Quote of the Week:
"Well, what kind of insurance do you have?"
— A woman at U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton's town hall in Springdale last Wednesday, after telling the Republican senator about her husband's failing health due to Alzheimer's and other conditions. She informed Cotton that she and her husband together pay less than $70 per month in premiums and challenged him to offer a plan that offered better coverage. For years, Cotton and other leading Republicans have promised the wholesale dismantling of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, but now that the GOP controls the White House and Congress, repeal is proving politically dicey. The raucous, angry crowd of some 2,200 hit Cotton with a stream of mostly hostile questions, often roaring its disapproval when he dodged a query or delivered an unsatisfactory answer.
LRSD tax election rescheduled for May 9
Little Rock School District Superintendent Mike Poore said last week he'll propose May 9 as the new date for a special election to extend a construction bond millage in the LRSD that would pay for various facilities projects, including a new Southwest Little Rock high school. The election was previously scheduled for March 14, but that date was scrapped out of concerns about a lack of community support. Many Little Rock voters are loath to support a tax extension while the district remains controlled by the state Department of Education due to low academic performance in a scant three schools (out of the district's 48 campuses). Johnny Key, the education commissioner, has indicated the LRSD won't be returning to local control until all campuses are off the "academic distress" list. Meanwhile, Poore and Key are moving forward with a plan to close two elementary schools and an early childhood center, sparking fury from some parents and neighborhood residents. And, a bill sailing through the Republican-controlled legislature would force the district to sell closed buildings to charter schools, further harming the LRSD's future prospects (see Arkansas Reporter, page 12). No wonder good will is in short supply.
Supreme Court tosses local LGBT protection
In a setback for equality, the state Supreme Court unanimously reversed a circuit court decision upholding Fayetteville's civil rights ordinance, which extends nondiscrimination protection to LGBT people. Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge had challenged the Fayetteville law on the grounds it conflicted with a state law prohibiting local ordinances that protect classes of people not already protected at the state level. The state law was passed by the legislature in 2015 specifically to prevent progressive towns like Fayetteville from enacting such measures. The fight isn't over yet, though. There's still the question of the constitutionality of the state law itself, which the circuit court did not rule upon (and therefore the Supreme Court also declined to take up). The conservative legislators who authored the state law claim — disingenuously — that the statute was only intended to ensure uniform practices across the state, not to preserve discrimination against gay and trans people. But its opponents say the anti-LGBT motivations behind the state law are clear.
The cruelest month
Governor Hutchinson has again set execution dates for several inmates on death row — all eight of which are scheduled for the last two weeks of April. The action followed a U.S. Supreme Court refusal to hear a challenge from the inmates, though two justices raised doubts about one of the drugs to be used in the process. There are still questions about expiration dates on the state's supply of drugs, however.
Speak your mind on marijuana
Draft rules that will govern Arkansas's new medical cannabis industry were approved by regulators and are now subject to public comment. The Medical Marijuana Commission, which will license dispensaries and cultivation centers, will hold a public hearing at 2 p.m. March 31 at the UA Little Rock Bowen School of Law; its rules are available online, and comments should be sent to MMCAdmin@dfa.arkansas.gov. Alcoholic Beverage Control, which will regulate the operations of those businesses, has also completed its rules and will hold a hearing at a date to be announced.
Wait, what about the ledge?
With the legislative session in full swing, there's too much ground to cover in this space. See the Arkansas Reporter, page 12, for a rundown of the past week's Capitol highlights and lowlights.