Quote of the Week:
"When I realized I was not willing to shut down Medicaid, then it was like, what are we going to do now?"
— State Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) explaining his decision to back Gov. Hutchinson's workaround plan to continue the private option, Arkansas's version of expanded Medicaid. Hester was one of 10 Republican senators fighting to end the private option — which provides insurance to over 250,000 low-income Arkansans — but in the end the pressure was too great for him. The governor signed the bill last Thursday, thus continuing the program (now rebranded as "Arkansas Works").
Jason Rapert targets Plan B
What would a legislative session be without a grandstanding crusade by Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway)? During debate over the private option, Rapert jumped into the mix to protest coverage of emergency contraception under Arkansas Medicaid. Plan B — the "morning after pill" — amounts to "killing little babies," Rapert declared, and he threatened to attach an amendment to the Medicaid appropriation on the matter. Never mind that federal law requires coverage of emergency contraception under private health insurance policies like those subsidized by the private option.
Yet Rapert's antics might do tangible harm. Mindful of his need for every vote in the Senate, Gov. Hutchinson placated Rapert with a letter last week stating that he'll seek federal waivers to end coverage of emergency contraception under all Medicaid programs. The governor's request on the private option is going nowhere — but the rules are different for traditional Medicaid programs, including coverage for extremely low-income parents and thousands of people with chronic medical problems. Because states have some discretion over which family planning services are covered, Arkansas could potentially prevent its traditional Medicaid beneficiaries from getting Plan B. If the feds go along, that is.
Huckabee comes home
No, not to Arkansas — to Fox News. The former Republican governor and twice-failed presidential candidate will be returning to Fox to provide election cycle coverage on "various daytime and primetime programs," according to Deadline Hollywood. Huckabee formerly had a weekly talk show on the cable network, which he left in January 2015 to pursue his presidential ambitions. Those fizzled a year later with a bottom-tier showing in the Iowa caucuses, but Huckabee's brand still has some cache among the Fox crowd.
Is that you, Hernando?
The Arkansas Archaeological Survey last week announced a major discovery: Researchers at Parkin Archaeological State Park in eastern Arkansas believe they have found the remains of a cross erected by the expedition of Hernando de Soto in 1541.
Parkin is the presumed site of Casqui, an American Indian village that was documented by de Soto soon after the Spanish conquistador and his men crossed the Mississippi River into what is now Arkansas. According to the expedition's journals, the Spaniards raised a cross on top of the village's largest mound, supposedly because the chief of Casqui asked the Europeans to lend the divine assistance of their deity to help alleviate an extended drought. De Soto continued westward, but the cross remained. A portion of a cypress post unearthed by archaeologists has been sent to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville for analysis to determine if it is indeed De Soto's.
Crimes against history
Vandals struck Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock last week, smashing several Italian marble statues within a family plot and damaging gravestones and monuments throughout the cemetery. American and Arkansas flags were also pulled down and shredded. Sexton Steve Adams said this is the first act of large-scale vandalism he's seen while employed at Mount Holly. Because the cemetery knows of no living members of the family in question, Adams said, the cost for attempting to repair the damage will likely fall to Mount Holly.
Devine out at Youth Services
Marcus Devine last week stepped down as director of the Division of Youth Services of the Department of Human Services, the state entity responsible for juvenile justice. Days later, news emerged that Devine has been hit with liens due to $72,000 in unpaid state income taxes and accumulated charges. It's not a huge surprise for those who've followed Devine's career: A search of court records (available online for all to see) reveals years of legal action on debt collection, tax liens, child support arrearages and more. Perhaps the governor should have run a background check before naming Devine to the job.