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No quarantine for school COVID-19 exposure if fully vaccinated

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LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced a change in education policy on Tuesday.

He said people who have been fully vaccinated, including students and teachers, will not have to quarantine next school year if they are exposed to COVID-19.

The announcement was made during the governor’s weekly media briefing. He said the change in policy is consistent with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Hutchinson and Arkansas Secretary of Health, Dr.

José Romero, both followed up that information by encouraging younger people to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. They said only about 10 percent of eligible younger Arkansans, ages 12-18, have been vaccinated.

The Arkansas Department of Health reported 231 new COVID-19 cases in the state as of Tuesday.

Hutchinson also announced a 3 percent bonus for state agencies to be distributed to employees based on performance.

“This last year our workforce has shown dedication, resilience and flexibility during this pandemic,” Hutchinson said. “It’s been circumstances that no workforce has been through in the last 100 years. From the Department of Health workers who have worked extraordinarily long hours under difficult circumstances, to workforce services that’s worked on a front-serving basis to get the pandemic and employment insurance out, to our Department of Human Service caseworkers that have helped to take care of children, even during a pandemic, I’m very pleased that we’ll be giving the agencies a 3 percent performance or merit pay raise that they can use to distribute to high performing and qualified employees.”

Hutchinson said this is the largest performance pay amount since he became governor, and that it will go into the base salary of employees so that it is not a one-time bonus. The cost to the state is $11.2 million of state general revenue and $28 million from all sources, which includes federal sources.

Hutchinson also touched on the announcement last week that Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith will become the training site for Singapore’s foreign military sales F-16 and F-35 aircrews.

He said what this announcement will mean for Arkansas is 825 new personnel, 180 from Singapore, and $800 million to $1 billion in economic impact annually to the state, which he said represents a 20 percent increase in the economic impact from military bases in the state.

Securing the training mission meant there needed to be an increase of 1,300 feet of runway at a cost of $22 million, however.

Hutchinson said the state has committed to $17 million for the project, and Fort Smith has committed the other $5 million. ***

Steering Committee recommends $150 million for rural broadband

JONESBORO — The state’s American Rescue Plan Steering Committee is being cautious with federal funds it’s charged to allocate.

“The state Department of Commerce had requested $300 million for rural broadband,” said State Rep. Fran Cavenaugh (R-60th District, which includes parts of Lawrence, Randolph, Sharp, and Greene counties), “but we approved only $150 million.”

According to published reports, the state has received a total of $5 billion, of which $1.57 billion is come through the steering committee.

Cavenaugh said the committee approved half the amount sought by the Department of Commerce for rural broadband because CARES Act monies already had provided funds for rural broadband.

“And there were people that had already applied for that $150 million that we just didn’t have the funds

Continued on Page 14 STATE NEWS (cont.)

for,” she said. “So we went ahead and approved that.”

The CARES Act – the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act – is a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill signed into law on March 27, 2020, in response to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Cavenaugh said, additional funds for rural broadband expansion should await additional information. “Instead of just throwing more money at it,” she said, “we need a strategic plan about how it’s going to be used, where the needs really are, who’s not got service.”

She said the committee’s action did not technically constitute “approval” but a recommendation to go before the Arkansas Legislative Council for approval or disapproval.

The Legislative Council, on which Cavenaugh also sits, undertakes needed legislative functions when the legislature itself is not in session.

She said the committee will continue to meet on how to allocate the American Rescue Plan Act funds.

“One of my goals is to see if we can use some of that money to alleviate the levy issues that we have over here,” she said. “About every five years we have major flooding, these historic

floods.”

She said one of the intended purposes of the American Rescue Plan Act is to address infrastructure, waterways, sewers and similar needs. “So we’re hoping we’ll be able to use some of that money for [flood control],” she said.

The American Rescue Plan Steering Committee, created by and executive order of Gov. Asa Hutchinson on May 11, consists of Cavenaugh, two other state representatives, three state senators and the secretaries of eight of the 12 state departments. It is charged with studying and analyzing relief available under the American rescue Plan Act of 2021 to the state, its citizens and its businesses.

It is also to identify and prioritize the needs of the state, its citizens and its businesses; identify the best way to get and apply the funds and make recommendations to Gov.

Hutchinson for the funds’ best uses.

***

LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas board that redraws legislative district boundaries every 10 years following the U.S. census has hired a former state chief justice to be the panel's coordinator.

The Arkansas Board of Apportionment hired Betty Dickey on Monday at a rate of $10,000 per month for the term of the redistricting process.

Lawmakers also authorized the redistricting coordinator in the governor's office with a maximum salary of $63,000 a year, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Dickey will begin June 15, where she must undergo training and hold meetings to gather public input, including when the board has a proposed map for legislative districts, Hutchinson said.

Dickey, 81, is a former prosecuting attorney and a former member of the Public Service Commission.

'I'm humbled and appreciative that they trust me to be fair,' she said after the Board of Apportionment meeting. 'I've had a lot of challenging jobs and this is probably the most challenging because it is statewide.'

Gov. Asa Hutchinson serves as chairman of the apportionment board, and other board members include Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and Secretary of State John Thurston.

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