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.

Scott Bennett Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department Director
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A draft of President Trump’s infrastructure plan leaked two-and-a-half weeks ago is “very much a rich get richer plan” that wouldn’t result in large amounts of money for Arkansas, Department of Transportation Director Scott Bennett said Thursday.

Bennett made his comments to the Arkansas Legislative Council’s Highway Commission Review and Advisory Subcommittee.

The memo describing the plan’s framework was leaked Jan. 22, but the White House has said it will unveil its full $1.5 trillion plan Feb. 12.

Senator Jeremy Hutchinson
arkleg.state.ar.us

State Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson will decide in a couple of weeks if he will run for re-election in what would be a contested race with Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, and said he is seriously considering running for Arkansas attorney general in 2022.

In an interview Wednesday, Hutchinson said he conducted a poll ahead of his race with Hammer, and the results were encouraging. He is talking to family, friends and his law partners as he decides whether or not to run.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas legislators Monday received an outline of the state’s general revenue budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year as the session began what is expected to be its final week.

The $5.5 billion general revenue budget does not differ significantly from the governor’s budget presented late in 2016.

Will Bond Bryan King Dan Greenberg
Jacob Kuaffman / KUAR News

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill Monday that would require offenders sentenced three times previously to the Department of Correction to serve at least 80% of their sentences on the next commitment.

Senate Bill 177 by Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, passed by a voice vote and now goes to the full Senate.

Governor Asa Hutchinson radio address
Office of the Governor

Gov. Asa Hutchinson is concerned about how President Donald Trump’s trade protectionist talk could affect Arkansas’ economy. He also opposes a bill creating education savings accounts from tax-deductible donations because a fiscal impact statement shows it would cost the state budget $10 million in its first year.

During a Thursday (Jan. 26) press availability in his office, Hutchinson was asked about the impact of President Trump’s presidency on global trade following the announcement that Mexico’s president has cancelled a meeting between the two world leaders.

marijuana
npr.org

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the first two medical marijuana bills into law Monday.

House Bill 1026 by Rep. Doug House, R-North Little Rock, extends the deadline for rule making from 120 days after the election to 180. It passed the Senate Jan. 19 after earlier passing the House.

March for Life pro-life anti-abortion abortion
Talk Business & Politics

Forty-four years to the day after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, Gov. Asa Hutchinson told a couple of thousand marchers at the annual March for Life that he will sign a bill outlawing the most common form of second trimester abortion.

Clean Line
Arkansas Business

Plains and Eastern Clean Line Holdings LLC officials have asked a federal court in eastern Arkansas to move a fall hearing date on a lawsuit protesting a $2 billion wind energy transmission line, saying the controversial development is “time sensitive” and that legal delays could imperil the project’s financing and three-year construction schedule.

In a marathon session, the U.S. Senate rejected 19 health care-related pieces of legislation Wednesday and Thursday, culminating in a budget resolution that sets the stage for repealing Obamacare. Now the action moves to the House and, eventually, state capitols.

Cindy Gillespie
C-SPAN

The Department of Human Services has virtually erased a backlog of Medicaid eligibility cases that had reached 140,000 people earlier this year, Director Cindy Gillespie said in a letter sent to Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday (Jan. 11).

As of Dec. 30, there were 692 overdue cases. Some individuals’ applications dated back to 2014.

“Based on a review of the remaining cases, all individuals have coverage and the only work that remains is simply clean-up of case files,” wrote Gillespie, who began working in her position in March.

House Speaker Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia).
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

The speaker of the House would appoint committee members under a resolution passed Tuesday by the House Rules Committee, while legislators for the first time would be able to engage in campaign fundraising during fiscal sessions.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

On the eve of the beginning of the 2017 session of the Arkansas General Assembly, more than 100 bills had been prefiled. Several key issues are expected to dominate the session.

Museum of American History, Cabot Public Schools / Encyclopedia of Arkansas

Stanley Russ, who served as an Arkansas state senator from Conway for a quarter century, died Thursday (Jan. 5) at the age of 86 after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

The state initially will grant licenses to five marijuana cultivation facilities, one for each of its five public health regions, the newly formed Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission decided Tuesday.

The vote was the first step taken by the commission to move the state closer to allowing certain patients access to the drug.

Rep. Joe Jett
Talk Business & Politics

Rep. Joe Jett of Success, who has been chairman of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, announced Friday he is switching from the Democratic to the Republican Party, meaning the only legislative committee where Democrats had a majority will become a 50-50 split.

Governor Asa Hutchinson
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson says the Obama Administration has approved changes for Arkansas's Medicaid expansion program, though the waiver has stricter requirements than he wanted in providing assistance to employers who offer insurance for lower-income employees.

In a press conference Wednesday, Hutchinson said federal Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell called him Tuesday night, the day after they met in Washington, saying she would issue a letter Wednesday saying the waiver for the Arkansas Works program, previously known as the Private Option, would be granted.

Outside the Arkansas House chamber in the state Capitol building.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Bills were filed Monday (Dec. 5) by an Arkansas legislator-elect that would outlaw “dismemberment abortions” and would dedicate funds from the 2000 tobacco settlement to assist the developmentally disabled population.

Both bills were filed by Rep.-elect Andy Mayberry, R-East End.

Mischa Martin (right), director of the Division of Children and Family Services, and Keesa Smith, Department of Human Services deputy director, talk to legislators about the state’s foster care system.
Steve Brawner / Talk Business & Politics

The recent spike of Arkansas children in foster care is caused by many factors, including understaffed caseworkers who err on the side of requesting removing a child from their home because they don’t have enough time to properly determine if the child is in a safe place, the director of the Division of Children and Family Services said Tuesday.

Mischa Martin told the Joint Performance Review Committee that the system she recently took over is in a “crisis.” The number of children involved in foster care has spiked from 3,806 in 2015 to 5,209 as of Sept. 28, 2016.

Asa Hutchinson
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The death of Fidel Castro represents a “moment that I believe needs to be seized,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Monday.

Speaking to reporters, Hutchinson said the death Friday of Cuba’s longtime leader is a “momentous occasion … that gives us an opportunity we’ve never had before.” That includes an opportunity to sell Arkansas’ agricultural products, and an opportunity for the Cuban people to experience more freedom, leading to better relationships between the United States and Cuba.

“That’s the moment that I believe needs to be seized,” he said.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Monday that he has not spoken to President-elect Donald Trump and doesn’t know when Trump will decide if two Arkansas elected officials will be part of his administration.

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge have met with Trump in his New York City offices to discuss positions in his administration. If Cotton or Rutledge were to accept a job, Hutchinson would select a replacement until the next election could be held in 2018, with the replacement ineligible to run for that office.

State Sen. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale).
You Tube

A state senator has placed a hold on the University of Arkansas’ budget to be considered in next year’s legislative session and says he will introduce an amendment that would cut funding to the university by the amount spent on the women’s basketball team after six players knelt during the playing of the national anthem Thursday.

Cindy Gillespie DHS director
Talk Business & Politics

More than 301,000 Arkansans are either receiving health insurance through the private option or have been deemed eligible for the program as of the end of September – an increase of almost 7,000 from the previous month.

Senate John Boozman, Conner Eldridge, Frank Gilbert
AETN

The three candidates for U.S. Senate defended their parties’ presidential candidates and attacked the others in their first and only debate this election season.

At a debate at AETN, incumbent Republican Sen. John Boozman said the two candidates are “very flawed” but the “total package” was the reason he is supporting his party’s nominee, Donald Trump. He said Trump had put forth a list of acceptable Supreme Court nominees while Hillary Clinton in the debate listed personal qualifications but didn’t mention the Constitution.

2nd district congressional race Democrat Dianne Curry, Libertarian Chris Hayes and Republican incumbent French Hill.
AETN

The three candidates for the state’s 2nd District congressional seat faced off in the final AETN debate, discussing banking reform, the national debt and other issues.

The debate featured Republican U.S. Rep French Hill, Democrat Dianne Curry and Libertarian Chris Hayes.

Asked what banking reforms are needed to protect smaller banks from regulations while keeping the country safe from big banks’ unsafe practices, Hill, a former banker, faulted Congress for passing the Dodd-Frank Act, saying it hurt small community banks.

1st district congressional race  Rick Crawford (R) and Mark West (L)
AETN

Republican First District Congressman Rick Crawford and his Libertarian opponent, Mark West, criticized their opposing parties’ presidential nominees and disagreed about America’s role overseas during a lively debate sponsored by AETN. The debate airs at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Asked how he would explain Donald Trump’s recent comments about women to his female constituents, Crawford said the comments disturbed him but that Trump is still a better choice than Hillary Clinton, whose policies would be a continuation of President Barack Obama’s.

Candidates for the 4th District seat: Libertarian Kerry Hicks and Republican incumbent Bruce Westerman.
AETN

Republican Rep. Bruce Westerman said tax returns should be simple enough to be filed on a postcard, while his Libertarian challenger, Kerry Hicks of Mena, said the country must address its $19 trillion national debt.

The Arkansas Hospital Association and the Arkansas Medical Society have endorsed Issue 4, the proposed constitutional amendment directing the Legislature to set caps of at least $250,000 on non-economic damages in medical lawsuits and limiting attorney contingency fees to one-third of jury awards after expenses.

The two associations announced that their governing boards had formally endorsed the amendment in a joint press release Monday. Voters will decide on the amendment in the November 8 elections if the proposal survives two lawsuits.

Arkansas Advocates For Children And Families Executive Director Rich Huddleston.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Child advocates on Wednesday called on candidates and elected officials to place more of an emphasis on children’s issues during this year’s elections and in next year’s state legislative session.

The group that opposes a voter-initiated act to authorize three casinos in Arkansas has received $109,500 in campaign donations from Oaklawn Racing and Gaming and Southland Park Gaming and Racing.

Oaklawn has donated $59,500 while Delaware North, the parent company of Southland, has donated $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Arkansas’ Values/Stop Casinos Now, according to the Committee’s Arkansas Ethics Commission filing report. Oaklawn and Southland both operate casinos.

(from left) Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Mervin Jebaraj, assistant director of the Center for Business and Economic Research; Sherman Tate, state Urban League board chair; and Ken Wade, executive director of the Urban League of the State of Arkansas.
Steve Brawner / Talk Business and Politics

Poverty rates increased for African Americans in Little Rock from 2010-13 while median incomes for all races dropped in Fort Smith over that time period, according to a report released Thursday (Sept. 1) by the state’s Urban League chapter.

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