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Farm Bill fails

A little more than a week after the U.S. Senate passed its bipartisan version of a five-year farm bill, the House of Representatives couldn’t muster enough votes from either side to pass a competing measure. On Thursday, the House Farm Bill failed on a 195-234 vote with Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, and Steve Womack, R-Rogers, voting for the bill and Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, voting against it.

State agricultural interests expressed disappointment and concern over the failed vote. ‘

“To have this vote fail the way it did leaves us a difficult situation,” said Randy Veach, president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau. “The American farmer is left without much of a safety net, or without the ability to plan, long-term, for their farms.”

Arkansas jobless rate rises to 7.3 percent

Arkansas jobless rate in May rose to 7.3 percent and the April rate of 7.1 percent was revised upward to 7.2 percent. According to U.S. Labor Department data and the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, the state’s employed work force rose by 600 from April to May, but it was down by 23,200 jobs from one year ago as workers apparently exited the jobs market for a variety of reasons. Economists have speculated that baby boomers are retiring at a developing rate and that discouraged workers are giving up looking for employment. One year ago, Arkansas’ May jobless rate stood at 7.3 percent — the same as the current rate — and U.S. unemployment rose one-tenth of a percent to 7.6 percent in May 2013.

Entergy, ITC receive FERC approval for transmission deal

Entergy Corp. and ITC Holdings Corp. received approval on Thursday from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a deal that would allow Entergy to spin off its transmission assets to ITC. FERC approved the companies’ joint application for the transaction, under which Entergy will spin off its electric transmission business and merge it into an ITC subsidiary. In addition, FERC also approved new rate constructs for the transmission assets under ITC ownership. The two companies announced the $1.775 billion divestiture and merger transaction in December 2011.

Arkansas Insurance Department announces 23 ‘Health Connectors’

The Arkansas Insurance Department announced the launch of its Arkansas Health Connector program with the award of contracts to 23 organizations to serve as guides to help consumers better understand their health insurance options.

A new online exchange will be launched later this year to help Medicaid eligible citizens shop for subsidized health plans, and the Affordable Care Act also requires the online exchange to provide options for consumers. Each of the 23 organizations will employ “guides” to provide in-person assistance to consumers as the new health insurance coverage options become available in October 2013.

Hospital expansion could add 100 new jobs

Mercy Health officials provided details Monday on a $42 million Orthopedic Hospital in Fort Smith that should be completed by October 2014 and could add to up to 100 jobs to the local economy. An adjacent ambulatory surgery center, doctors’ offices and rehab operation now employs about 170. When the new orthopedic hospital opens in late 2014, about 100 more employees will be needed for the operation.

Auditor’s e-filing portal gains recognition

State Auditor Charlie Daniels’ office is receiving national attention for its progress in automating its Unclaimed Property Division. The once labor-intensive, paper-reliant, manual claims process has converted to an e-filing service, which has dramatically cut down on time to receive money and increased office productivity and efficiency. The online filing system, which went live March 20, has helped the division achieve a 77 percent improvement over last year in the time it takes to pay applicants, who now receive checks in less than seven days.

Ross, Burkhalter endorse each other, vow jobs plan

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross and lieutenant governor candidate John Burkhalter mutually endorsed each other and promised to work jointly to create more jobs in Arkansas if elected. Ross, a former congressman, faces Democratic primary challenger and former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. Little Rock School Board President Dianne Curry says she will challenge Burkhalter in the Democratic lieutenant governor’s primary.

Ross said if he’s elected governor, one of his first actions will be to create a Governor’s Cabinet for Economic Development, a statewide coordinated effort that would focus on job creation. Ross said he would name Burkhalter to chair the cabinet.

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Roby Brock, a freelance journalist based in Little Rock, writes weekly for the Arkansas News Bureau. His weekly television program airs at 10 p.m. Sundays in Central and Northwest Arkansas. His e-mail address is roby@talkbusiness.net; his website address is www.talkbusiness.net

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