Quote of the Week:
"Secularism and communism, there is no difference. ... They're both godless."
— Evangelist Franklin Graham, speaking to a crowd of thousands at the state Capitol last week as part of his "Decision America Tour." Graham, the son of legendary preacher Billy Graham, urged those in attendance to support political candidates who hold "biblical principles" and advocated the installation of more Ten Commandments monuments on public grounds.
Arkansas Works, does it?
Last week, it appeared as if Gov. Hutchinson had finally found a way to break the stranglehold imposed on the state's Medicaid budget by 10 diehard, tea-party enemies of the private option (a.k.a., "Arkansas Works") in the state Senate. The governor's workaround: The anti-PO senators will get to vote for a Medicaid appropriation that includes an amendment to kill the private option... but once the bill reaches Hutchinson's desk, he'll use a line-item veto to strike that amendment, thus saving the private option. The small minority of tea-party hardliners gets to say they held the line on Obamacare, and everyone else in the legislature joins in on the "no" vote to ultimately get to "yes." Make sense?
The plan is both patently absurd and — probably — politically necessary to save health coverage for the hundreds of thousands of Arkansans whose insurance is being held hostage by the tea partiers. But some Democrats understandably balked at the governor's proposal, in part because of worries the plan could be subject to a legal challenge, and the no-means-yes amendment failed to pass out of committee last Thursday, before finally advancing on Tuesday. Hopefully, by the time you read this, disaster will have been averted and the Medicaid expansion will remain in place for another year.
When 10 = 6
The state Highway and Transportation Department will hold another public hearing next week on the controversial "30 Crossing" project that would widen Interstate 30 to 10 lanes in downtown North Little Rock and Little Rock. Except, wait — the Highway Department now describes the proposal as containing only six lanes, not 10. In addition to the six lanes, the department acknowledges, there will also be four "collector/distributor lanes" running alongside the highway. This is, of course, ridiculous: Six plus four equals 10. The Highway Department hasn't changed its plan, just its branding.
The public meeting will be from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. April 26 at the Wyndham Riverfront Hotel in North Little Rock.
More of the same
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has filed an appeal of Circuit Judge Tim Fox's ruling that allowed the names of three married same-sex couples to appear on their child's birth certificate. The state acknowledged important "policy" questions on birth certificates, but said Fox erred in finding the current law was unconstitutional. The attorney general argued that parental rights don't flow from marriage. "The Court should recognize that although [the couples] may have reasonable policy arguments, policy decisions are left to the democratic process in the legislature or vote of the people," read the attorney general's brief.
But since we first wrote about this last year, we've seen little tangible evidence of the Health Department, the Board of Health, the Hutchinson administration or anybody in the legislature moving to improve birth certificate procedures to accommodate families with two mothers or two fathers. It is not very hard. Same-sex couples could, for example, be allowed the same affidavit procedure about parenthood given heterosexual couples. Ample precedent in other states exists for quick fixes.
Absent a court ruling, don't expect one. Would this legislature give favorable review to a Board of Health rule recognizing that equal rights for gay couples is now the law of the land? Not with the Republican strategy in the South to attempt to defeat LGBT rights by incremental burdens, much as the anti-abortion forces have limited abortion rights.
A ray of light
The unemployment rate in March fell to 4 percent from 4.2 percent the month before. That's a historic low. The state's workforce grew by more than 7,000 in March.