The Arkansas Legislative Council on Friday authorized its co-chairs to approve the state Department of Public Safety's request for $500,000 in state restricted reserve funds to distribute as grants to enhance the protection of nonprofit institutions of faith facing a high risk of a terrorist attack after the co-chairs get more information about the grant program.
The council granted Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, and Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, R-Hermitage, the authority to approve the $500,000 restricted reserve transfer "Upon receipt of grant of written guidelines for distribution of the grant program to include more specific definitions regarding what constitutes being under threat and what expenditures will be allowed to be covered by the grant funds, and parameters regarding amounts for individual grant awards," under a motion made by Rep. Mark Berry, R-Ozark.
The council's action Friday came after the department's request stalled Tuesday in the Legislative Council's Performance Evaluation and Review Committee.
State Department of Public Safety Secretary Mike Hagar told lawmakers on Friday that the $500,000 in state restricted reserve funds would allow the state to supplement other funds being used to protect nonprofit institutions of faith from attacks.
"There was a need that was identified there to assist with this," he said. "We have had requests from different institutions of faith since Oct. 7 specifically asking for assistance and this is an opportunity to provide that assistance."
A federal program already provides $2.5 million a year to Arkansas for any nonprofit group and federal officials make the decisions of which nonprofit groups get the federal grants, Hagar said.
He said state officials would determine the terrorist threat level against any nonprofit institution of faith seeking grant funds, based on information from federal officials and a report from the Arkansas State Fusion Center.
"The difficult thing with threats is it is hard to quantify," Hagar said in response to a question from state Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View.
"It is hard to put a number on, so in the world of threat assessment, you will rarely see any type of matrix where there is a quantitative value assigned to it and the reason why is a lot of what [authorities are] looking at is just kind of honestly the local temperature and depending on like what happened after the Oct. 7 attack [against Israel by Hamas]," he said.
"That mobilized a lot of frustration in the country and when that happens you see a larger number of people that are emotionally involved and you are not concerned about that group because that group typically is not a threat, they are not dangerous. But, unfortunately, there are outliers within that group," Hagar said.
"When you see the temperature rise in any type of threat assessment, you are looking at groups that are specifically targeted whether it be the Muslim community, the Jewish community, the Christian community, whatever the case may be," he said. "Right now, that temperature, a lot of it is directed towards the Jewish community."
After the applications for the grants are submitted, state officials would assess the needs and the risks, Hagar said.
He said grant funds could be spent on costs such as security, police, video cameras, lighting, motion sensors, perimeter protection, access control to buildings, trip wire alarms and vehicle barriers.
Hagar said there will be a maximum grant limit, but state officials haven't determined that yet.
He said the grant application period hasn't been determined, "but truthfully it is going to be the quicker the better."
"There is a sense of urgency here based on what is going on in the world right now," Hagar said.
On Friday, the Legislative Council also approved the state Department of Public Safety's request for $10 million in state restricted reserve funds that would allow the department's Division of Arkansas Crime Lab to enter into a contract with a design professional and allow for any incidentals for the beginning stage of construction of a new state crime lab facility.
RURAL HOSPITAL FUNDS
Also Friday, the Legislative Council approved the state Department of Human Services' requests for federal American Rescue Plan funds totaling about $12.5 million to provide emergency aid relief to hospitals in Dumas, Eureka Springs, Magnolia and Piggott.
The council approved the department's requests for $4.5 million for Eureka Springs Hospital; $3.4 million for Piggott Community Hospital; $2.6 million for Delta Memorial Hospital in Dumas; and $1.9 million for Magnolia Regional Medical Center.
Arkansas Finance Department spokesman Scott Hardin said $20 million of the $60 million in American Rescue Plan state fiscal recovery funds set aside for hospitals is unallocated, after the council approved the requests for the four hospitals on Friday.
The state Department of Human Services said the American Rescue Plan funds for the hospitals in Dumas, Eureka Springs, Magnolia and Piggott are aimed at assisting hospitals to offset extraordinary costs related to mitigating and preventing covid-19, and retaining and acquiring front-line staff as a result of the covid-19 pandemic.