Tis an ill wind that will blow Arkansas storm victims no good when their day inevitably arrives for extra government help in the face of disaster.
The U.S. House voted tonight on a supplemental appropriation for Hurricane Sandy aid.
The final measure passed 241-180.
U.S. Rep. Tiny Tim Griffin of Judsonia, Steve Womack of Walmart and Tom Cotton of the Club for Growth's D.C. chapter said NO!!!!
U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford of Jonesboro, which knows tornadoes, voted AYE.
From Fox News:
"We are not crying wolf here," said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., one of a group of Northeastern lawmakers from both parties who sought House passage of legislation roughly in line with what the Obama administration and governors of the affected states have sought.
Democrats were more politically pointed as they brushed back Southern conservatives who sought either to reduce the measure or offset part of its cost through spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.
"I just plead with my colleagues not to have a double standard," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York. "Not to vote tornado relief to Alabama, to Louisiana, to Mississippi, Missouri, to — with Ike, Gustav, Katrina, Rita — but when it comes to the Northeast, with the second worst storm in the history of our country, to delay, delay, delay."
One key vote came on an attempt by Rep. Rodney Freylinghuysen to add $33.7 billion to an original allotment of $17 billion in aid. That vote was 228-192 and included heavy Democratic support.
Please note that ALL Arkansas Republicans voted against the Freylinghuysen amendment.
The Tuesday night line commences. Finishing up:
* NO WAY TO SLICE IT/BAD NUMBERS FOR DUSTIN: Public Policy Polling released today the cross-tabs on its 600-person sample of an Asa Hutchinson/Dustin McDaniel gubernatorial matchup. When an anti-abortion gun nut outpolls you among women, you are in deep trouble indeed. And when a Democrat can get only 63 percent of the black support against a retrograde Republican, again, that Democrat has problems. Note again that a union group, undoubtedly inclined in favor of Bill Halter as a Democratic nominee, paid for this poll. Even with his current low numbers, McDaniel's work with the Democratic establishment probably makes him the favorite over Halter in a Democratic primary. Unless Halter people, through strategic polling and pumping of the Andi Davis story, can drive McDaniel out of the race entirely.
* ABOUT THOSE MUGSHOT WEBSITES: What could be wrong about running jailhouse mugshots — public information about people arrested for a variety of offenses? Funny you should ask. A report here on a lawsuit about how that information on suspects lingers on the Internet, even when charges are eventually dismissed. It can be a hassle for people trying to get work down the line. Or so says a lawsuit suing outfits that charge big prices to remove mug shots from their galleries.
* ELECTORAL COLLEGE RIGGING: Increasingly marginalized as a Southern party, the Republican Party, writes Josh Marshall, apparently may embark on a plan to rig the electoral college. It would get Republican legislatures to enact proportional electoral college voting in states — think Ohio and Pennsylvania — where it would be useful to them. In other words, they'd kind of favor one-man, one-vote — at least in states where it would help them. Otherwise, not so much. Would the electoral college abolutists still be with them? Since they are mostly Republicans, probably.
* THE CITY VS. WINTER, PART I: Little Rock City Hall reports:
Due to a collapsed drainage pipe, a portion of River Mountain Road in Two Rivers Park will be closed off to vehicle, pedestrian and bicycle traffic effective immediately until further notice.
This part of the road is located at the bottom of the hill headed east. There will be no access from the west side of Two Rivers Bridge. The expected repair time is approximately 8-10 weeks.
Until repairs are completed, the Two Rivers Bridge may be accessed through Murray Park via Rebsamen Park Road. We apologize for any inconvenience.
* THE CITY VS. WINTER, PART II: Today's snow further disrupted city of Little Rock efforts to clean up after the Christmas storm. It interrupted normal waste pickups today. The city's report:
The Arkansas affiliate of the ACLU has announced its opposition to a proposed $300,000 contract between the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock and the Union Rescue Mission to operate the city's day center for the homeless, soon to open in a building acquired from Union Rescue on Confederate Boulevard. The ACLU said taxpayer money shouldn't be used to pay a staff that will be hired in a way that discriminates on the basis of religion.
The ACLU says it would take whatever action was appropriate to stop the deal.
The city has defended the legality of Union Rescue's intention to hire only evangelical Christians with the city money to staff the city's center in a city building. Union Rescue Mission has been unwilling to speak publicly about the matter and has even asked to be removed from the Arkansas Homeless Coalition e-mail list since a member raised questions. I've sought a comment from the city on the news.
* CITY MANAGER BRUCE MOORE: "I have been relying on [City attorney Tom Carpenter] Tom’s opinion. However, I am already moving forward with other options at this point."
* ASSISTANT CITY MANAGER BRYAN DAY, WHO'S BEEN OVERSEEING THE HOMELESS PROJECT: "I have not seen a release from the URM but did visit with William [Tollett, the mission director] earlier; he tells me the URM plans to meet on Wednesday to discuss whether or not to move forward with the City to operate the day resource center. We had planned to wait until they made a decision, one way or the other; if they choose not to operate the day resource center, we will look at other options.
The ACLU release
The ACLU of Arkansas opposes $300,000 contract between the cities of Little Rock, AR and North Little Rock and Union Rescue Mission (URM) to operate a day resource center for the homeless in property owned by Little Rock. The ACLU obtained materials from the City of Little Rock via the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act on Friday, January 11, 2013.
The ACLU confirmed reports that URM plans to engage in hiring practices for personnel to operate the homeless center which discriminate on the basis of religion. Applicants for jobs must profess a personal commitment to Jesus Christ and live under the authority of Scripture.
“That $300,000 is taxpayer money,” said ACLU of Arkansas executive director Rita Sklar today. “The proposed contract between the cities of Little Rock, North Little Rock and the Union Rescue Mission raises both constitutional (First Amendment) and federal law (Title 7) concerns. Also troubling is the fact that there was no competitive bidding for the contract. The justification given for this lack of bids is insufficient.”
The ACLU is concerned that because of the way the contract was awarded (no bid) and URM’s employment discrimination on religious grounds the city’s actions may have the effect of advancing the religion espoused by URM at the expense of other religions and non-religion. This would be a violation of the First Amendment.
In addition, the ACLU believes that URM’s discriminatory hiring practices may violate the federal law known as Title 7, which prohibits an employer from discriminating against employees and potential employees on the basis of religion. “While there is an exception for certain employers to this prohibition against hiring based on religious affiliation, we do not believe it applies here,” added Sklar.
“Given the religious bias already exhibited by URM in its hiring practices, the ACLU also is concerned that URM could discriminate against the homeless who do not espouse its brand of Christianity and who may have made life choices
that URM does not approve of,” said cooperating attorney Bettina Brownstein. “Injection of religion into the operation of the center in this way would be not only unconstitutional but especially troubling.”
“The ACLU will continue to look into this matter and will take whatever action is appropriate,” said Sklar.
I asked Department of Human Services Communications Director Amy Webb whether they had new numbers on the shortfall and whether the Initiative has shown early signs of reducing costs. She responded by email:
We don’t have numbers yet. The Medicaid staff is working on new projections and we should have them in a week or two.
What I can tell is that based on data for the first six months of the year, the average rate of growth in the Medicaid program is less than three percent. Over the last five years, the average rate of growth has been six percent so we are significantly less than that. We believe that, in part the slowing of the growth rate is based on a sentinel effect [doctors practicing in more efficient ways because they know external review is in place] from our payment initiative. Providers know that we are changing the system to one that is more efficient, provides more coordinated care and better care. We think providers understand that and are already moving in that direction.
We won’t know exactly what the slowed growth rate translates to moneywise until we complete our projections.
The legislator — who has lived variously in condos downtown and Chenal Valley and perhaps other points — has hit early with a headline grabber. It is legislation to require drug testing of all unemployment compensation applicants and random drug testing thereafter of beneficiaries.
Only if there's a tradeoff, I say.
Let's let this philandering, ethics law-breaking, high-living, Bible-beating Republican also require drug testing and alcohol testing of legislators before they set a state-money-wasting new bar for people who really work for a living. (As opposed to being, say, a high-priced legislative insider/counselor for a big swinging politically wired class action law firm.)
And let's have legislators undergo lie detector tests, too. Like, say, on their campaign reports. Like, were those two campaign checks written for Hutchinson's mistress' personal expenses really the ONLY money ever dug up from smelly sources to keep her in a fancy downtown condo? (He claims SHE wrote the checks without his knowledge.) She says not. She says she'd like the Ethics Commission to look, too, at his credit card use and to talk to her about his campaign activities. She also says he once promised her a paycheck from a state grant program, among other dubious promises in their tumultuous relationship.
MORE CHICKENBLEEP FROM HUTCHINSON: Another sure out for scoundrels is to bed down with corporate lobbyists to keep the money flowing, particularly since Hutchinson already has a solid Republican opponent, Rep. Ann Clemmer, if he seeks Senate re-election in 2014.
He's filed two bills to help the poultry and other livestock interests. One bill would make it a crime for animal rights workers to work undercover in livestock operations to gather footage of animal mistreatment. Another bill is aimed at preventing groups like the Humane Society from initiating investigations of animal mistreatment, leaving this duty only to law enforcement agencies (home-grown folks who might be more understanding of local animal husbandry).
(UPDATE: Hutchinson insists his animal legislation was offered in behalf of a Saline County humane worker who disapproves of Humane Society and PETA interventions in animal rights issues, not from any corporate interest. He said he was unaware of similar legislation offered elsewhere as a reaction to those undercover investigations and that he was only working in behalf of a local constituent. He said the Farm Bureau had reservations. Hutchinson also disputes his former friend Julie McGee's various allegations, while confirming he'd been with her recently in response to a request from her for assistance.)
UPDATE II: The day after this blog item appeared and Hutchinson told me he wasn't familiar with all the issues related to this legislation, he tabled the bills in committee and said he'd hand them off to someone else who knew more about agriculture. Good move. Now if he'd just do that with the drug testing bill.
Only a lowlife would use dumb animals and the unemployed to salvage a political career.
The Little Rock Police Department has announced suspension of a police communications officer because of a failure in immediately sending emergency responders to a report of a car that slid off an icy road in western Little Rock yesterday and submerged in a pond. The driver died and her child was hospitalized. The LRPD release:
On Monday, January 14, 2013, the Little Rock Communications Center received a transferred cellular 911 call from Pulaski County 911 at 7:57 a.m. The call information indicated two people were trapped inside their vehicle that was in a pond on Cooper Orbit Road, just east of Capitol Hill Boulevard and Rushmore Avenue. The Little Rock 911 Operator notified Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services (M.E.M.S.) of this call at 8:01 a.m.
At 8:17 a.m., M.E.M.S. called back to Little Rock Communications to verify that the Little Rock Fire Department was enroute to the scene, at which point it was determined that only M.E.M.S. was dispatched. For reasons undetermined at this time, the Little Rock Fire Department and the Little Rock Police Department had not been dispatched.
At 8:23 a.m., the call was dispatched to the Little Rock Fire Department, who sent a Water Rescue Unit. The Little Rock Police Department was also dispatched to the scene at 8:27 a.m. According to the records it was approximately twenty six minutes before the Little Rock Fire Department was dispatched and thirty minutes before the Little Rock Police Department was dispatched.
Once it was determined there was a delay in dispatching fire and police to this call an investigation into
the circumstances was initiated. At this point, the 911 operator has been relieved of duty pending the
outcome of this investigation.
Sgt. Cassandra Davis said the call originally went to a county 911 operator because it was reported by a cell phone call that was relayed by a tower in the county, under the sheriff's jurisdiction. The accident happened in Little Rock city limits, in police jurisidiction, but near the western edge of the city. The delay in dispatch of emergency crews with ability to get in the water — which MEMS cannot do — may have been critical, though the fire crew still had 11 miles to cover to reach the scene from its station downtown.
Jingli Yei, 39, died in the wreck after her vehicle slid into the water in sub-freezing weather. She was able to place the distress call by cell phone from her car. According to media accounts, she and her 5-year-old son, Le Ying, were alive when removed from the car, but she died at a hospital. Her son was in critical condition today at Children's Hospital.
I mentioned earlier that even Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer had decided the economic argument in favor of accepting Medicaid expansion was too powerful to ignore. She has proposed there a "circuit breaker" provision that would automatically shrink the Medicaid program if federal support dropped. As it stands, the federal government is to pay the entire cost of Medicaid expansion for three years, then gradually pass along a small percentage to states, with a 10 percent cap in 2021.
The chance that the feds might back away from that level of funding some years from now has been a primary argument by Arkansas Republicans against taking expansion at all.
David Ramsey asked two legislators about the Arizona idea today.
House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman said:
"I’ve heard that concept tossed around. My understanding, the case law is once you start a government program you can’t just kick people off it, specifically here in the 8th circuit. My understanding in Arkansas if we expand Medicaid program we’re probably expanding it for good."
An important case indeed says Arkansas cannot stop a Medicaid program once started. But I think that's a separate question from, for example, altering the eligibility levels to reduce costs by covering only the poorest.
Westerman mostly stuck with his familiar refrain: "We don't have to do this now, there's no deadline."
Absent an alternative proposal, it still sounds to me like delay for the sake of delay; resistance for the sake of continuing committed resistance.
Ramsey also talked to Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, a doctor's wife who's emerged as a leading Republican spokeswoman on health issues, and asked about Beebe's reference to projected savings on the Medicaid expansion for the state.
"Not that I don’t believe it, but the federal government has to do their part," she said. "If we put all those people—250,000—on Medicaid and then we can’t afford it that would be a travesty."
This is a weird argument, isn't it? It would be a "travesty" to get free or almost free federal coverage for years and then lose some of it. But it would NOT be a travesty to decide not to take any expanded coverage ever, from day one.
As for a circuit breaker, she echoed Westerman:
"Does that mean people on the program would be kicked off? That's a problem we hope we will not have to face, we want to be sure. Since there’s no time certain, what’s the harm of waiting?" She added the legislature will "absolutely" decide this year.
House Speaker Davy Carter talked about Medicaid at his news conference. He complimented Beebe's speech and also said that he agreed with Beebe, despite remarks last week that sounded a little different, that solutions to the federal debt were Washington's, not Arkansas's. But he also continued his focus on fear about the state finding itself with more than a 10 percent match someday. (He and other Republicans rarely emphasize that the 10 percent match is eight years off.)
"... 10 percent of a dollar is still 10 cents. That's real money we’re adding to the money we’re already spending on Mediciad. It’s real money in addition to what we’re already spending. That’s the way I’m coming at this. That’s the current rules. Everybody in this chamber knows at some point someone in Washinton is going to come together and address the spending problem. Problem then becomes what happens when the rules here change. We’re one congressional compromise away from that changing. We have to make these long term decisions with all of that in the back of our minds. In that context federal deficit and debt does matter, it matters here, not any guarantees that it’s going to be a 90/10 split forever. I think they’re going to have to address that."
Similarity in talking points noted, along with the similar inclination to sacrifice health coverage today because of a concern that a law passed by Congress might not be in effect eight years from now. Still sounds like sugar-coated massive resistance to me.
He downplayed media emphasis on how this session might be different, given the historic Republican majority.
"This session will not be that different. Fellow Arkansans selected us and gave us the task of acting in the best interest of our fellow men and women," Beebe said.
UPDATE: Full speech transcript here.
* JOBS: Beebe said he'd be asking the legislature for help landing "one of the biggest projects the state has ever seen." No details yet.
(I asked Matt DeCample for more details. His response:
"Believe me, if we had more details to release, they would have been in the speech.")
UPDATE: Arkansas Business speculates and maybe arches an eyebrow a tiny bit at the billion-dollar value being tossed around. That's more than a Toyota assembly plant in Texas. State is indicating state-backed bonds would be involved. Hope it's not for a steel mill like the big one that flopped in Alabama.
* SALES TAX CUT: Beebe said he couldn't propose elimination of the small sales tax remaining on food "without endangering needed services." But he said he'd propose legislation to dedicate any future savings from what he said was the inevitable end of state payments in the Pulaski County desegregation case to removing the sales tax on food. He said that might be a year, two years or more away.
* MEDICAID AND NURSING HOME CARE: He said numbers were still in flux on what's necessary to fully fund the existing Medicaid program, though it should be smaller than what has been expected and level 3 nursing home care now seems sure to be protected. Folks will not be thrown out of nursing homes, he said. He touted the smallest growth in Medicaid funding in years.
But he said cuts will still be necessary to balance the books on the program and they will affect "real people." He then turned to the working poor who are without health care insurance. He said federal law provides an expansion of Medicaid to cover them, but it will be up to each state to decide whether to do it. He recited the familiar facts — coverage for 250,000 people at no cost to the state for three years and then a rising cost that tops at 10 percent in 2020. It would provide "immediate savings" in Medicaid that would cover shortfalls in the current program. It would benefit 40,000 hospital workers and "tens of thousands" more workers in related health businesses. A failure to expand the program will continue the "hidden tax" of unpaid services that drive up the cost of health care and insurance for everyone — an average $1,500 a year in premiums to pay for uncompensated care.
Beebe said a conservative estimate of Medicaid expansion's cost in 2020, should the state have to pay it, after factoring in the economic benefit of increased federal dollars both in direct state aid and circulating through the taxed economy, would be tiny, $5 million a year.
He said he, too, was worried about the national debt. But he said that should be done in Washington, as a president from Arkansas once did. Arkansas shouldn't sacrifice its share of the money to other states, Beebe said.
* SCHOOLS: Beebe said the legislature might have to revisit school funding on account of a recent state Supreme Court ruling that Beebe has criticized for ending an equal tax millage contribution to the state aid fund by all school districts. He'll propose a "modest" contribution to reducing inequities in higher education spending.
* STATE EMPLOYEES: He'll propose a 2 percent raise for state employees.
* BIPARTISANSHIP: "We must resolve not to let Washington's animosity seep in and poison our well of civil discourse." Lots of applause. Subsequent action will be a better barometer of receptiveness to that viewpoint that today's clapping.
Yes, that would appear to be snow. Federal building has closed on account of weather, KTHV says. Little Rock schools to dismiss early today — 11:30 elementary, 12:45 for higher grades. And likely more to come. Current LR forecast from Weather Service:
Snow, freezing rain, and sleet likely before 2pm, then a chance of snow and sleet between 2pm and 3pm, then a chance of rain and snow after 3pm. Cloudy, with a high near 33. North wind around 10 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70%. Total daytime ice accumulation of 0.1 to 0.3 of an inch possible. Total daytime snow and sleet accumulation of less than a half inch possible.
North Little Rock and Pulaski County schools are in for the full day.
At the noon hour, David Goins of Fox 16 is driving around area interstates and broadcasting live on ustream. It's curiously fascinating, sort of like the cameras they mount on Swiss railroad engines.
The snow, though not a driving hazard in some places in Pulaski County, altered traffic patterns as people headed home early. That produced the likes of the traffic jam shown above on Interstate 430, taken by Jacob McGuire and distributed by KATV on its Twitter account. Western areas were worse than downtown. Brian Chilson provided the shot below of slipping and sliding on Taylor Loop Road.
Michael Schwartz, currently associate dean of the Washburn Law School in Topeka, Kan., will become dean of the UALR Bowen School of Law July 1. Paula Casey will continue to serve as interim dean until then.
The Capitol is thronged with back-slapping Arkansas Republicans celebrating their ascension to the legislative majority.
Ernest Dumas sprinkles a few raindrops on the parade with the coming decision by the legislature on accepting the federal expansion of Medicaid. He includes a verse from that book the Republicans love to thumb to find an obscure passage that they think supports their general oppression of a sexual minority, even as they ignore the exhortations about helping the needy. He also references two former Arkansas Republican governors who did right by the sick and poor, though at least one of them might contemplate bolting to the Democrats if he were alive today and beheld what the current GOP believes.
(PS — Even wacky Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer wants to expand Medicaid. She proposes a "circuit breaker" to scale back her state's contribution should future federal match diminish, a good suggestion for Arkansas Republicans.)
Dumas this week:
Can we spare a moment to commiserate with the Republican Party?
Not so much the poor national party, so in thrall to its extremist wing that it may sacrifice the nation’s well being by welshing on its debt to drive home the point that the country has been going to hell for 77 years.
No, let’s talk about the other one—the Arkansas party, which is resurgent and giddy over having won control of the state’s lawmaking for the first time in 135 years. As its moment of glory arrives, it finds itself weirdly trapped—trapped by the party’s national and Arkansas past, and trapped between what is unquestionably the state’s best interest on the one hand (and, I might add, what Jesus commands it to do) and on the other hand its hatred of the dark-skinned president and his signal achievement, health insurance reform.
This is the dilemma over whether to allow the federal government to provide medical insurance for some 215,000 poor working adults in Arkansas who in one year will be about the only people in Arkansas who can’t pay for medical attention when they are sick or injured. The U. S. Supreme Court said a state could choose not to accept help for poor workers promised in the Affordable Care Act, and that’s what the Republican lawmakers are—at least were—bent on doing.
Letters included one from a 15-year-old in El Dorado.
Janelle Blackwell’s arguments in this letter rested mostly on her own health and wellness. (“I and three other girls were so upset we couldn’t go to school today.”) Blackwell asked that her letter be treated as a business letter, though she acknowledged that she wasn’t quite sure how to write one: “This letter I know is not in good form of any kind … but I feel terrible. I’m 15 and I feel like 80.”
Slate links the actual letter, which includes this closing page:
Gov. Mike Beebe addresses the House and Senate at a joint session this morning.
We can all get along, he'll likely say. And we as a people can get along a lot better if we expand Medicaid to working poor and take the rest of the sales tax off groceries.
I won't argue with that. Some, maybe a lot, in the new Republican majority, will. Their view: Let poor folks get by the best they can. They'll always be with us. And we'd all be a lot better off if we could give the wealthy a huge tax break. See, they'll trickle on us all if only we would.
This link gives you a way to watch it via the web.
CORRECTION: Though the joint session convenes at 10 a.m., the governor probably won't speak until around 10:30 a.m.
The New York Times reports here on some of the executive actions President Obama could take — more research on guns and health by the CDC, for example — as a response to national concern about gun violence following the Connecticut school slaughter.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is right, seems to me, in saying the president shouldn't let side issues detract from some winnable core issues.
For example, assault weapon ban probably isn't going to pass. And the reality is that the gun nuts and manufacturers illustrated in a previous weapon ban that it's probably futile.
But is there really any rational argument against universal background checks? The time is now.
“The assault-weapons ban is a low priority relative to the other measures the Biden task force is considering,” Matt Bennett, a spokesman for Third Way, a left-leaning research group, said after hearing from Mr. Biden last week. “Political capital in the gun debate only goes so far. We think it should be spent on things that would have the greatest impact on gun violence, like universal background checks and cracking down on gun trafficking.”
New York Tines reports that Walmart will announce today a plan to hire every veteran who wants a job.
It will apply to anyone who left the military in the previous year and did not receive a dishonorable discharge. The program begins Memorial Day. Walmart estimates it will provide 100,000 jobs in five years.
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