Steve Brawner / Talk Business & Politics

Steve Brawner is a freelance journalist and contributor to Talk Business & Politics.

He is also a syndicated columnist in 10 Arkansas newspapers.

You can email him at brawnersteve@mac.com or follow him on Twitter: @SteveBrawner.

Election Voters Voting
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas Term Limits and other plaintiffs filed suit Friday in the federal Eastern District of Arkansas to overturn a new state law that limits who can gather signatures for citizen-led constitutional amendments and other initiatives.

Act 951 by Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, and Rep. Michelle Gray, R-Melbourne, limits paid petitioners to state residents, which Arkansas Term Limits said in a press release is not required for any other political job or for petitions used to gather signatures for candidates to run. It passed with an emergency measure.

flickr.com

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit Tuesday against the state of Arkansas over a newly passed law that prohibits health care professionals from providing gender-transition procedures to individuals under age 18.

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court Eastern District against Act 626 was filed on behalf of four transgender youth and their families along with two doctors. It alleges the law violates the U.S. Constitution.

The damaged section of the Interstate 40 bridge over the Mississippi River linking Arkansas and Tennessee. The Arkansas Department of Transportation called it a "significant fracture" that warranted shutting down the span until it's repaired.
Arkansas Department of Transportation

The “significant fracture” that shut down the 48-year-old Hernando de Soto Bridge across the Mississippi River between West Memphis and Memphis on Tuesday could have led to a “catastrophic event,” according to Arkansas Department of Transportation Director Lori Tudor, and it’s too early to tell when either a short-term or long-term solution will be available.

The fracture is located about three-fourths of the way across the bridge from West Memphis to Memphis near where the two arches meet to form an “M.”

The American Civil Liberties Union is planning lawsuits against two recent laws passed by Arkansas legislators banning abortions and gender affirming medical procedures, while other laws could draw legal challenges from that group and others.

The ACLU will sue in Arkansas’ Eastern District U.S. District Court to block those two laws, said Holly Dickson, ACLU executive director.

“We’ll be filing before the bills go into effect asking that those laws never go into effect,” she said.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A constitutional amendment that would make it harder to amend the Arkansas Constitution or pass an initiated act passed the House of Representatives. Members voted 74-18-1 on Thursday to advance House Joint Resolution 1005.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, surrounded by Arkansas lawmakers and educators, signs the two bills into law Monday during a ceremony at the state Capitol.
Governor's Office / YouTube

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a pair of identical bills Monday that will raise the state’s median teacher salaries by $2,000 and create a fund to help lower-paying districts reach that amount.

Senate Bill 504 by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, and House Bill 1614 by Rep. Bruce Cozart, the chairs of the Senate and House Education Committees respectively, will raise the target median teacher salary to $51,822 for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years. The House and Senate Committees afterwards would jointly set the statewide target median salary.

medical care health doctor
Pixabay / WIkimedia Commons

The Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee advanced a bill Wednesday that would dissolve the State Medical Board at the end of this year and let House and Senate leaders each appoint one-third of its members.

Senate Bill 570 by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro, would end the terms of each of the members of the Arkansas State Medical Board by Dec. 31. They would be replaced or reappointed by that date.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday over 1 million COVID-19 vaccinations have been administered in Arkansas.
Governor's Office / YouTube

The state of Arkansas has administered 1 million COVID-19 vaccinations, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday (March 23) during his weekly briefing.

Counting vaccinations delivered through federal programs, 1,008,575 shots have been administered out of 1,466,950 distributed – a 68.75% rate, Hutchinson said. Those numbers came from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He said his goal was 1.1 million shots administered by the end of the month.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The Arkansas House of Representatives passed a bill Monday (March 15) that would give the Legislature the power to end a governor’s declared disaster emergency. Another bill, opposed by the governor, would require state agencies to refund COVID-19-related fines levied on businesses.

The House also passed a bill allowing medical professionals to opt out of certain procedures, and it advanced a bill codifying COVID-19-related civil immunity.

Opioid Attorney General Leslie Rutledge
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge filed suit Monday against Walgreens under the state's Deceptive Trade Practices Act, saying the drug retailer failed to report and prevent suspicious opioid purchases as it was required to do under the law.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaking to reporters in his office last Wednesday expressed reservations about the near-total abortion ban because it didn't make exceptions for rape or incest.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a “Stand Your Ground” bill into law Wednesday (March 3) despite his belief that it’s not necessary, but he hopes the Legislature also will pass a hate crimes bill as a complementary measure.

The Arkansas governor spoke about the legislation during a “Pen and Pad” session in his office with reporters.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson shows a graph during Tuesday's weekly press briefing of the daily increase in hospitalizations in Arkansas.
Governor's Office / YouTube

Gov. Asa Hutchinson held the first of his planned community meetings, this one in Benton, regarding the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday, after an unplanned meeting with about a dozen Arkansans who disagree with his actions.

Hutchinson met inside the Benton Event Center with elected officials, school and community leaders and a few other invited Saline County residents. Attendees were spaced far apart along tables set in a square. After brief remarks by the governor, members of the media were asked to leave.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson meeting with cabinet secretaries at the Department of Corrections office in North Little Rock.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson touted his proposal to cut the state’s top individual income tax rate for new residents, called for reducing the used car tax, and said his new budget includes a $240 million surplus during a speech at the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas’ Annual Meeting Tuesday.

Hutchinson said his budget calls for reducing the top individual income tax rate for new residents to 4.9% for five years. Doing so would attract tech and manufacturing talent and also retirees.

Candidates for Arkansas' 2nd District Congressional seat speaking with the Delta Grassroots Caucus on Oct. 14. Democratic state Sen. Joyce Elliott (left) spoke first, followed by U.S. Rep. French Hill.
Delta Grassroots Caucus

U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., was headed to re-election in his closely watched race with state Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock. The Associated Press called the race for Hill at about 10 p.m. Hill represents the 2nd District covering seven counties.

Tom Cotton
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., easily won re-election Tuesday, while U.S. Reps. Steve Womack and Bruce Westerman were well ahead in their re-election efforts. The Associated Press called the race for Cotton not long after the polls closed at 7:30 p.m.

Cotton was leading with 66% of the vote facing only Libertarian candidate Ricky Dale Harrington. At 9:30 p.m., Cotton had 437,000 votes while Harrington had 223,000.

Talk Business & Politics

President Donald Trump leads former Vice President Joe Biden in Arkansas, 65%-32%, Sen. Tom Cotton appears headed to an easy re-election, and ballot measures to continue a sales tax for highways and amend legislative term limits laws had broad support in the annual Arkansas Poll released Oct. 28 by University of Arkansas political science professor Dr. Janine Perry.

U.S. Supreme Court
Wikipedia

A law regulating reimbursements by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) should stand because it doesn’t regulate benefits or plan administration, Arkansas Solicitor General Nicholas Bronni argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The attorney representing PBMs, however, argued the law is preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, a federal law otherwise known as ERISA.

U.S. Supreme Court
Wikipedia

Arkansas Solicitor General Nicholas Bronni will defend before the U.S. Supreme Court the constitutionality of a state law regulating pharmacy benefit managers next Tuesday.

Passed in 2015, Act 900 seeks to regulate pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), which act as middlemen between pharmacists and insurance providers. Their reimbursement rates theoretically incentivize pharmacies to find lower wholesale drug prices.

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and President Donald Trump on August 2, 2017.
The White House

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., was among 20 additional individuals named by President Trump as potential Supreme Court nominees at the White House on Wednesday.

The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday tossed two ballot initiatives that would have enacted constitutional amendments creating a legislative redistricting commission and a system of open primaries and ranked choice voting.

In a decision written by Associate Justice Robin Wynne, the court agreed with Secretary of State John Thurston, who had disqualified both efforts because they did not verify that signature collectors had “passed” criminal background checks. Instead, both efforts had certified that they had “been timely acquired.”

SNAP supplemental nutrition assistance program
meatpoultry.com

A new report says the number of food-insecure Arkansas children and adults is rising during the COVID-19 pandemic, more Arkansans are receiving federal nutrition benefits, and the state should make policy changes such as removing the asset limit for eligibility.

Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families made that argument in its new report, “Food Insecurity in Arkansas,” written by Laura Kellams, Northwest Arkansas director.

Ariel Martini / Flickr.com

Supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment expanding casino gaming submitted 97,000 signatures to the Arkansas secretary of state’s office Monday, the deadline to qualify for the November 2020 ballot.

The group was required to collect 89,151 verified signatures of registered voters. By crossing that threshold, the effort will qualify for a 30-day cure period giving it time to collect additional signatures if needed. The secretary of state will validate that the signatures come from eligible registered voters.

Election vote
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he hopes to make a decision by August 1 regarding allowing voters in Arkansas more flexibility to vote absentee this November. He made the comment at his daily press conference June 24 in response to a reporter’s question about a lawsuit filed in Pulaski County seeking no-excuse absentee voting.

He said has been communicating with the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners, Secretary of State John Thurston, and county officials.

www.takecarearkansas.com

A public service campaign is underway encouraging people in central Arkansas to seek medical care that they have delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Take Care Arkansas is being funded by two matching $25,000 grants from the Fifty for the Future community service organization and Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Stock Photo

A judge has ruled that a group seeking to create a voter-approved commission to redraw Arkansas’ legislative and congressional lines after each census doesn’t have to collect signatures in person but also can’t use electronic signatures and must abide by the state’s July 3 deadline.

U.S. District Judge P.K. Holmes III issued a preliminary injunction May 25 barring the enforcement of a state law requiring signatures to be witnessed in person and also said canvassers don’t have to sign an affidavit with a notary present.

University of Arkansas medical researcher Dr. Morten Jensen
University of Arkansas

Dr. Morten Jensen, an associate professor of biomedical engineering, came to the University of Arkansas in 2015 with help from a $500,000 grant from the Arkansas Research Alliance. Now he’s helped design a clear acrylic box that can protect local clinicians when they intubate patients infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Jack Stephens Center
UA Little Rock

Arkansas legislative leaders are polling support for a single piece of legislation for a special session that would begin Thursday to fill budget holes caused by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 coronavirus. During that special session, the House of Representatives will meet at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Jack Stephens Center rather than the state Capitol in order to limit close contact of legislators.

Daniel Breen / KUAR News

Former Vice President Joe Biden won the Arkansas Democratic Party presidential primary Tuesday on the same night he won a string of Southern states.

ABC News projected Biden as the winner in Arkansas at 9:15 p.m. Shortly after 9 p.m., Biden was leading the field with 33.4% of the vote, according to the Arkansas Secretary of State’s website. At the time, 19% of the state’s 2,570 areas had reported.

Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield President and CEO Curtis Barnett speaks to hospital executives Tuesday before presenting checks to help 14 hospitals share patient information.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Fourteen rural hospitals received Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield grants totaling $817,000 to fund their connection to a program enabling medical computer systems to talk to each other. The one-year grant will allow all the hospitals to connect to the state-operated State Health Alliance for Records Exchange at the highest level possible, said Blue Cross President and CEO Curtis Barnett.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson spoke Monday to a joint meeting of the House and Senate City, County and Local Affairs Committees, defending his decision to allow foreign refugees into Arkansas.
KATV-Channel 7

Gov. Asa Hutchinson defended his decision allowing Arkansas to opt in to the Trump administration’s program of accepting foreign refugees, but some state legislators were skeptical at a committee meeting Monday.

Hutchinson appeared before a joint meeting of the House and Senate City, County and Local Affairs Committees after informing the U.S. State Department in a letter dated Dec. 23 that Arkansas would accept refugees.

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