The national ribbing continues: Reuters cites a Chronicle of Higher Education study that the Arkansas has the highest percentage of state legislators with zero college education.
There are 135 legislators in Little Rock, 25 percent of whom do not have any college experience, according to the study. Comparatively, 8.7 percent of all state lawmakers nationwide have not attended college. ... The Arkansas legislature mirrors its state's population, said Hal Bass, a political science professor at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. ... "Our rural, frontier political culture has not traditionally placed an especially high value on academic credentials for positions of leadership in society," Bass said.
UPDATE: This was correct in 2011, when it was written. It's been pointed out to us by a reader that it's not news, though for obvious reasons various news outlets are recirculating it. Who knows what the figures are now.
UPDATE: The D-G found (paywall)that the numbers were incorrect at the time. "At least 106 of Arkansas’ 134 state lawmakers say they have a bachelor’s degree, a number that significantly exceeds what was in a national report that said Arkansas had the least-educated legislature in the county," the D-G reported.
Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, who wants to arm everyone all the time, including at the altar rail, has thought of a way to provide for target practice time for elementary school children: Cut their art education in half.
His SB 826, which of course is named "An act to provide public school students with additional opportunities to pursue a more rigorous study of visual art or the performing arts," would change Arkansas law to let elementary schools offer 40 minutes of visual arts or performing arts, rather than 40 minutes of both. It doesn't exactly specify that their time could be better spent at target practice; perhaps he's saving that for the next legislative session.
The bill's "more rigorous study" provision is that in either seventh or eighth grade, students will have to "participate" in visual arts or performing arts. What does that mean? Would performing in a school production of "Annie Get Your Gun" meet that requirement?
Waiting for comment from the state Department of Education.
The state department's spokesman, Phyllis Stewart, says the bill's requirement for middle school is less rigorous than what is now required in seventh and eighth grades. Frameworks for those grades require instruction in both visual art and music.
In the year that we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's decision that saved countless lives by removing legal blocks to abortion prior to viability, Arkansas has decided to turn back the clock and make its women 2nd class citizens and revive the business of back alley abortion.
"The whole thing has not only been a slap in the face of Arkansas women but a serious bruising for the state of Arkansas and any efforts it has tried to make to present itself as progressive, forward-thinking state where people might want to live and work," Sklar said. "It's a giant leap back in time."
The Arkansas legislature has said to the women of Arkansas "we don't trust you to make your own decisions, whether by yourselves or with your family or doctor. We're going to decide for you," Sklar said.
Thus, the 12-week-embryo is calling the shots for a woman's life. A man's life is never thus encumbered.
From the governor's news release:
"... because it would impose a ban on a woman’s right to choose an elective, nontherapeutic abortion before viability, House Bill 1037, if it became law, would squarely contradict Supreme Court precedent. When I was sworn in as Governor I took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend both the Arkansas Constitution and the Constitution of the United States. I take that oath seriously.
Second, the adoption of unconstitutional laws can be very costly to the taxpayers of our State. It has been suggested that outside groups or others might represent the State for free in any litigation challenging the constitutionality of House Bill 1037, but even if that were to happen, that would only lessen the State’s own litigation costs. Lawsuits challenging unconstitutional laws also result in the losing party - in this case, the State - having to pay the costs and attorneys’ fees incurred by the litigants who successfully challenge the law. Those costs and fees can be significant. In the last case in which the constitutionality of an Arkansas abortion statute was challenged, Little Rock Family Planning Services v. Jegley, the State was ordered to pay the prevailing plaintiffs and their attorneys nearly $119,000 for work in the trial court, and an additional $28,900 for work on the State’s unsuccessful appeal. Those fee awards were entered in 1999, and litigation fees and costs have increased extensively since then. The taxpayers’ exposure, should HB 1037 become law, will be significantly greater.
While I must therefore veto HB 1037, I wish to express my appreciation to its principal sponsor, Representative Mayberry, for his candor and for his respect for the Governor’s role in the legislative process.
The last sentence refers to Mayberry's discouraging Lt. Gov. Mark Darr to sign the legislation while Beebe was out of town last Friday.
Ramsey reports that a cheer went up from the close to 100 women, who were at the Capitol as part of Planned Parenthood Day.
Mayberry's bill, one of two abortion measures that have taken up an enormous amount of time and energy in this year's General Assembly, while debate on measures like Medicaid expansion are suspended, is constitutionally suspect, banning abortions a month before viability, which is the Supreme Court's standard. It does not allow for pre-term delivery of fetuses with fatal anomalies, requiring women to carry fetuses with no hope of survival outside the womb. But, as astonishingly paternalistic gynecologist Richard Wyatt told the House committee on public health, "ladies" just need gentle counseling to understand that they should carry their fetuses to whatever comes first, the mother's endangered health or the delivery of the doomed babe.
Sen. Jason Rapert's bill, SB 134, even more restrictive, banning abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat at 14 weeks (when heart cells begin to move, prior to developing into a heart), should hit the governor's desk later in the week. Beebe should veto it, too, despite the reality that vetoes on both these anti-woman bills will be overriden and the state will end up spending money defending the legislation in court.
UPDATE: Ramsey caught up with Rep. Andy Mayberry. "Certainly I was disappointed," he said. "I'd hoped that the governor would either sign it or allow it to become law without his signature.
"I do plan to seek a override of the veto. I don't know what the timeline is. I will certainly be taking a leadership role."
Regarding the governor's statement:
"According to his statement, it all centers around his constitutional concerns. Again, I thought we did a pretty good job of laying out why this bill is constitutional but he and I obviously have differing opinions about that."
Regarding concerns about the cost of litigation:
"A couple of different thoughts on that. First of all I don't think you place a price tag on protecting life. You remember the old credit card commercial, certain things are priceless. Secondly, with this particular bill, this is based on almost identical legislation in some other states, where, in two of those states it's being challenged right now. I don't know if the opposition is really going to want to challenge here when those other cases are already moving through the process and whatever takes place with those is going to apply to whatever we do in Arkansas. You'd have to talk to them about it, but I don't know if there's actually going to be a challenge in Arkansas."
Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, who Friday took advantage of the governor's absence to go to D.C. and signed a bill that would have been law anyway on Monday, saying he felt legislators "deserved that respect to have the signature on it and for it to go into effect immediately,” [subscription required] said his move was not political, though he made sure to have his picture made with the sponsors. How could it have been anything else?
Darr was raring to sign Rep. Andy Mayberry's bill to prohibit abortion after 20 weeks (when many fetal anomalies are detected) as well — there's nothing like those few days of power when the governor is abroad, actually doing work for good of Arkansas — but his hand was stayed by Mayberry himself. Mayberry thought it was more important for the governor — the real one — to weigh in on the bill than for Darr to feed his ego.
Gov. Beebe has more than the law on his side, though that's all he needs — the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that abortion before viability is legal; both Arkansas bills would deny women the right to end unwanted pregnancies before viability as well as wanted, but doomed, pregnancies. The public also agrees with him, if the emails and letters to his office during the legislative session are any indication. Gov. Beebe's spokesman, Matt DeCample, said in e-mail to the Times the "heaviest traffic" is asking the governor to veto Mayberry's bill and Sen. Jason Rapert's bill to prohibit abortion after 12 weeks gestation.
DeCample also said support for the bill Darr signed, to make secret the names of concealed weapons holders, ran high. Beebe did not sign it because he believes it weakens the state's excellent Freedom of Information law, but would let it become law because of support for it. Not unconstitutional, either.
New mail to the governor: Don't leave Arkansas until the legislature has gone home.
Republican lawmakers still don't believe that harsh cuts to Level 3 nursing care are necessary and they're still resistant to expanding Medicaid, which projects to ease the fiscal crunch enough to save the nursing care. What's their alternative? We're still waiting.
Given the Republicans' public complaints on these issues before the holidays, I thought I should follow up with House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman (R-Hot Springs), who told me a month ago that he was doing research on alternatives to plugging the hole in the state Medicaid budget but wasn’t ready to speak about them.
Westerman said he was “still working on it” — but no specifics. He reiterated that he does not believe cuts to Level 3 nursing care will come to pass.
Senate President Michael Lamoureux (R-Russellville) agrees. “No one that I know took that to be a serious proposal,” Lamoureux said. “I haven’t found anybody that thinks that’s what we’re going to do in Arkansas and that they really are proposing that. I don’t think anybody’s notified next of kin saying, ‘get ready.’”
Lamoureux thinks it’s an effort to apply political pressure on legislators to opt for Medicaid expansion, which Medicaid director Andy Allison, Gov. Mike Beebe and other state officials have said would provide savings that could be used to save the nursing care.
“I think it’s a little bit of a typical threatening tactic,” Lamoureux said. “You know, ‘if we don’t get our way we’re going to cause a lot of harm.’”
Lamoureux said that Republican lawmakers are hunting for other options but added that “we hope the agency itself is looking for something that’s a more workable solution.”
Interesting article in Slate, focusing on Georgia as the poster child for a harsh fact — as the economy worsened and the jobless rate rose, welfare rolls didn't grow because of the growing political clout, particularly in the poorest states, on the part of those who are fed up with the "takers" and moochers. Sick, needy, children, unfortunate be damned.
The subject is vital in Arkansas as a new Republican-majority legislature prepares to take over. Just this morning, one of the most regressive of the continent, a putative evangelist from Conway name of Jason Rapert, was lamenting on Twitter abot Gov. Mike Beebe's tiny proposed increase in state spending, primarily to meet court orders on school funding adequacy, when there's a $138 million gap in Medicaid. Not that Rapert wants to close THAT gap mind you. He certainly doesn't want to expand Medicaid to more poor people. And he absolutely and perpetualy opposes the federal Affordable Care Act which brings the promise of adequate health coverage to a quarter-million more Arkansans, mostly from working families. He just wants to cut spending, doesn't really matter much where, though health care for working poor is at the top of his list.
Rapert's compassion is highly selective, we've long known. He's a steady apologist for Uganda, for example, where the desire to imprison and even execute gay people would curl the hair of someone who truly was a devotee of core Biblical principles. Let's just hope his reading doesn't include anything about Georgia's so-called welfare state. From Slate:
Even as unemployment has soared to 9 percent and 300,000 Georgia families now live below the poverty line—50 percent higher than in 2000, for a poverty rate that now ranks sixth in the nation—the number receiving cash benefits has all but evaporated: Only a little over 19,000 families receiving TANF remain, all but 3,400 of which were cases involving children only. That's less than 7 percent, making Georgia one of the toughest places in the nation to get welfare assistance.
What's Georgia's secret? According to government documents, interviews with poor Georgians, and those who work with them, it's a simple one: Combine an all-Republican state government out to make a name for itself as tough on freeloaders; a state welfare commissioner so zealous about slashing the rolls that workers say she handed out Zero candy bars to emphasize her goal of zero welfare; and federal rules that, regardless of who's in the White House, give states the leeway to use the 1996 law's requirement for "work activities"—the same provision that Republicans have charged President Obama wants to unfairly water down—to slam the door in the face of the state's neediest.
What this has created is a land that welfare forgot, where a collection of private charities struggle to fill the resulting holes. For the Atlanta Community Food Bank, that means sending out more than 3 million pounds of canned goods, bread, and other groceries each month to churches in and around Atlanta to help feed the state's growing number of poor and near-poor. The food bank’s staff also helps arrange for free tax prep services, and helps the city’s poor apply for food stamps and Medicaid. One thing they don't discuss, though, is welfare. "We don't talk about TANF anymore," says food bank advocacy and education director Laura Lester. "We don't even send anybody in to apply, because there's just no point."
It's a state of affairs that's left an increasing number of Georgians with nowhere to turn.
Regnat Populus' amended ballot title and proposal to amend campaign finance laws was rejected by the state attorney general Wednesday because of ambiguities in the wording of the penalty portion of the initiated act. The reform group will have to clarify subsection (c) of Section 3 before AG Dustin McDaniel will give an opinion on the ballot title.
In November, McDaniel rejected an earlier version of Regnat Populus' initiated act for ambiguity in a portion of the act regarding exceptions in gift-giving.
Regnat Populus' ballot proposal is only slightly different from the one it sought to get on the November ballot (its petition drive failed after a hired canvassing group dropped the ball). The ballot measure would ban corporate and union contributions to political campaigns of the governor, cabinet and legislature; end gifts by lobbyists to these public officials (the so-called Walmart rule, in honor of that company's ban on its employees taking gifts from vendors) and impose a two-year waiting period before covered politicians can become a lobbyist after leaving office.
The Department of Human Services will be more vocal about their updated projections on the amount of money Arkansas stands to gain from Medicaid expansion as we get closer to the legislative session in January, DHS Director John Selig says.
We reported on the updated projections a few weeks ago. Short version: the state is projected to save even more than we originally thought, and the savings are projected to continue even after Arkansas has to start pitching in to cover the expanded population.
This is an important point in the debate over Medicaid expansion, but a lot of lawmakers and stakeholders still aren’t aware of the new projections. I asked Selig about the knowledge gap. His response:
I think part of it is there just hasn’t been a major forum where that’s been a topic to go through in any detail. It gets complicated. The discussion we’ve been having with legislators is not so much about specific dollar amounts, it’s more around the concept of expansion. As we approach the session, we’ll have more opportunities to share that updated data. We’re just not beating people over the head with it right now.
“Over time, we do believe it’s going to really benefit the state,” he added.
Yesterday’s look at the upcoming debates in state legislatures over Medicaid expansion in the Washington Post highlighted Arkansas as a key battleground state. Incoming Arkansas Senate President Michael Lamoureux calls Medicaid expansion “the number one issue…in 10 years this is by far the most difficult one we’ve ever dealt with.”
Sen. Cecile Bledsoe gives the Post the talking points familiar to anyone following Arkansas Republicans since the Supreme Court kicked the expansion question back to the states last summer.
Arkansas state Sen. Cecile Bledsoe (R) questions whether the federal government can be counted on to maintain such a high match rate in perpetuity. With all the budget pressures facing Congress members, said Bledsoe, how can she be sure they won’t shift more of the burden to states down the road?
Last August Obama officials sought to allay such concerns by clarifying that states are free to drop out of the Medicaid expansion at any time. But Bledsoe, a key leader in the Arkansas Senate on health issues, said that’s not a realistic option.
“We’re not going to put more than 250,000 people on our Medicaid rolls, then pull them off,” she said.
Bledsoe said she will not feel confident about the federal commitment at least until after Obama concludes negotiations with congressional Republicans over avoiding the “fiscal cliff.”
“At this point I don’t see anyone willing to take a chance on what the federal government might or might not do,” she said.
This impressively researched interactive map from the New York Times examines the $90 billion in business incentives provided by cities, counties and states across the country. Arkansas spends $431 million per year on business incentives, which amounts to nine cents per dollar of the state budget. Arkansas spends considerably less than most of its neighbors.
The map allows you to see which companies benefit the most and how much they're getting, as well as the state incentives programs that dole out the most money.
As I reported this week, the Department of Human Services updated their study on savings to the state’s bottom line if Medicaid expansion is approved, and the numbers look even better for Arkansas than previously thought.
Arkansas House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman told me yesterday that he was not aware of the new projection. (Seems like a lot of folks haven’t heard the news—Arkansas Surgeon General Joe Thompson was still using the old numbers in his speech at the Clinton School of Public Service earlier this week. Note to DHS: maybe it’s time for a press release?)
Informed of the new figures, Westerman, who was familiar with the original DHS study from July, said that he “disagreed with the method” that DHS used.
The DHS study looks at the various projected costs to the state if Arkansas agrees to the expansion: folks that are already eligible joining the rolls, the newly eligible folks that the state will eventually have to chip in for, and administrative costs; it also looks at the projected savings: additional state tax revenue from the new health-care spending in the state, savings from money currently spent on uncompensated care for the uninsured, and savings from folks currently covered by the state moving to the federally funded expansion population. According to DHS, the savings significantly outweigh the costs for Arkansas.
Westerman gets all that, but says, “I believe, to be responsible, you have to look at where that money is coming from that you’re spending in the first place. You’re taking federal tax dollars, spending them in the state, and taxing those dollars. That’s still tax dollars that you’re spending to generate these so-called savings.”
“I’m not doubting their math,” he said. “I’m not doubting that they didn’t take a set of assumptions and run calculations and they’ve got numbers they can defend. What I’m arguing is their set of assumptions. The revenue stream coming from the federal government — we’re going to tax it and we’re going to call that a cost savings to the state.”
What Westerman is really doing here is raising a philosophical objection to zeroing in on Arkansas’s fiscal picture in particular. At no point in our conversation did he raise doubts about the raw numbers. Westerman’s point is that the savings to the state are predicated on federal spending. Even if Medicaid expansion saves money for Arkansas year after year, as the new DHS study finds, that isn’t enough to convince Westerman.
“I don’ t think we can separate the two because the federal fiscal problem impacts our state,” he said. “I don’t think we can look at Arkansas in a vacuum and not consider what’s happening in the rest of the country.”
It's not surprising that Westerman isn't budging so far. After all, he has said from the get-go that "our view is that supporting Medicaid expansion is really embracing President Obama’s law."
A legislative audit last month raised questions about 15 Arkansas Supreme Court jobs that are paid for with attorney license fees instead of being authorized by the General Assembly via the state budget process, as required by the state Constitution. At a legislative budget hearing last week, Supreme Court Justice Jim Hannah avoided commenting on the audit in depth, but implied that the practice was authorized by a decades-old amendment to the Constitution and upheld by a prior Supreme Court decision. He called the audit’s raising of the issue “unusual.” Frank Arey, attorney for the Division of Legislative Audit, has suggested that a lawsuit might eventually resolve the dispute. Of course, who would likely decide that suit? The Arkansas Supreme Court.
In any case, it sounds like the legislature will act to clear things up before it gets to that.
After the meeting, Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, who will be co-chairman of the Joint Budget Committee during the next session, said he expects some legislative action to be taken.
“I am fine with them spending the money and I don’t want to mess with the program, but I think that it’s a legislative issue,” Teague said. “I think that the Legislature ought to appropriate the dollars and I would assume if nobody else tries to do that then I would do that in the next session.”
Sen. Johnny Key,R-Mountain Home, agreed, saying the state Supreme Court’s budget could be amended to add the 15 additional employees and legislation could be passed allowing the attorney licensing fees to be used for salaries.
“In our discussion it sounded a whole lot more complicated than that and there was talk of lawsuits and everything,” Key said. “I do think it is something we need to have a thorough conversation about amongst our members.”
Over 15 years, DFA sent a total of $2.45 million to the state Game and Fish Commission that was supposed to go to the state Highway and Transportation Department (on average not much more than $150,000 annually to one multi-million-dollar agency rather than another.)
The error was discovered this spring when DFA installed a new computer accounting system for the sales and use tax portion of the accounting operation that collects and disburses billions annual in state money. Fifteen years ago, said Weiss, a coding error that guided the "roomful" of clerks who handled sales tax income resulted in money for highways being coded in three cases for Game and Fish: 1) money collected for "title purposes only," a mistake that amounted to $2.3 million over 15 years; 2) taxicab registration, which amounted to $142,000, and 3) a registration fee for boat dealers, which amounted to $10,200.
When the error was discovered, Weiss said, "We tried to figure out how to correct it without putting a squeeze on the agencies."
After discussion with both agencies, all agreed to a plan to repay the money to the Highway Department in monthly payments beginning in July. Weiss, who I reached after hours Friday evening, said he didn't know the precise amount of the monthly payments or time period, but said the payback would likely take as long, 15 years, as the error existed.
He said state law gave DFA "broad authority" to make transfers to correct errors, but he also added that the change would be subject to review in the auditing process by the legislature.
Said Weiss: "We screwed up. We got a good fix worked out with both parties and we'll just keep on going."
From Palast's article: "The RNC sent letters by the thousands to soldiers, first class, marked, 'DO NOT FORWARD.' When the letters were returned undelivered, the Republicans planned to use these 'caged' envelopes as evidence the voters were "fraudulent"—then challenge their ballot. A soldier mailing in his or her vote from Iraq would have that ballot disqualified — and the soldier wouldn't even know it."
RFK, Jr.'s conclusion after his review of the e-mails: Griffin should be in the Ironbar Hotel, not Congress.
Willie, we are all quite aware of the oil being consumed these days, which is…
"A tiny insignificant incident brought down by presidential hubris."---Steven E
Breaking into Democratic headquarters…
What brought Nixon down was 't the original crime, it was the cover up and…
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