Quote of the Week
"We're playing some pretty hard chicken right now with both people's feet on the accelerator. I think the only thing that's going to bring resolution to this is a crash."
— State Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) last week, promising to shut down funding for every Medicaid program in the state if the legislature refuses the demands of a small minority of tea party Republicans to end the private option (a.k.a. "Arkansas Works"). Hester and his allies want to reverse the Medicaid expansion made possible by Obamacare, which now provides insurance to 267,000 low-income Arkansans, and they're willing to accept the end of medical services for the elderly, the disabled and hundreds of thousands of children as collateral damage. (See Reporter, page 12.)
Anti-LGBT laws on the march
Remember HB 1228, Arkansas's "religious freedom" bill aimed against LGBT people, which sparked protests at the Arkansas Capitol one year ago? Republican legislators in North Carolina and Mississippi have pushed the envelope even further. In North Carolina, a new law restricts transgender individuals' use of public restrooms and prevents local governments from creating civil rights ordinances that extend protections to LGBT people. The text of Mississippi's new law says it's intended to protect "sincerely held religious beliefs" against not only same-sex marriage, but also "sexual relations" outside of marriage; it details a broad roster of religious activity that it says should be exempt from state purview. As in Arkansas and Indiana last year, the backlash has been intense. Business groups have spoken out against the bills, performers have canceled concerts in both states, and PayPal has reversed plans to open an operations center in Charlotte, N.C., that would have created 400 jobs. Let's be thankful the Arkansas legislature won't go into regular session until 2017.
After some previous resistance, the state Medical Board last week voted to comply with a legislative committee's orders to modify the language in new regulations related to abortion, changing the word "fetus" to "unborn child" and "unborn human individual." The board in January presented language that used "fetus," since that's the accepted medical term used by doctors, not "unborn child." But doctors be damned — the Arkansas Legislative Council told the board to make the change anyway.
New blood in Little Rock politics?
Molly Miller, a Clinton School of Public Service student, announced this week she will challenge Little Rock City Director Joan Adcock for the at-large seat that Adcock has held since 1992. In her press release, Miller called herself "a pro-growth progressive" and said she supports considering alternatives to the "30 Crossing" downtown highway expansion and rebuilding the Little Rock School District. Miller will face an uphill battle against Adcock, a veteran campaigner, but this could be an election cycle that favors insurgents. (Meanwhile, the two other citywide seats on the City Board are also up for election. Might at-large incumbents Gene Fortson and Dean Kumpuris draw challengers, too?)
Arkansas's budget without the private option, by the numbers
A group of 10 state senators are vowing to block renewal of Medicaid expansion, thus removing $142.7 million (at least) from the state's budget. House Speaker Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia) is one of those who supports Medicaid expansion, and this week he offered members a look at likely cuts — totaling 3 to 5 percent across every state agency — if Arkansas loses the increased federal funding made possible by the policy. Among the losses:
$10.9 million - from the Division of Children and Family Services, which handles foster care, adoptions and the rest of the state's already overloaded child welfare system.
$7.4 million - from the Department of Correction, the state prison system.
$9 million - from stipends given to National Board Certified teachers.
$5 million - from the state's pre-kindergarten program, Arkansas Better Chance.
$18 million - from various other K-12 education programs.