Still seeing red 

Interstate widening targeted in a lawsuit and Arkansas's work rules for Medicaid not working, according to a federal panel.

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Still seeing red

Arkansas Republicans remain firmly in control in Arkansas after the Nov. 6 election. All four incumbent GOP U.S. representatives won re-election. So, too, did Governor Hutchinson, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, Auditor Andrea Lea and Treasurer Dennis Milligan. Republican Land Commissioner John Thurston won the secretary of state contest and Tommy Land, a Republican, will replace Thurston. Republicans retained overwhelming control of the state House and Senate, though Democrat Denise Garner did defeat incumbent Republican state Rep. Charlie Collins and, in the surprise of the night, Democrat Megan Godfrey upset state Rep. Jeff Williams (R-Springdale). But state Democratic Party leader and state Rep. Michael John Gray lost his re-election bid in Augusta, long a reliably Democratic area.

Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson won re-election against David Sterling despite Sterling heavily branding himself as a Republican and an outside group spending more than $1.2 million to attack Goodson.

In the hotly contested Little Rock mayoral election, Frank Scott almost avoided a runoff with 37 percent of the vote (exceeding 40 percent was the threshold for winning outright). Baker Kurrus finished second with 29 percent of the vote — just over 500 votes more than Warwick Sabin — and faces Scott in a Dec. 4 run-off election. Early voting begins Nov. 27.

Widening targeted

A lawsuit has been filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court challenging the state Department of Transportation's plans to widen Interstate 30 through downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock to 10 lanes or more.

The taxpayer suit, with five plaintiffs from around the state and Justin Zachary as lead attorney, argues that the highway improvement bonds authorized by state Constitutional Amendment 91, which will pay for a portion of the $700 million project, limits spending the money to four-lane highways. The suit seeks to enjoin the Highway Commission from spending money on anything wider than four lanes.

Stop enforcing work rule, federal panel says

A nonpartisan federal advisory panel tasked with analyzing Medicaid has sent a letter to the Trump administration asking it to stop Arkansas from enforcing its unique Medicaid work requirement rules. Saying it was "highly concerned" about Arkansas's termination of insurance for almost 8,500 beneficiaries in recent months as a result of the state's work requirement for certain beneficiaries, the panel recommended that Arkansas stop canceling beneficiaries' coverage, so the state's work requirement plan could be adjusted.

The Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission noted, in a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, that, among those Arkansas beneficiaries who were required to report, "91.6 percent ... failed to do so in September 2018." That sends "a strong warning signal that the current process may not be structured in a way that provides individuals an opportunity to succeed, with high stakes for beneficiaries who fail," it said. People who do not report their work hours for three months out of the year are locked out of coverage until the following calendar year.

The letter also expressed concerns about the state requiring beneficiaries to report their work hours online, even though Arkansas has limited internet access. The Arkansas Department of Human Services says it has set up a means for people to report their work hours by phone by relaying the information through "registered reporters" — insurance agents, social workers or others — but the commission said the Arkansas DHS was unable to provide it "with information on how many beneficiaries are taking advantage of that assistance."

Similarly, the letter criticized the state's focus on performing beneficiary outreach online or through social media as "problematic given the low level of internet access" in Arkansas.

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New arena name

Simmons Bank has bought the naming rights to what is now Verizon Arena, a 15-year deal costing $10.5 million. The name change of the publicly owned North Little Rock venue will take effect in 2019.

Verizon had indicated it didn't want to continue its sponsorship. Verizon became the name in 2009 after it purchased assets of Alltel, the original arena namesake when it opened in 1999.



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