AR Lottery, Annual Sessions Change '09 Landscape

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Voter approval of a state-run lottery and annual legislative sessions for Arkansas have dramatically changed the landscape of state government as lawmakers prepare to return to the Capitol in 2009.

The nuts and bolts of establishing a lottery authorized by a constitutional amendment have moved to the top of lawmakers' agenda for next year. They also must grapple with the prospect of moving toward a more full-time Legislature with annual sessions.

Approved along with three other ballot measures in Tuesday's election, the lottery and annual sessions amendments will likely upend a session that already was about to be clouded by a grim economic picture. Voters also approved an act banning unmarried couples from becoming foster or adoptive parents, $300 million in bonds for water projects and an amendment removing outdated election language from the constitution.

The lottery amendment, backed by Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, leaves many details up to the Legislature on how to set up the games and what to do with the $100 million Halter predicts will be raised annually. They range from what types of games will be allowed in the state and how the college scholarships to be funded to be distributed.

State Sen. Bob Johnson, D-Bigelow, who will serve as Senate president next year, said developing a framework for how the lottery money is distributed is the most important thing lawmakers will do next year. He said that, once that is done, it will be hard to change.

The debate over the lottery may be months off, but the annual-sessions amendment is already throwing a wrench into the fall budget hearings that are under way for next year's session.

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