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Federal lawsuit challenges Arkansas Works

AG Rutledge sued and more.

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Federal lawsuit challenges Arkansas Works

A lawsuit was filed Tuesday in the federal court of the District of Columbia challenging Arkansas's work requirement for many Medicaid recipients.

The suit, with three plaintiffs — Charles Gresham of Harrison and Cesar Ardon and Marisol Ardon of Siloam Springs — names Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Medicare/Medicaid Administrator Seema Verma, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

It was filed in the same court that has ruled a waiver the government allowed for a Kentucky work rule was illegal. This suit, too, wants to enjoin enforcement of the rule as a violation of federal law and the U.S. Constitution.

The National Health Law Program, Arkansas Legal Aid and the Southern Poverty Law Center have worked on the long-anticipated lawsuit. They argue that restrictions on medical coverage aren't allowed by the Medicaid law. It is a health program, not a work program, they argue.

Governor Hutchinson persuaded the feds to accept the work rule to make the Medicaid expansion more palatable to Republican legislators. It took effect in June. The work rule applies to people aged 30-49, but will add those aged 19-29 next year. Beneficiaries must work 80 hours a month, including volunteer activities or school. The work must be reported online. Failure to meet the requirement for three months in a calendar year locks a participant out of coverage for the rest of that calendar year. About 7,000 recipients failed to substantiate employment in the first month. A July report was expected Wednesday.

The Arkansas Nonprofit News Network recently reported that Arkansas has already reduced Medicaid rolls by some 60,000, for reasons not entirely clear.

DHS sued over Rutledge FOIA

A Democratic Party employee has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to see Department of Human Services personnel records for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.

Reed Brewer, a spokesman for the Arkansas Democratic Party, filed the suit, with party attorney Chris Burks handling legal work. They had asked DHS for Rutledge's records from her time as a staff attorney, but none had been produced in the time the law allowed. DHS claimed the information was not in the public interest.

This revives an issue in Rutledge's campaign for office four years ago. The Arkansas Times' extensive review of records supplied by DHS revealed the "do not rehire" note by a supervisor on records of her departure from the agency after about a year of work. Rutledge said at the time she thought this was perhaps a reference to her leaving without giving sufficient notice.

Rutledge, who is up for re-election and facing Democrat Mike Lee, called the lawsuit "fake news" by "desperate Democrats."

Debtors' prison alleged

A legal group has filed a lawsuit on sentencing practices in White County District Judge Mark Derrick's court that it says amount to unconstitutional debtors' prison. Derrick ran for office in 2016 boasting of the high fines he'd impose and, according to the suit, jails people for failure to pay without assessing their ability to pay.

According to a news release on the suit, Derrick "routinely sentences individuals for failure to pay twice as much jail time as those convicted of most serious misdemeanors; disregards state law requirement to offer or appoint a defense attorney; routinely orders the suspension of driver's license for missed payments; requires a minimum of $100 monthly payments for court fees without an assessment of ability to pay, in violation of the 14th Amendment."

The group behind the lawsuit, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, worked with the ACLU on a similar case in Sherwood's hot check court in Pulaski County. The case produced a settlement that included a number of changes in practices on handling cases in that court.

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