against Wallace Bajjali Development Partners and the company’s two partners, one of whom filed for bankruptcy on Tuesday, The Joplin Globe reported.

The city hired the company, of Sugar Land, Texas, in 2012 to oversee plans to rebuild after the tornado damaged thousands of buildings and killed 161 people. The city learned in January that the company had closed, and that its owners – David Wallace and Costa Bajjali – had resigned.

Wallace filed for bankruptcy Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Houston, listing debts of between $10 million and $50 million, with 200 to 999 creditors and assets of between $500,000 and $1 million.

Peter Edwards, the city’s attorney, said Wallace’s bankruptcy filing might not protect him against Joplin’s lawsuit.

“In cases where there is fraud, you can’t get rid of that in bankruptcy court,” Edwards said.

Wallace doesn’t have a working home phone number, and a phone message left Thursday at Bajjali’s home wasn’t immediately returned. Susan Kopecky Hellinger, an attorney who represented the company in an earlier case, didn’t return phone or email messages from The Associated Press.

The 46 pages of creditors listed in Wallace’s bankruptcy court filing include the city of Joplin, as well as New Prime Inc., of Springfield, which extended a $5 million line of credit to Wallace Bajjali. Another creditor is the city of Amarillo, Texas, which also hired Wallace Bajjali to lead development in that city.

Joplin and Amarillo ended their contracts with the company after learning that Wallace and Bajjali had resigned.

Joplin is now using private investors to drive redevelopment rather than seeking another master developer, Mayor Mike Seibert said.

(Little Rock) (AP) – The Arkansas Senate has voted to limit the length of the state’s contract with a testing company whose assessments are based on Common Core education standards.

The bill approved by the Senate on a 22-2 vote Thursday prevents the state from entering into a contract for more than a year with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. The measure requires the state to consider the recommendations from a state task force before deciding to renew its involvement in PARCC.

An earlier version of the House-backed bill called for an end to the state’s involvement in the PARCC exam. The bill heads back to the House.

The PARCC exam is based on Common Core education standards that have been adopted by a majority of states, including Arkansas.

(Little Rock) (AP) – An effort to stop signing people up for Arkansas’ compromise Medicaid expansion has failed in the state Senate.

The Senate voted 15-13 Thursday against the bill to require the state to seek approval from the federal government to freeze enrollment in the “private option,” which uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for the poor. The program was crafted as an alternative to the Medicaid expansion envisioned under the federal health law.

State officials have said the federal government has told them they won’t approve an enrollment freeze.

Lawmakers last month voted to continue the private option another year while a task force looks at alternatives for covering the thousands of people on the program.