by Max Brantley
Our webcast day ends with Arkansas Republican legislative leaders — and I do mean leaders — holding a late afternoon public session to bring around votes for their "private option" version of implementing Obamacare Medicaid expansion in Arkansas. The Democratic Party is lobbying for it. I'm for it. Kochheads aren't for it and assorted teabaggers remain to be convinced. The first big House vote is tomorrow, on enabling legislation, but it will be an important marker on the road to 75 votes for the appropriation.
* STORMY WEATHER: Multiple funnel cloud sightings, wind damage and unsettled conditions have everyone on edge, but government forges on. Damage reported in rural Van Buren County, where the picture above was reportedly taken. Fox 16 says eight homes and a church were damaged and a tractor-trailer overturned in Old Botkinburg, about a mile north of Clinton. Fox 16 also says four people were taken to a hospital.
* UPDATE: TORT DEFORM DEFEATED IN COMMITTEE: A 5:30 p.m. committee meeting has been scheduled TODAY to consider SJR 5, the business lobby's idea of "tort reform." It would strip power from the Supreme Court on rulemaking in damage suits and otherwise erect new barriers against damage lawsuits by injured people. With short notice on the meeting and a big statewide storm brewing, opposition isn't likely to be mustered as it was for a hearing last Friday. Coincidentally.
UPDATE: An interim report indicates an 11th-hour amendment to make the chamber's amendment even more punitive on people seeking damages.
UPDATE II: Rep. Duncan Baird, Twittering from the committee meeting, reports that SJR 5, the business lobby's measure to make it harder to sue for damages, was defeated in committee on a roll call vote of Senate commitee members. Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, who has introduced a competing, less punitive measure on behalf of the trial lawyers, earned his pay for his early move to line up support, including Republicans, for his compromise measure. A big shoutout to John Goodson, the Texarkana trial lawyer who sends business Hutchinson's way and is a driving force in the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association, foes of the chamber initiative. Hat tip to Sen. David Johnson, a Little Rock lawyer, who got out of a sick bed to lead questioning of the proposal. The Senate committee has a 5-3 Republican split, generally favorable to chamber of commerce initiatives. But two of the 5, Gary Stubblefield and Jimmy Hickey of Texarkana, had been sponsors of Hutchinson's alternative amendment, which gives back many of trial lawyers' court-won gains in damage litigation as an alternate to the more punishing proposal from the chamber. Even more important, Republican Sen. Bryan King voted against the chamber proposal. Democrats Robert Thompson and Bobby Pierce were also sponsors of the Hutchinson alternative and members of the committee. King was pivotal, because I'm told Stubblefield and Hickey backed the chamber's measure. That left four, one short.
* OIL SPILL: CONFLICTED COPPERS: ICYMI: An item posted earlier today to correct a piece of information related to the oil spill at Mayflower from the Exxon Mobil pipeline has been updated. It notes that Game and Fish Commission wildlife officers are joining Mayflower police and Faulkner County deputies as well-paid private security for Exxon Mobil. Does doing Exxon's bidding — on public access, for example — serve the public interest of their full-time employers? And is there a direct conflict of interest for Game and Fish employees, given that the agency's Lake Conway is in direct peril from the spill? CORRECTION: Conway officers are not working privately, as I wrote originally. Mayor Tab Townsell cited city policy, which, in fact, is sound for others. "Conway policy has for a few years required companies to pay the city for our officers working their events. The officer is strictly and always paid by the city and retains a clear public chain of command."
* OIL SPILL: MCDANIEL WANTS $4 MILLION FROM EXXON: Attorney General Dustin McDaniel met with reporters at 5:15 p.m. to share information from 12,000 pages worth of documents received from Exxon Mobil in his investigation of the pipeline rupture and oil spill. For one thing, he's learned the rupture in the pipe was 22 feet long, about two inches wide, says an early report from KTHV. McDaniel is asking Exxon for $4 million for a fund to cover the cost of the state's investigation into the spill and aftermath. He's retained a law firm and former FEMA director James Lee Witt's consulting firm to assist. Here's a copy of McDaniel's prepared remarks.
* ABORTION I: OPPOSITION TO PLANNED PARENTHOOD PUNISHMENT: Public Policy Polling has released results of a poll that indicates a majority of Arkansans oppose state Senate-passed legislation to strip funding from agencies that provide abortion referrals, particularly when they learn the legislation affects sex education funding. Here are the question by question results. They show Planned Parenthood is viewed more favorably than unfavorably and that a plurality opposed the bill, with the number increasing to a solid majority when further details are provided. I have asked, but don't yet know, who commissioned the poll.
* ABORTION II: LIVING IN INFAMY: Speaking of that Planned Parenthood bill, lots of national attention being given to Senate approval of the bill aimed at stripping Planned Parenthood of funding, with immediate consequences for sex educations targeting disease prevention. This article in Salon notes that the legislation, which pends in the House, has broad consequences.
The Senate measure also prohibits any organization that holds contracts with abortion providers or referrers, including, as Laura Basset at the Huffington Post notes, power companies, water companies, health insurers and medical suppliers, from receiving any state money.
* ABORTION III: ROBOCALLS, WOMEN FIGHT BACK: Calls are going around Arkansas today about Sen. Jason Rapert's war on women, the effort to limit abortion rights and also cripple Planned Parenthood through loss of public support for sex education program. That's interesting in its own right. More interesting is that the calls also inform those who listen that former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross voted to defund Planned Parenthood when he was in Congress. The calls don't identify the source. But ... Ross is expected to announce as a nominally Democratic candidate for governor next week. Bill Halter has already announced as a Democratic candidate.