Can work be added to Arkansas Works?

Cindy Gillespie is director of the Department of Human Services.
By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Next week, legislators will meet in special session to change the Arkansas Works program to encourage its recipients to work for their benefits and, eventually, no longer need them.

Changing the program will be reasonably easy. Changing the recipients will be much harder.

Arkansas Works, formerly known as the private option, uses federal Medicaid dollars to buy private insurance for 311,000 Arkansans with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $17,000 for an individual. The state pays 5 percent of the program’s cost this year and 10 percent by 2020. The federal government pays the rest.

It was created through the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, which expanded Medicaid. Many Republican-leaning states declined to participate. Arkansas instead obtained a waiver from the Obama administration allowing it to buy private insurance rather than simply enroll recipients in Medicaid.

The death penalty: At least change it

By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Arkansas’ attempt to execute eight inmates in 11 days has led to a lot of discussion about whether the death penalty should continue to exist, and that discussion should continue. But given that polls show a strong majority of Arkansans support it and the governor is ready to enforce it, the more immediate discussion should be about how to administer it far better than it is has this month.

As you and a lot of people in the United States and the world know, Arkansas’ plan would have set a recent record for most executions in the least amount of time. This was done because the inmates had reached an end point in the appeals process at the same time the state’s supply of one of its three death penalty drugs, midazolam, was about to expire at the end of April. The drugs are hard to obtain because the manufacturers didn’t make them to be used in executions and don’t want to sell them for that purpose, in part because it gets them in trouble with the European Union, a much more important client than Arkansas.

After legislators meet, marijuana more limited but still legal

By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

It was a good legislative session for some (gun rights supporters), a bad one for others (supporters of more highway spending), and for supporters of medical marijuana, it was as good as could be expected.

The amendment passed by Arkansas voters in November could be amended with a two-thirds vote by legislators, and at least that percentage likely voted against it, as did Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. There were ample opportunities these past three months for those lawmakers to mostly overturn the amendment overtly or subversively. But the attitude among many legislators and the governor was that regardless of what they believed about the amendment, the people voted for it, so their democratic duty was to make it work.

Uncivil discourse

Sen. Tom Cotton, center, and Rep. French Hill at the town hall.
By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

There’s regular intelligence, and there’s emotional intelligence, which is the ability to recognize and control your own emotions and to influence the emotions of others. If you’re a member of Congress, you need both, but if you’re a member of Congress participating in a town hall, and you can only be blessed with one, it’d better be emotional intelligence.

I write that paragraph after attending Monday’s 2 p.m. raucous town hall hosted by Sen. Tom Cotton and Rep. French Hill, where it didn’t matter what kind of intellectual arguments they made because they weren’t going to change many minds among the 750 attendees – some of whom totally supported them and many of whom were totally opposed. All that mattered was that they kept their cool amongst the booing, jeering, shouted interruptions and personal attacks, and they did.