by Max Brantley
The line is open. Finishing up (after aerial footage above of the Mayflower oil spill, hard to get now because of an FAA no-fly rule on the area).
* THERE WILL BE BLOODY NUKES: There's the oil spill. And then there's the giant industrial accident at Arkansas Nuclear One, for which many assurances have been given against serious harm (beyond the one person killed, of course). This post on Daily Kos begs to differ. By the way, The River Valley Leader has photos of the mess inside the Arkansas Nuclear One .
* OK. IT REALLY COULD BE WORSE: Now that the bill filing deadline is past in Arkansas, it's safe to report North Carolina is ahead of the wackjob curve with Republican majority leader-supported legislation that would allow establishment of a state religion and otherwise declare the U.S. Bill of Rights null and void in North Carolina. It's somewhat akin to Bullet Bob Ballinger's federal gun law nullification in Arkansas. North Carolina has that, too.
* A VOTE FOR THE ARTS: And let's mention a small piece of good news from the legislature. The House this afternoon passed, over some objections, a bill to establish an arts-infused curriculum in public schools. Several representatives testified to the benefits of arts education in lifting students in other areas. The bill goes to the Senate. Our Leslie Newell Peacock has been tracking this effort — and the value of the arts generally — on her arts blog, Eye Candy, and in the regular pages of the Times.
* THE LITTLE ROCK CITY GOVERNMENT DIVIDE: Interesting bit of film from Arkansas Community Organizations. City Director Erma Hendrix moved that the Little Rock City Board not always place citizen communications at the end of (frequently long) board meetings, but alternate placement of the comment period. Director Ken Richardson noted that citizen communications already labor under an arbitrary three-minute time limit, where agenda items can stretch on without limit. Mayor Stodola favored his policy of giving agenda first priority at every meeting. The motion was defeated. The vote: Directors from south of Interstate 630 voted for the motion, except Joan Adcock, who voted present, same effect as a no. It was opposed by directors from north of Interstate 630.
* OBAMACARE WATCH: Pennsylvania is giving a look at the Arkansas method of expanding Medicaid coverage under Obamacare through private insurance. A South Carolina official, Tony Keck, on the other hand, says it still smells like Obamacare to him.
“If Republicans are for this plan, I don’t know what exactly they were against before,” says Keck, who runs South Carolina’s Medicaid program. “It covers the same number of people, with the same benefits and is more expensive. I have a hard time understanding what it is that some of these Republican legislators like about that.”
Perhaps Speaker Davy Carter, who says flatly that expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare is not Obamacare, can explain to Mr. Keck.
* AND SPEAKING OF LOOKING AFTER THE LEAST AMONG US: In the Times this week, a guest column by four clergy/activists makes the case for a fairer approach to tax revision than giveaways to the wealthy.
It comes down to a moral case, the writers argue. (Persuasively, to me.) Write Steve Copley, Pat Bodenhamer, Wendell Griffen and Howard Gordon:
As people of faith, we are called to seek justice for "the least of these" and care for what affects the quality of their daily lives. This faith places requirements upon the followers.
Today, six out of every 10 families in Arkansas (60 percent of our population) earn less than $44,000 a year. They pay roughly 12 cents of every dollar they earn in taxes. But Arkansans who earn more than $300,000 (1 percent of our population) pay only 6 cents of every dollar in taxes.
A system that taxes middle and low income earners TWICE what the highest earners pay is not moral and just.
Yet several proposals being considered by Arkansas legislators would make the existing unfair system even WORSE. HB 1966 cuts taxes on investment profits, vastly benefiting the wealthiest Arkansans. HB 1585 lowers the Arkansas income tax in a manner that would give the top 5 percent of wage earners half the tax reduction. Both bills passed the House Revenue and Tax Committee last week and now move to the House floor. How can these legislative proposals be considered moral and just?
* THE WAR ON WOMEN CONTINUES: The war on women continues. A Senate committee will take up anti-abortion cookiecutter legislation being introduced around the country to cut off the flow of public money to Planned Parenthood. No money goes to Planned Parenthood in Arkansas for abortion. The state Health Department passes along $60,000 in federal money to pay for HIV and sexual disease education. But because Planned Parenthood provides abortion — not clinical ones in Arkansas — and otherwise supports a woman's right to choose abortion, it has been targeted for loss of unrelated money. This battle by anti-choice forces is underway in several states, along with lawsuits challenging the punitive measures that inevitably leave some women with untreated disease, without birth control and with unwanted pregnancies that sometimes end in abortions.
Planned Parenthood has put out a call for support at the State Agencies meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday in the Old Supreme Court room. Wear pink and arrive early, the note says.
UPDATE: Planned Parenthood was confused. The bill came for afternoon consideration TODAY in the State Agencies Committee after adjournment of the Senate. Jerry Cox, the anti-choice leader of the rightwing religio-political lobby Family Council explained the bill in place of Sen. Gary Stubblefield, who's just a stooge on the issue. Stubblefield, a spectator said, didn't know Planned Parenthood did STD screening.
UPDATE II: The committee, with a solid majority Republican membership, recommended the bill for passage, says an opponent who was in the room. Last hope likely will be the House committee, which has a slightly more favorable makeup, a Democratic majority if not a pro-choice majority. You'd hope they could muster a pro-health majority on this bill, since the money isn't used for abortion, but that's asking a lot in this legislature. Stubblefield, just to give you a flavor, asked a lot of questions about lubricants and flavored condoms and encouraging homosexuality. (Sex is not supposed to be enjoyable, the anti-choice forces believe. If you do it out of matrimony you should either get pregnant or die from AIDS and have no pleasure in the process.) He said other groups that don't countenance abortions should be able to compete for the money. (Presumably so long as they don't also "encourage homosexuality" by passing out condoms to gay people.) A report I received said the bill was amended so as not to affect Medicaid funding, so the impact may be less than originally thought.
ON THE JUMP: A statement from Planned Parenthood which notes the crazily broad language of the bill which would bar public funds to anybody who barely associates with someone or something that is pro-choice.
In a surprise move today, an Arkansas Senate committee voted to pass a broad measure designed to end funding that goes through the state to support organizations like Planned Parenthood — despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of Arkansas women are in desperate need of the services Planned Parenthood provides.
“The Arkansas Legislature is once again putting politics ahead of the health and well being of Arkansans,” said Planned Parenthood of the Heartland President and CEO Jill June. “Planned Parenthood is being singled out for political reasons, and the health of families in our state is being jeopardized along the way.”
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland receives two grants for HIV and Syphilis prevention programs and outreach. The programs provide medically accurate, age-appropriate information, including information about abstinence, to 2,000 women, men and teens. The grant funding is used solely for these important preventive education programs.
While proponents claim to take square aim at these sex education programs provided by Planned Parenthood, the poorly drafted language in the bill could have much broader, unforeseen consequences. The bill blocks funding that passes through the state for any private health care provider or organization that provides information about all of a woman’s pregnancy options. If an individual doctor refers a patient for an abortion, that doctor could lose a research grant that passes through the state. Domestic violence shelters or rape crisis centers that provide referrals for abortion could also be in danger of losing funding.
This bill is much broader than other state efforts to restrict women’s health funding. Anyone who contracts with Planned Parenthood, as well as any entity that contracts with an entity that refers for abortion, could lose funding. No state law has been enacted that would punish an entity that has nothing to do with abortion or even health care, just because they do business with an entity that provides or refers for abortion.
“It’s time to put politics aside and put the women and families of Arkansas first. Extreme lawmakers would rather make a political statement than allow Planned Parenthood to continue teaching young people how to stay safe and healthy,” concluded June.
One in four Arkansas women of reproductive age is uninsured. More than 300,000 women are in need of contraceptive services and supplies. Sixty percent of counties have no OB-GYNs, and the state has the highest cervical cancer mortality rate in the nation.
Planned Parenthood has been a trusted health care provider and educator in Arkansas for more than 40 years.