Term limits makes the ballot 

And more fallout for PFH.

Term limits makes the ballot

A proposal to roll back the term limits provision of the Arkansas Constitution has enough valid signatures to qualify for the November election ballot, according to the secretary of state's office. The petition campaign began two years ago.

The secretary of state's office said petitions had 93,998 valid signatures out of 124,674 submitted. That was in excess of the 84,859 valid signatures needed.

The proposal limits state legislators to 10 years of service, down from a minimum of 16.

If approved in November, the measure could bring an upheaval in the legislature in 2021 because majorities of both houses — presuming they are the same as today — would be ineligible for further service under the proposal, which is retroactive to include past service.

As it stands, legislators are limited to 16 years of total service, but two-year terms drawn by senators after redistricting every 10 years don't count against the limit. So, for example, Sen. Cecile Bledsoe (R-Rogers) is running for a term that will give her 20 years in the Senate. Depending on the draw and the future of this amendment, Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) could serve 22 years in the Senate.

The provision in effect now was disingenuously pitched as a "term limits" amendment in a legislatively referred amendment in 2014 that also gave legislators cover for a huge pay raise and provided loopholes for nominal limits on lobbyist wining and dining. It replaced a previous amendment that limited service to six years in the House and eight years in the Senate. (Again, with a lucky draw, a legislator could qualify for up to 16 years of total service.)

The current limit is a godsend for the power-hungry. Accruing 16 (or 20 or 22) years in a single house is a pathway to immense power, similar to lifetime tenure for some incumbents. Added to legislative efforts to strengthen their power over the executive branch with new review powers, it's even more fearsome.

Issue 1, also on the ballot this year, would make their power even mightier by stripping the Arkansas Supreme Court of rulemaking authority while discouraging lawsuits for damages.

More fallout for PFH

Preferred Family Healthcare, the scandal-plagued behavioral health provider suspended from the Arkansas Medicaid program in June, has withdrawn itself from one of the state's new provider-led managed care organizations for certain high-cost Medicaid enrollees.

That organization, Empower Healthcare Solutions, notified the Arkansas Insurance Department last week that PFH had voluntarily withdrawn as an equity member "and in all other respects" effective July 26. Empower is one of four recently created companies in the state known as PASSEs (Provider-led Arkansas Shared Savings Entities), which are intended to lower Medicaid costs and coordinate services for those beneficiaries with the most intensive behavioral health needs and/or severe developmental disabilities. (About 30,000 individuals fall in this category.) PFH had roughly a 14 percent stake in Empower, David Ramsey reported in July for the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network. Empower's remaining co-owners are Beacon Health Options, the Arkansas Healthcare Alliance, Stratera, Woodruff Health Group, Independent Case Management and the Arkansas Community Health Network.

Those entities will divvy up PFH's share of equity, insurance department spokesman Ryan James said.

Arkansas announced June 29 it was suspending PFH from the state's Medicaid program — thereby halting reimbursements to the nonprofit — and the state Department of Human Services said it would terminate its contracts with PFH. That move came after the arrest of Robin Raveendran, a former PFH executive (and onetime DHS "program integrity" official) accused of masterminding a multimillion-dollar scheme to defraud Medicaid through improper billing practices. Another former PFH executive, Rusty Cranford, was previously accused of bribing multiple Arkansas legislators and — along with other leaders of PFH — embezzling vast sums of money from the Missouri-based nonprofit. A federal investigation into those allegations appears to be ongoing.

Before its fall from grace, PFH was the largest behavioral health provider in Arkansas, with 47 service sites statewide. It also does business under the names Dayspring, Health Resources of Arkansas and Decision Point. Its many sites remain open for now, but their future is uncertain, and PFH has indicated it's searching for a buyer for its Arkansas assets.

Rice researchers charged

The U.S. attorney's office in Little Rock announced federal charges against two rice researchers from China who allegedly conspired to steal rice production technology, a scheme that included contacts in Arkansas.

Liu Xuejun, 49, and Sun Yue, 36, were charged with conspiracy to steal trade secrets and conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen property.

An indictment returned last week said they were involved in the theft of rice seeds to be used in medicine. The seeds were developed by Ventria Bioscience to produce proteins used in medicine and drugs. The men allegedly stole seeds from the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center in Stuttgart and Ventria's rice production facility in Kansas.

The government news release said Ventria, which is headquartered in Colorado, had invested $75 million in developing the intellectual property behind the rice seeds.


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