Tweet of the Week:
PULASKI Co: The ALL-NEW #BroadwayBridge opened to traffic tonight at 9:30! #arnews #artraffic
— The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (@AHTD) on Wednesday, March 1, announcing the end of months of worse-than-usual traffic snarls on surface streets in downtown Little Rock. The new Broadway Bridge arrived a full month ahead of schedule, partly due to an unseasonably mild winter that aided the pace of construction. Contractor Massman Construction will earn a big bonus thanks to the early completion date.
Private option restrictions coming
On Monday, congressional Republicans released a bill to rework the Affordable Care Act (see columns from Ernest Dumas on page 7 and Jay Barth on page 9). But for the 310,000 Arkansans covered by Medicaid expansion, even more significant Obamacare news came a few hours earlier from Governor Hutchinson, who announced he was seeking a federal waiver to modify the state's Medicaid expansion program (a.k.a. the private option or Arkansas Works).
The two largest changes proposed are to cap financial eligibility at the federal poverty level, rather than the current 138 percent of the FPL, and to institute work requirements for able-bodied adults. The new income eligibility cap would remove some 60,000 beneficiaries from the program. However, those people would then become eligible for federally subsidized insurance on the individual marketplace. The good news: They'll still have coverage. The bad news: They'll face more cost-sharing. The governor hopes to have the waiver in place by Jan. 1, 2018. The changes still require federal approval, but Hutchinson said the Trump administration's secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, indicated in a phone call that HHS would "look favorably" upon the request.
Former state senator indicted
New federal charges were announced in the public corruption scandal that previously snared former state Rep. Micah Neal of Springdale. Former state Sen. Jon Woods (also of Springdale) and Oren Paris III, the president of a small Christian college in Springdale, were named in an indictment filed last week. Federal prosecutors allege a scheme in which Woods guided hundreds of thousands of dollars in state surplus money to Ecclesia College, the institution headed by Paris. They say Woods and Neal conspired to take bribes for steering the state money to enrich Paris and his school, after which Paris allegedly paid the bribes to the legislators through a third-party consultant firm. That firm was set up by Randell Shelton Jr., a personal friend of Woods and Paris. Shelton also was indicted.
More may be yet to come. The money in question came from the General Improvement Fund, a repository of state surplus dollars that legislators have long used for pork projects. Other legislators besides Woods and Neal directed their share of GIF to Ecclesia and to other questionable activities.
House of horrors
Monday was the filing deadline for the 2017 regular session, and the bills came pouring in. Among the worst, the meanest and the goofiest of the last-minute legislation:
Against Zinn Rep. Kim Hendren (R-Gravette) hopes to prohibit public schools from including books or materials authored by Howard Zinn in their curriculum or courses. Zinn, who died in 2010, was the leftist historian who authored the best-selling "A People's History of the United States." (The day after the bill was filed, an organization called the Zinn Education Project announced it would offer a free copy of the text to any Arkansas teacher.)
No prizes for the poor A bill by Rep. John Payton (R-Wilburn) would require the state to seize lottery winnings from individuals who receive public assistance from the Department of Human Services. A winning lottery ticket over $500 would be subject to garnishment in the amount that "the person has received in public assistance benefits" for the previous 10 years.
Sheer meanness Rep. Mickey Gates (R-Hot Springs) introduced anti-transgender legislation that would make it impossible for individuals to change the sex listed on their birth certificate.
Bathroom cruelty Speaking of persecuting trans people, Sen. Linda Collins-Smith (R-Pocahontas) filed a bill to prohibit individuals from using bathrooms in government buildings that don't correspond to the gender they were assigned at birth.
Allow guns or get sued Rep. Richard Womack (R-Arkadelphia) proposed that an injured individual be allowed to sue a property owner who doesn't allow guns on his or her property — including a private residence — if the injury derived from "unlawful physical force" by another person.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg.