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— The state Board of Correction has imposed $6.3 million in spending cuts, which will postpone the opening of a unit for inmates with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities.

Construction of the special-needs unit in Malvern is very close to completion, but the budget cuts will force the delay of its opening until the department has enough funding to pay salaries and continuing costs of operating it.

State prisons house more people with mental illnesses than any other institutions in Arkansas. When it opens, the Malvern special-needs unit will have beds for 360 inmates, although the Correction Department has plans to expand.

Regardless of economic trends, construction and operations of prisons has consistently been a growth industry. State prisons will cost about $290 million to operate this year. They will securely house about 15,000 inmates.

The Department of Community Correction will delay the hiring of 18 additional probation and parole officers and reduce supervision of parolees by current officers to cut travel expenses. Drug testing of probationers and parolees will be reduced.

The measures are a consequence of a $100 million budget cut for state government agencies, made necessary because the slowing economy has reduced tax revenue. The spending reductions will average 2.2 percent for state agencies.

The Department of Human Services, which administers Medicaid and other health care programs, will delay a planned increase in reimbursements to service providers. The department must reduce its planned spending this year by $14.6 million.

The Health Department will reduce salaries of personnel who will run a new statewide trauma system. Also, it will lower spending at community health centers. Staffing levels should not go down from current levels, although some planned hiring of non-critical personnel will be postponed.

Numerous state agencies will delay filling vacant positions in order to comply with the budget cuts, which will reduce general revenue spending this fiscal year from $4.5 billion to $4.4 billion. Several agencies will use reserve funds to prevent having to reduce spending. School districts will continue to receive the amounts of state aid they originally were budgeted to receive, because the state Education Department will dip into reserves to maintain school funding.

The state fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30. We are now in Fiscal Year 2010. In February of next year the legislature will convene in a fiscal session to adopt budgets for Fiscal Year 2011, and if necessary to adjust budgets for the current fiscal year.

Increase in Adoptions

Campaigns asking people to consider adopting have been working in Arkansas. Last year 601 children in the state were adopted, compared to 505 a year ago and 404 the previous year.

There are about 500 children in the state needing adoption. The Human Services Department has a division that seeks to find adoptive parents for children. It also manages the foster care system. The department has a web site at this Internet address: www.adoptarkansas.org, which has information on how to adopt. Later this month it will post photographs and biographies of children who need to be adopted.

November is Adoption Awareness Month in Arkansas.

If you have any questions or comments about legislative issues, please contact me at HendrenK @ arkleg.state.ar.us or call me at 479-787-6500, extension 30.

Opinion, Pages 5 on 11/11/2009

Print Headline: Capitol Reports Budget Cuts and Adoptions

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