Quote of the week
"Fidel Castro created hell on earth for the Cuban people. He will now become intimately familiar with what he wrought."
— Sen. Tom Cotton, in a statement released following the death of Castro, the longtime leader of Cuba. Cotton has opposed the Obama administration's move to normalize relations with Cuba. But Governor Hutchinson has been supportive of the policy, and told the press that he hoped President-elect Donald Trump didn't return to a "rigid embargo." Cuba has high demand for rice, corn and soybeans, and Arkansas farmers are eager to provide them.
Tweet of the week
"Would you support a bill removing the names of Bill & Hillary Clinton from the Little Rock Airport? Arkansas does not support them."
— Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway, @jasonrapert), perhaps angling to take over the Little Rock Airport Commission. The Central Arkansas Library System's board of directors may be next, as Rapert will surely want to change the name of CALS' Hillary Rodham Clinton Children's Library, too.
Health care overhaul looking more likely
President-elect Donald Trump's appointment of U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) to be secretary of Health and Human Services could put Medicaid expansion — known in Arkansas as the private option and later rebranded as Arkansas Works — in trouble. But that's just the beginning. Funding for the traditional Medicaid program — which covers the elderly in nursing homes, low-income kids, the disabled and other needy populations — is likely also on the chopping block, since Price supports changing Medicaid funding to block grants and cutting it by about $1 trillion over the next decade. The privatization of Medicare, cutting benefits and pushing costs onto the elderly, will probably be on the table as well.
Price, a fierce opponent of Obamacare, is the author of a bill that would repeal Medicaid expansion altogether and replace it with nothing, stripping health insurance from around 14 million Americans. That includes 300,000 low-income Arkansans currently on Arkansas Works.
Such a plan might see some pushback from red-state governors in states that expanded Medicaid, including Governor Hutchinson, who said earlier this year that he wanted to see coverage expansion continue under any replacement for Obamacare. One small glimmer of hope in that direction: Trump also said he will appoint Seema Verma, who oversaw a Republicanized version of Medicaid expansion in Indiana, to head the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
State anti-panhandling law struck down
Last week, federal Judge Billy Roy Wilson blocked enforcement of a state law that makes it a misdemeanor offense to beg.
The ACLU sued on behalf of two homeless people who panhandle and have been cited by police before. The law made it a crime of loitering to remain in a public place or the premises of another "for the purpose of begging." The judge said the law was, on its face, a violation of constitutionally protected speech.
The ruling doesn't apply to a variety of municipal ordinances around the state that make various attempts to prevent panhandling, such as one in Hot Springs that restricts solicitation in the public right of way.
Michael Rodgers and Glynn Eilbeck sued the director of the State Police over the law.
Switch gives GOP supermajority
State Rep. David Hillman, an Almyra farmer recently re-elected as a Democrat to a third term, announced last week that he was switching to the Republican Party, giving the GOP 75 of the 100 House seats. His switch gives the Republicans the ability to vote as a bloc to defeat even a minority effort to stop an appropriation bill, most of which require a 75 percent vote.
Hillman represents portions of Arkansas, White, Prairie and Lonoke counties. Those counties all went heavily for Donald Trump, with the 63 percent margin in Arkansas County, Hillman's home, the narrowest of the four. He was unopposed for re-election this year and in 2014, but narrowly defeated a Republican in 2012.