State Capitol Week in Review From Senator Larry Teague
December 21, 2018
LITTLE ROCK – The major political headlines of 2018 include voter approval of a constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling in four Arkansas locations.
Voters also approved an amendment to require citizens to present a government-issued photo ID in order to receive a ballot. An initiated act to gradually increase the minimum wage also was approved in the November election.
The four casinos are allowed in West Memphis, Hot Springs, Pine Bluff and Russellville. The minimum wage measure will increase the state minimum wage from $8.50 to $9.25 per hour in 2019, then to $10 per hour in 2020. Finally it would increase to $11 per hour in 2021.
The photo ID measure writes into the Constitution many provisions of voter fraud laws enacted by the legislature in recent years. Now that the requirements are in the Constitution, they can withstand lawsuits contending that they are unconstitutional.
An ongoing federal lawsuit has the potential to affect the state Medicaid program. Because Medicaid is such a large program, the lawsuit could affect the budgets of numerous other state agencies.
The lawsuit challenges Arkansas Medicaid regulations that require some participants to look for a job, volunteer or take adult education and job training classes in order to get benefits.
Since the requirements took effect, more than 12,000 people have been dropped from Medicaid rolls, and have been prohibited from re-enrolling until the end of the year.
The requirements apply to people in Arkansas Works, a Medicaid program for adults whose yearly income is below 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
Arkansas Works was formerly known as the private option and sometimes is referred to as Medicaid expansion.
It was originally established to comply with provisions in the federal affordable care act. The work requirements were essential in order to garner sufficient political support among conservatives in the legislature. Funding of Medicaid requires majorities of 75 percent in the Arkansas Senate and House.
All 75 counties in Arkansas, and the great majority of its towns and cities, have joined in a lawsuit against drug manufacturers and distributors of opioids, which are prescription painkillers that are highly addictive.
The state Drug Director told city officials the enormous volume of opioids being distributed in Arkansas makes enforcement and treatment extremely difficult.
For example, more than 235 million pills were prescribed in a single year, although Arkansas has a population of about three million. Opioids are painkillers such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine and fentanyl.
Also in 2018, a non-profit organization called Information Superhighway ranked Arkansas schools first in the nation in rankings of high speed Internet capacity. The Arkansas Public School Computer Network can now provide Internet service at a rate of one megabit per second per user to 98 percent of the state's schools, which is more than any other state.
The Arkansas School Safety Commission recently submitted its final report. It was created in response to a school shooting in Florida.
The panel recommended that all schools have an armed person on campus whenever students are present. It also recommended improvements in how counselors and educators engage with students who have potential mental illnesses.
12-21-18 7:52 a.m. kawx.org