Quote of the week
"The ruling is a big win for Arkansans. Without the individual mandate in place, Obamacare cannot be upheld and is unconstitutional. Now, it is time for Congress to increase options, lower costs and protect those with pre-existing conditions." — Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, in response to a ruling by a conservative federal judge in Texas that found the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. Rutledge was among the Republican state attorneys general who filed the lawsuit. Legal scholars give the ruling little chance of standing as it continues through the appeals process, but if it does, millions with pre-existing conditions will be denied health insurance, hundreds of thousands of Arkansans will likely be left insured and Arkansas's budget will be wrecked.
The State Board of Education was scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 20, in special session to complete business on suggestions to alter the operation of the Little Rock and Pine Bluff school districts. Despite no notice of such plans on its agenda, the board was set to vote Dec. 13 to immediately waive the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act, which provides basic due-process rights for teachers, for all teachers in the Pine Bluff and Little Rock districts, both of which are under state control for supposed academic deficiencies. Objections to action that hadn't been announced in advance, including from some board members, prompted a delay.
The thinking on education regulators' part is that the fair dismissal law is an obstacle to the speedy firing of poor teachers, though scant evidence of that has been offered. Poor teachers, in turn, are being blamed as the primary culprit for low student scores, despite the state being in control for almost four years now.
The special meeting took on heightened significance because of board member Diane Zook's scripted rip of the school district. She wants to waive the fair dismissal law for administrators as well as teachers. She has also targeted Hall High School for reconstitution (firing all school staff), plans to request financial and special education audits from the state, and wants administrative reorganization.
Almost 17,000 Arkansans have lost their health insurance because of the state's experimental work requirement for certain low-income adult Medicaid beneficiaries, according to a monthly report released by the state Department of Human Services this week. The state terminated coverage for another 4,655 Medicaid beneficiaries due to noncompliance with the state's work rule this month, adding to the 12,277 who were cut off and locked out of Medicaid from September to November. Those people were enrollees in the Arkansas Works program, the state's approach to Medicaid expansion. Arkansas Works provides low-income adults with marketplace insurance plans through private carriers such as Blue Cross or Ambetter, but their premiums and other costs are paid by Medicaid.
Medical marijuana updates
The state Medical Marijuana Commission rescheduled a meeting set for this week on the grading of applications for dispensaries to Jan. 9.
A new member, Benton Police Capt. Kevin
Voters approved medical marijuana in November 2016. Enabling legislation was passed in 2017. The commission has awarded five permits for cultivation facilities and will award up to 32 dispensary permits. They can't operate until a state-grown supply is available. Officials have forecast a spring start to the availability of medical marijuana for accredited patients holding permission from doctors for use of the drug in a range of medical circumstances.