I'll try to provide a fuller wrapup here eventually, but the long slog through special interest items continues at Joint Budget:
* SEX ON THE BRAIN: Sen. Jason Rapert has made his predicted effort to fuss about a pass-through federal grant to Planned Parenthood that's used to educate about sexually transmitted disease and distribute condoms to stop both disease and pregnancies that sometime lead to abortion. UPDATE after the jump, but Rapert insisted he didn't intend to block the spending as I originally suggested, only to get answers to specific questions about the spending. When an appropriations bill is held up over a specific spending item, you can see where recipients of that spending item might have jumped to contrary conclusions.
* CORPORATE WELFARE: Crazy vote of the day approves state spending to explore development of South Arkansas lignite reserves. That's about the last thing in the world we want for environmental reasons. But some legislator said it right they other day: Nobody paid the gas industry to explore the Fayetteville shale. If lignite has profit potential, let the damn free market work and let private enterprise pay for it. If successful, they'll get crazily preferential tax treatment soon enough. Surely cooler heads in the governor's office will stop this crazy train. UPDATE: I'm informed there's no funding behind this appropriation.
* NO BUDGET HANDCUFFS: Gov. Beebe opposed — correctly — Sen. Jonathan Dismang's request to put accumulating state surplus in a lockbox for future Medicaid increases. This is just a gimmick. The money is effectively in a lockbox. It can't be spent without a three-fourths vote of the legislature. There's nothing to be gained — except trouble — by putting it off-limits now. Disasters could intervene. Sen. Randy Laverty helped Dismang's cause, without meaning to, by arguing that the lockbox could get in the way of grubby legislators seeking money for local projects from general improvement funds. This, of course, is one reason to support Dismang.
* GOVERNOR'S SCHOOL: A fund transfer was approved to return Arkansas Governor's School to a six-week schedule, rather than four. Most AGS fans thought the longer school was a better experience, but I thought I'd heard competing activities, the longer school year and the need for many kids to have summer jobs to support cars, phones and such had made recruitment harder generally, particularly for a longer session. The continued existence of Governor's School at any length has always been something of a miracle. AGSers out there?
* PAY CUT: Sen. Bill Sample of Hot Springs made an effort, easily beaten, to cut the pay of Bill Walker, director of the Department of Career Education. Walker's agency lost a $300,000 judgment in a whistleblower suit filed by an employee of the rehab facility operated in Hot Springs. Sens. Linda Chesterfield and Joyce Elliott led defense of Walker and Rep. Tracy Steele also defended the agency's work.
UPDATE on Sen. Rapert and Planned Parenthood Grant follows:
Today, Senator Jason Rapert claimed to fully support HIV/AIDS education, but representatives from Planned Parenthood said that they understood Rapart was "upset" about a roughly $50,000 grant from the Center of Disease Control that supports STI/HIV education in five central Arkansas school districts and funds disease screenings and condom distribution — the latter, away from school property.
According to Rapert, he asked Dr. Nate Smith of the Arkansas Health Department to appear before the committee today as a "matter of clarification that emanated from a little confusion during legislative council" — a review session on December 7, 2011 — "regarding grants that were awarded to Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma.'
Addressing Dr. Smith, Rapert said, "The programs were to provide education to adolescents in central Arkansas, Little Rock and Pulaski County. Your department was asked what the funds were used for during that committee meeting, and we were advised that those funds were used for staff and education materials only. And then later you contacted me and sent information about that to clarify, and simply for the purposes that my colleagues that are also on legislative council are also aware of what they’re used for, after discussion with you, you said that you would come and make that clarification."
Senator Chesterfield asked if all the monies expended were within the parameters of the grant, and Dr. Smith said that they were.
According to Murry Newbern with Planned Parenthood, the federal funds are given by the CDC to the state Health Department, and Planned Parenthood won the funds through a competitive bid. She doesn't think the grant is threatened, even though the Health Departments appropriations budget is still being debated.
“We were awarded the grant. I don’t know what could be done, frankly," she said. “We do a lot of good work, and this has nothing to do with abortion or contraception even. This is about disease prevention. Arkansas has a real problem with STI’s and HIV. We rank fourth for primary and secondary syphilis, sixth for chlamydia, ninth for gonorrhea.”
Rapert said that the Health Department's budget has "actually been held by more than one legislator, but for me, they wanted to make sure that they clarified that, they provided information to me that I would not have been aware of had they not contacted me." It sounds like, after learning that Rapert was upset about the grant, Planned Parenthood, of its own initiative, provided further information.
"There’s no problem with education whatsoever. That needs to be done," Rapert added. "The problem is that when you sit before a committee you tell them you’re paying for X... ."