Thursday, September 20, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Enrollment at Arkansas colleges and universities is down slightly from last year.
All institutions must submit a preliminary report on enrollment to the state Department of Higher Education on the 11th day of classes. Those figures will change as the semester progresses, because of transfers and dropouts. However, from one year to the next they present a snapshot of higher education rates in Arkansas.
Keeping track of the number of students in college is not merely an academic exercise. It’s an economic issue for civic and business leaders, who understand that college graduates will be the future economic foundation of the state.
These days, corporate executives say that there are numerous highly paid jobs available, but a lack of skilled workers to fill them. This scenario presents a new and different set of challenges for policy makers than what they faced a generation ago, when the problem was to create enough well paid jobs to keep our brightest young people in the state.
Now, legislators and educators are working to increase graduation rates. A new higher education funding formula was approved by the legislature last year. Rather than rewarding enrollment growth, the new funding model rewards institutions that retain students and graduate them.
The effect of the new funding formula is reflected in the enrollment figures submitted by Arkansas colleges and universities.
Total numbers are down slightly at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro (-0.6 percent) and the University of Central Arkansas at Conway (-1.5 percent).
Growth is slower than usual at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville (0.8 percent). Over the past five years growth at Fayetteville is up 9.6 percent. 
Officials at all the campuses pointed out the high academic standards of the incoming freshman class.
The freshmen at ASU scored an average of 24 on the ACT and their composite grade point average in high school was 3.56. At Fayetteville the average ACT score for freshmen is 26.2 and their high school GPA was 3.69. At UCA the composite ACT score for freshmen is 24.4 and the high school GPA is 3.55.
Enrollment at Southern Arkansas University at Magnolia was down 3.8 percent this year, but over the past five years it has grown by 31.3 percent. At the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith it was down 0.9 percent. At the University of Arkansas at Little Rock it was down 9.5 percent. At the University of Arkansas at Monticello it was down 13.2 percent.
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff has growth of 0.3 percent, Arkansas Tech at Russellville 2 percent and Henderson State at Arkadelphia 18.9 percent. 
ASU emphasized improvement in the retention rate of last year’s freshmen. A record 76.6 percent of last year’s freshmen returned to campus this fall. ASU also noted the increase in minority students in this year’s freshman class. More than 10 percent of the class is African-American, and the number of African-Americans in the class jumped by 23 percent over last year.
The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville reported a 3.1 percent decrease in the total number of African-American students on campus, even though this year’s freshman class had an increase over last year. African-American students now make up 4.6 percent of the entire student body.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – The state Department of Human Services announced that 4,353 Arkansans were no longer eligible for Medicaid benefits because over the past three months they failed to comply with work requirements.
            Another 43,655 people met the work requirement and will retain their health coverage under Medicaid.
            The news was the latest development in the long-running political struggle over the extent to which Arkansas should expand Medicaid, as required by federal mandates.
            The federal law was enacted in 2010. It took several years and a number of lawsuits for the 50 states to implement its provisions.
Arkansas took a unique approach by making private health providers an integral part of the expanded Medicaid program. Lawmakers have adjusted our version of the health care act in each legislative session since the federal mandate was imposed. Currently, the program is known as Arkansas Works and it requires enrollees to either work, consistently look for work or attend classes that will teach job skills.
Two state agencies were present when the announcement was made – the Human Services Department because it administers Medicaid, and the Workforce Services Department because it provides the job hunting services required of enrollees.
For three months the 4,353 people who were removed from the Medicaid rolls failed to report their attendance at class, or their job schedules or any volunteer work that would have brought them in compliance. 
Department officials announced that more than 5,000 people are in jeopardy of losing their benefits at the end of September because they have gone two months without complying with the work requirements.
Critics say that the requirements place too much of a burden on Medicaid recipients. For example, many recipients probably don’t have a computer, a smart phone or Internet access that is necessary to meet the requirements. 
DHS officials defended their efforts to notify recipients of the requirements, and to help them respond. They sent 136,000 letters and made more than 150,000 phone calls. They sent text messages and in some cases visited people’s houses. They conducted training sessions and posted materials in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms.
Recipients who lack Internet access could get help by calling their insurance carrier, or visiting a county DHS office for help.
The people who lost coverage will be ineligible until the end of 2018, but they might qualify in other categories of Medicaid if their circumstances worsen, or if they are pregnant or have a disability. 
Currently, the work requirement applies to enrollees from 30 to 49 years of age. They must work 80 hours a month, or take vo-tech classes. Up to 39 hours a month can be spent looking for work or attending a job search training class at a local Arkansas Workforce Center. Up to 20 hours in a year can be spent taking health education classes. Each hour spent volunteering counts as an hour of work.
It’s important to contact DHS when your economic circumstances change. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep in contact with DHS when people move in or out of your house, if a family member is discharged from a nursing home, or if you decide to claim a child as a dependent.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

            LITTLE ROCK – Legislators convened a special meeting to ask tough questions of prison officials after five inmates died of suspected drug overdoses within a few days.
            The cause of their deaths is not official because autopsies have not been completed. However, it is widely believed that K2, a synthetic drug that mimics marijuana, was a factor. Prison systems throughout the country are trying to control the influx of K-2.
            For example, in Arkansas prisons a new policy is in effect: mail is photocopied and shown to inmates because letters and correspondence can be laced with K-2. 
            The new mail policy was implemented after testing done by the state Crime Lab indicated that K2 confiscated at Arkansas prisons was on paper, not tobacco or marijuana. Someone outside prison had sprayed the chemicals on a letter or magazine, which inmates smoked or ate.
K2 is a variation of numerous chemicals and testing is expensive, and it’s challenging to keep up with the changes in its chemical composition. Sometimes a drug test or an autopsy does not point to K2, even though other evidence does.
            Visitors to some units are not allowed contact with inmates. Also, prison officials told lawmakers, this year nine employees of the Correction Department have been terminated for trafficking.
            The legislature’s Charitable, Penal and Correctional Institutions subcommittee asked for a report on the suspicious deaths, and prison officials told lawmakers that the number of confiscations of K-2 in 2018 is actually on pace to be 37 percent lower than last year.
Last year prison officials counted 1,136 incidents with K2, such as the drug being discovered and confiscated or an inmate getting sick or dying from an overdose. This year, if the number of incidents holds steady, there will be an estimated 712 incidents.
            In addition to enhancing security and inspection measures, prison officials have expanded education programs both for inmates and their visitors, with the purpose of warning them of the dangers of K2. 
            Some officials would like to have authority to jam cell phone signals on prison property, because cell phones facilitate the delivery of all kinds of contraband.
It is commonly referred to as a synthetic form of marijuana, because of its effect on particular parts of the brain. As a result, drug users tend to use it as they would marijuana, and they fail to appreciate its toxicity. Some of the chemicals that have been discovered in K2 include nail polish remover and bug poison.
The Senate co-chairman of the subcommittee repeated her call for a thorough and independent auditing of prison procedures and policies, saying that the problems are not new. 
The recent inmate deaths is notable for the number of men who died within a short period of time, but is part of a trend that is cause for concern among lawmakers. Last year there were 13 inmate deaths attributable to K2 and so far this year there have been six, not counting the recent spate of five deaths.
            Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida are among many other states where prison officials are working to solve the problems caused by K2.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – The state Constitution was adopted in 1874, but since then it has been amended 98 times.
            Arkansas is one of 18 states that allow citizens to amend the constitution through a process that requires approval of the ballot title of the proposed amendment, followed by gathering signatures to have proposed amendments placed on the ballot. An amendment becomes part of the Constitution if voters approve it in a statewide election.
            This year, two citizens’ groups have gained approval of ballot titles from the state attorney general’s office, and have turned in signatures to have proposed amendments placed on the November ballot. However, state officials are still verifying the signatures submitted with one of the proposals, to make sure that there are enough signatures of registered voters.
            Also, a third group has turned in enough signatures to have an initiated act placed on the November ballot.
Even though both must be approved by voters to take effect, there is a significant difference between a constitutional amendment and an initiated act. The difference is in how they can be altered in the future.
After an amendment is approved by voters, it becomes part of the Constitution and the only way to change it would be for voters to approve a new amendment in a future statewide election. Examples are the several amendments that have changed and updated the state’s authority to issue revenue bonds and economic development bonds. Over the years, voters have approved amendments 62, 65, 78, 89, 90 and 97 to change the government’s authority to incur debt.
A simpler example would be the evolution of how libraries are funded. Amendment 72, adopted by voters in 1992, is known as the city and county library amendment. It changed amendments 30 and 38, two previous measures that authorized local taxes for libraries.
An initiated act does not become part of the Constitution. It can be amended, meaning that its provisions may be changed, by the legislature. It can even be repealed by the legislature. 
Any change to an initiated act requires an extraordinary majority of 67 percent of legislators. An example is the act approved by voters in 1990 that created the state Ethics Commission. 
Over time, the Ethics Commission’s jurisdiction over campaign finance laws has steadily grown, due to passage of new laws by the legislature. For example, Act 1287 of 2015 added new definitions of conflict of interest that state officials must avoid. The act empowers the Ethics Commission to regulate and enforce the laws on conflicts of interest.
            Between now and November, the ballot issues may be stricken because of legal challenges filed by opponents. If they remain on the ballot, there will be two proposed amendments and one proposed initiated act. The act would increase the minimum wage. One proposed amendment would allow casino gambling and the other would limit the number of terms that a legislator could serve.
            State officials are still verifying the signatures submitted by supporters of the casino amendment.
            In addition to the three proposals submitted by citizens’ groups, there will be two proposed amendments referred by the legislature. One would require voters to present a photo ID in order to cast a ballot, the other would limit punitive damages and attorneys’ fees in civil lawsuits.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Last year the Arkansas Economic Development Commission agreed to offer financial incentives for 133 new projects.
            They will create an estimated 3,460 jobs with average salaries of $21.81 an hour. The companies that received financial incentives from the state will invest about $3.184 billion in Arkansas.
            Legislation approved in 2001 requires the AEDC to submit regular reports to lawmakers detailing the effectiveness of the numerous tax incentives and financial assistance programs that state government uses to recruit industry. Also, the AEDC reports on the economic climate in Arkansas compared to neighboring states.
            After AEDC officials signed agreements in 2017 to provide assistance for 133 new projects, it increased the total of AEDC projects to 256. That compares to a total of 206 projects in 2015 and 210 projects in 2016.
            Signing 133 agreements last year represents a tremendous improvement over recent years. In 2015, the AEDC signed offers with 118 companies and in 2016 it finalized agreements with 88 companies.
            The total investment value of the 256 projects in Arkansas that received AEDC assistance is more than $7 billion. The total number of jobs added to the Arkansas economy since 2015, with help from AEDC programs, is 12,805. Their average salary is $20.81 an hour.
            According to U.S. Commerce Department figures, jobs created with the assistance of AEDC incentives pay higher average salaries than other Arkansas jobs.
            The unemployment rate in Arkansas in May was 3.8 percent, near to historic lows.
            The legislature has approved numerous incentives to help the AEDC recruit new industries, and to encourage existing industries in the state to expand.
            Some incentives are based on payroll, so a company that creates high-paying jobs will qualify for more tax breaks.
            Other incentives, particularly in the manufacturing sector, offer sales tax exemptions for equipment and machinery, and for electricity and natural gas costs. Other incentives specifically target high-tech firms, and offer tax incentives for their research and development costs.
            The state also offers help with job training and infrastructure, such as rail spurs, water and drainage systems, preparation of land and access roads.
            Two years ago, Arkansas voters greatly expanded the state’s capacity to issue economic development bonds when they approved Issue 3, which had been placed on the ballot by the legislature. 
The constitutional amendment removed the former cap of 5 percent of general revenue that limited the amount of general obligation bonds the state could issue at one time. Removal of the cap allows the state to finance more than one large project at a time, if the legislature approves.
The amendment also granted local governments more flexibility to issue economic development bonds, by allowing them to work with local chambers of commerce and in collaboration with neighboring cities and counties.
The AEDC has programs specifically designed to promote small businesses, innovative technology businesses and firms owned by minorities and women. Also, it has an office that works to promote the filming of movies in Arkansas, and an office that works to expand and strengthen military installations.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Every day in Arkansas more than 6,500 calls are made to 911.
            Legislators heard a request for upgrades to the 911 system at a recent meeting, from a coalition of state, city and county officials who work in emergency management.  The name of the new system is New Generation 911, or simply NG 911.
            The rapid growth in cell phone use is an example of how 911 systems are constantly adapting to new technologies.
More than 90 percent of the emergency calls made today are from cell phones. It seems as if every day, new phones expand our capacity to transmit images, videos, charts and graphs. Telephones became cell phones, which became mobile devices.
The innovations are driven by consumer demand and by marketing on the part of telephone companies. They’re possible because of advances in digital technology.
Yet most 911 calls made in Arkansas must travel along an analog circuit at least once before they reach an emergency dispatcher and the equipment that can locate the geographic source of the calls.
In states like Arkansas, which are trying to upgrade their 911 call systems, emergency responders point to an incident that occurred in North Carolina in 2016. Outdated technology was a factor when it took 11 minutes for responders to arrive, even though they were less than a mile away when the man called 911.
When the infrastructure of our 911 systems was created, landlines were the norm. Emergency dispatchers could pinpoint the source of a call from a landline, but not calls made with cell phones. 
After the nationwide boom in cell phone use in the 1990s, federal regulations and upgrades by telephone companies allowed 911 dispatchers to trace the location of calls from cell phones.
But new technologies are becoming popular, such as messaging over social media and the Internet. The ability of current 911 systems in Arkansas has almost come to the point where it can no longer adapt to the flood of new technologies.
The response times of emergency dispatchers varies across Arkansas. The 6,500 emergency calls made in the state each day are routed to 127 call centers, officially known as Public Safety Answering Points. For example, in Craighead County in 2015, the county’s only PSAP handled more than 70,000 emergency calls. That same year, one of the six PSAPs in Lonoke County handled fewer than 3,000 calls.
Next Generation 911 will speed the routing of calls between the various local call centers.
Supporters of a new Next Generation 911 would like the legislature to authorize a single state agency to coordinate new technologies into a statewide network, so that the numerous separate local systems can connect more effectively.
They also would like an additional funding source. Phone users pay a charge on their monthly bills to support 911 services, but they generate only about half of the revenue needed to pay for the operating costs of the various systems in Arkansas. City and county governments pay for the remainder from local tax funds.
According to its supporters, other states are designating a state agency to implement Next Generation 911. They have saved money and increased efficiency by making a single state agency responsible, rather than waiting for numerous local systems to pay for adaptations to their systems.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

            LITTLE ROCK – Educators and traffic safety officials have expanded their annual campaign to alert motorists that students are returning to school, so everyone should be more careful driving because children are again getting on and off school buses every day.
            This is the sixth year of the campaign, called “Flashing Red. Kids Ahead.” In the past it has lasted three weeks, and this year school officials, police departments and civic leaders will promote school bus safety for the entire month of August.
            It’s little wonder that commuters notice the absence of students in summer and their reappearance in August. In Arkansas 350,000 students ride 7,000 buses every school day.
            Transportation officials at the state Education Department promote school bus safety all through the year.
As part of their continuing efforts to enhance school bus safety, they conducted a survey of 3,200 bus drivers in April. On a single day, they reported 850 instances of a motor vehicle illegally passing a bus that was stopped to pick up or drop off children.
            In 2005 the legislature strengthened the penalties for passing a stopped school bus that has its red lights flashing to indicate children are getting on or off. The enhanced penalties are in Act 2128 of 2005, which is titled Isaac’s Law in memory of a nine-year-old from Benton who was killed by a passing motorist after he had got off a school bus.
            Since 2011, after the legislature approved Act 37, it has been illegal to use a cell phone while driving through a school zone. Act 37 also prohibits the use of a cell phone while driving through a construction zone while workers are present.
            In 2009 Arkansas joined a long list of states that prohibit text messaging while behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. Previous laws had prohibited teenaged drivers from texting, but Act 181 of 2009 prohibits all drivers from texting.
That year the State Police worked 787 traffic accidents in which drivers were distracted by cell phones. Federal transportation officials say driver distraction is a factor in 16 percent of fatal crashes.
The State Police joined a nationwide safety campaign in April meant to prevent driving while distracted. It was called “"U Drive – U Text – U Pay."
In 2016, distracted drivers caused traffic accidents that killed 3,450 people in the United States.
Reading and sending text messages are not the only distractions that endanger motorists. Talking on a phone or using it to search the Internet is a distraction. So is eating, drinking or smoking. Talking to other people in your vehicle can create distractions. Adjusting the navigation system, turning on music or changing radio stations are also common distractions.
In September, police and traffic safety officials will conduct a child safety campaign, aimed at teaching adults to make sure that children in the car are always properly buckled up in an appropriate booster seat. That will be followed by Teen Driver Safety Week in October.
Car crashes are the leading cause of death for American teens aged 15 to 18. The discouraging news is that in 2016, when the most recent statistics were compiled, the number of teen deaths from car crashes went up by six percent over 2015.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
July 27, 2018
            LITTLE ROCK – All 75 counties in the state and 375 Arkansas cities and towns have signed on to a lawsuit against drug manufacturers and distributors of opioids.
            The historic partnership between cities and counties is an indicator of the severity of the opioid epidemic in Arkansas.
            City officials heard an update on the opioid crisis during the 84th Convention of the Arkansas Municipal League, held recently at Little Rock.
            The state Drug Director told convention delegates that the volume of opioids being distributed in Arkansas makes enforcement and treatment extremely difficult.
            He said that there are108 prescriptions for every 100 people in the state. A couple of years ago the ratio was 114 prescriptions per 100 people, and the proportion has been more than 100 prescriptions per 100 people since 2007.
            Another way of measuring the availability of the highly addictive drug in Arkansas is that more than 235 million pills were prescribed in a single year, in a state with a population of about three million people.
            Opioids are painkillers such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine, fentanyl and other prescription drugs.
            Also during the convention, Municipal League delegates adopted more than 30 resolutions. One supports state legislation for the assessment and collection of local sales taxes on Internet sales. 
A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in a case titled South Dakota v. Wayfair, clears several obstacles that prevented local jurisdictions from collecting the sales tax on purchases made online. 
The ruling was a victory for “bricks and mortar” retail stores that have been losing market share over the past decade, as Internet sales grow in popularity. Local business groups argued that they are at a competitive disadvantage because they collect sales taxes, which means their products will cost more than the same product sold online.
Last year Amazon, the giant online retailer, announced that it would voluntarily collect sales taxes.
The delegates adopted a resolution in support of legislation that would classify Internet providers as utilities.
Another resolution by Municipal League delegates supports legislation that would allow cities and towns to use electronic devices to enforce traffic laws.
Also, the Municipal League delegates endorsed a package of resolutions urging changes to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. One change they endorse is to address the problems that arise when a city official receives a request for records that are so voluminous that responding to the request disrupts basic city services and operations.
Another change endorsed by the Municipal League would amend the state Child Maltreatment Act so to protect the records of juveniles. Also, the Municipal League will work to strengthen protections of the identities of confidential informers.
The Municipal League was formed in 1934, with the support of mayors and local chambers of commerce, to represent the interests of cities and towns before higher levels of government.
The Municipal League has successfully pushed for passage of laws to provide local governments with tort immunity from lawsuits, to allow cities to pass local option sales taxes for paying off bonds, and to establish procedures for annexing suburban lands.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas will hold its annual sales tax holiday on Saturday, August 4, and Sunday, August 5.
Clothing and footwear that cost less than $100 per item will qualify for the exemption. However, if you buy an item that costs more than $100 you must pay the state and local sales taxes on the entire amount.
Accessories costing less than $50 qualify for the exemption.  Examples include wallets, watches, jewelry, sunglasses, handbags, cosmetics, briefcases, hair notions, wigs and hair pieces.
Here’s an example provided by the Department of Finance and Administration: a person buys two shirts for $50 each, a pair of jeans for $75 and a pair of shoes for $125.  The sales tax will only be collected on the shoes.  Even though the total price of the shirts and the jeans added up to $175, no sales tax will be collected on them because each individual item cost less than $100.
School supplies also qualify, including binders, book bags, calculators, tape, paper, pencils, scissors, notebooks, folders and glue.
Textbooks, reference books, maps, globes and workbooks will be exempt from sales taxes.  Also exempt from the sales tax will be art supplies needed for art class, such as clay and glazes, paint, brushes and drawing pads.
Bathing suits and beach wear will be exempt as long as they cost less than $100 per item. Diapers and disposable diapers will not be taxed.  Boots, including steel-toed boots, slippers, sneakers and sandals will be exempt from the sales tax as well.
Not exempt from the sales tax are sporting goods, such as cleats and spikes worn by baseball, soccer and football players.  Recreational items such as skates, shoulder pads, shin guards and ski boots will be taxed.  
Computers, software and computer equipment are not exempt and you will have to pay sales taxes if you purchase those items on the holiday.
Act 757 provides that the sales tax holiday will be the first weekend of August every year.  All retail stores are required to participate and may not legally collect any state or local sales taxes on qualified items during the tax holiday.
The legislature created the sales tax holiday by approving Act 757 of 2011.  One of the goals of the act is to help families with children in school, which is why it is commonly known as the “Back to School” sales tax holiday.  
However, everyone benefits from the holiday, whether or not they have children in school.
Veterans Nursing Home
The Arkansas State Veterans Home at North Little Rock, which opened last year, has 96 beds and about 70 are occupied.
At a recent meeting of the Arkansas Veterans Commission, officials discussed the need to fill the remaining beds so that the nursing home’s budget is not under strain.
The facility is a residential setting that consists of eight individual homes that each house 12 veterans. Each veteran has a private room and bathroom.
The architectural design at North Little Rock is rare for a long term care facility. Only one percent of nursing homes in the country are similarly designed. It is meant to differ from conventional designs that are more institutional, so that residents are encouraged to socialize.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas lottery set a record for ticket sales in the fiscal year that ended on June 30, and will generate almost $92 million for college scholarships.
            When the Higher Education Department awards Academic Challenge Scholarships in the fall, the number of scholarships provided by lottery ticket sales will exceed 300,000. Since Arkansas voters approved a constitutional amendment to establish a state lottery, $781 million has been generated for the scholarship program.
            The lottery first began selling tickets in September of 2009. At the end of June, there were 1,926 retailers in Arkansas selling lottery tickets.
            The funding for scholarships was generated by almost $500 million in ticket sales. The actual amount of $499,704,976 was a record for the Arkansas lottery.
            Instant ticket sales, such as scratch-offs, were a record total of $407.6 million for the fiscal year. That is a record for instant tickets.
Sales of tickets for draw games, such as Powerball and Mega Millions, were $92.1 million. That is the second highest. The record was set in 2016, when sales spiked because of widespread interest in a Powerball prize of more than $1 billion.
            The lottery paid $342 million in prizes, also a record amount for Arkansas. It was $27 million more than the amount paid to winners in 2012, the year with the second-highest payout in prizes.
            Since it began, the lottery has sold about $3.9 billion in tickets and paid out more than $2.6 billion in prizes. Retailers that sell lottery tickets have made $224 million in commissions.
            Last year prizes made up 67.9 percent of the lottery’s distribution of revenue. Scholarships were 19 percent, commissions to retailers was 5.6 percent, gaming costs was 4.2 percent and sales and administration was 3.2 percent.
            The lottery began a new branding campaign in March, entitled “This Is Winning,” to highlight the various types of games and prizes. It includes 30-second television spots, outdoor ads such as billboards and posters that are placed in retail stores. Also, the promotional campaign has digital advertisements for the lottery on online, such as on social media. The lottery website is more accessible to mobile phones.
            The campaign features interviews with lottery winners and scholarship recipients, focusing on winning has changed their lives.
Medical Marijuana
            The Medical Marijuana Commission announced the five businesses that will get initial licenses to cultivate marijuana. The announcement came very soon after the state Supreme Court lifted an injunction, issued by a lower court, which had held up the process of awarding licenses.
            Voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana and creating the commission to regulate cultivation and retail sales. Five companies were selected from the 98 applicants. One of the unsuccessful applicants filed a legal challenge that brought the process to a halt when a circuit judge ruled that there were flaws in the selection process.
            The commission also must award licenses to 32 dispensaries, and has received 230 applications. So far, the Health Department has issued more than 5,500 cards to patients certifying that they have one of the 18 qualifying conditions that will allow them to purchase medical marijuana.
            Observers expect further legal challenges.