Editors: Here is the planning digest for newspapers of the weekend beginning Saturday, March 16, 2013. We welcome your questions or comments. You may reach the Arkansas News Bureau at 501 374-0699, or by fax at 501 374-0860. Cellular phone numbers for Little Rock 766-5342; Rob Moritz, 501 912-6397; Harry King, 501 912-0750; John Lyon, 501 786-4306.

THIS INFORMATION IS PROPRIETARY AND IS NOT FOR PUBLICATION, BROADCAST OR OTHER USE PRIOR TO DATES LISTED.

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Friday, March 15

House OKs bill to create alternatives to sentencing

LITTLE ROCK — The House on Friday approved a bill that would allow judges to send some criminal defendants to rehabilitation programs as an alternative to sentencing them to prison.

House Bill 1470 by Rep. Darrin Williams, D-Little Rock, would allow judges and judicial districts to create pre-adjudication programs which some defendants could complete in order to avoid being sentenced. The bill seeks to ease prison overcrowding and rehabilitate offenders without incarcerating them.

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By John Lyon

GOP hopeful questions bill to restructure state treasurer’s office

LITTLE ROCK — A bill before the state Senate that would restructure the state treasurer’s office was questioned Friday by a Republican candidate for the office in 2014.

Saline County Circuit Clerk Dennis Milligan,, who has announced his candidacy for treasurer next year, compared the proposal to "trading off your car just because it needs an oil change."

"Senate Bill 838 seeks to change the office and leave the problem — Martha Shoffner — to finish her last 21 months in office," Milligan said, adding the bill is "bad legislation" a "knee-jerk reaction to the shameful way" Shoffner has run the office.

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By Rob Moritz

For the Weekend:

ADVANCE for Sunday, March 17, and thereafter

GOP lawmakers: Curtailing spending growth can pay for tax cuts

LITTLE ROCK — Republican legislative leaders say they will present an alternative to Gov. Mike Beebe’s balanced budget proposal that slashes growth spending and includes up to $150 million in tax cuts, a prospect that the Beebe administration considers dubious at best.

Talking to reporters Friday, House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, asserted that simply reducing growth — not cutting spending below current levels or using one-time surplus funds — would make the tax cuts possible within a balanced budget. He declined to give specifics.

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By John Lyon

ADVANCE for Monday, March 18, and thereafter

Lawmakers wrestling with school choice options

LITTLE ROCK — A testy exchange that erupted during a Senate committee hearing last week illustrates the sensitivity of the school choice issue in a state still trying to move beyond its history of racially separate public education.

The sequence followed when a lawyer suggested a if a certain school choice bill becomes law, a judge could conclude that the Legislature intended a return to segregated schools.

The committee has spent nearly four hours over two meetings this session hearing testimony and discussing two Senate proposals offered to address last year’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert T. Dawson that a race-based provision in the 1989 Arkansas Public School Choice Act violates the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law.

A House school choice bill goes before a House committee this week.

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By Rob Moritz

ALREADY SENT:

Roby Brock’s Talk Business column

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