Arkansas Politics

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission
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A company hired to grade Arkansas medical marijuana dispensary applications says it can deliver scores to the state by the end of next month. But at a meeting Tuesday, the chair of the state’s Medical Marijuana Commission voiced concerns that no physicians are part of the scoring team.

Thomas Aldridge, a manager with Public Consulting Group, spoke with commissioners about the process to help decide who should get the 32 licenses for dispensaries that will be spread throughout the state. About 200 entities have submitted applications.

Arkansas Works Governor Asa Hutchinson Work Requirement
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas has nearly doubled the number of people removed from its expanded Medicaid program over a new work requirement that's the subject of a federal lawsuit.

The state Department of Human Services on Monday said more than 4,100 people lost their Medicaid coverage for not complying with the rule. It requires some beneficiaries to work 80 hours a month for three months in a calendar year.

Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A new poll conducted this week shows the race for Little Rock Mayor to be close and competitive among three of the five candidates with nearly one-third of the city’s voters still undecided on their choice less than a month before Election Day.

The Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Poll, commissioned by KATV Ch. 7, surveyed 498 likely Little Rock voters on Oct. 8-9, 2018. The survey used automated and live calls and has a margin of error of +/-4.4%.

Voters were asked about their choice for mayor based on how their names will appear on the ballot:

2nd district candidates
AETN

There were no seismic moments in the only scheduled debate between the three candidates for Arkansas’ Second Congressional District. The nearly one-hour debate hosted at UCA and airing on AETN featured incumbent GOP U.S. Rep. French Hill, Democrat Clarke Tucker, and Libertarian Joe Swafford.

The three candidates rotated answers to questions surrounding the MeToo movement, immigration, election interference by Russia, the rising national debt, tariffs and raising the minimum wage.

Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford and Democratic candidate Hayden Shamel
AETN

The two top candidates from Arkansas's District 4 Congressional seat faced off Monday. Issues in the AETN debate ranged from the minimum wage to the opioid epidemic.

Recent tariffs imposed by the Trump administration, and the responses from other countries were points of criticism brought by Democratic candidate Hayden Shamel.

"These tariffs are doing nothing but hurting American consumers and American farmers. In fact, we've had to give welfare to our farmers here in Arkansas just to make for the problem that we created," Shamel said.

State Sen. Jason Rapert (file photo).
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A federal lawsuit was filed Tuesday against long-serving state Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow, by local members of national atheist group who say the Arkansas lawmaker violated their constitutional rights by blocking them on social media.

Betty Jo Fernau, Catherine Shoshone, Robert Barringer and Karen Dempsey, all members of American Atheists Inc., filed the civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas against the Faulkner County Republican lawmaker for violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and Arkansas state law.

David Monteith / KUAR News

Candidates for Arkansas Attorney General are responding to recent headlines regarding corrupt legislators in the state.

Arkansas voters overwhelmingly favor constitutional proposals to require voter ID and to tighten term limits, and by a 2-to-1 margin they oppose a measure to alter civil lawsuits and court rules.

The latest Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College survey of 1,701 statewide likely voters was conducted on Sept. 5-7, 2018 and has a margin of error of +/- 2.4. The statewide survey sample is a combination of four Congressional District polls that achieved more than 400 respondents per district. Automated calls and live calls were conducted.

Daniel Breen / Arkansas Public Media

Among all the popular measures on the Arkansas ballot this November, none is as hydra-headed, or has forged unlikely alliances, as Issue 1.

It would give the legislature rulemaking power over the courts and put a limit on fees collected by trial lawyers in lawsuits. The most talked about element, though, is that it would cap courtroom awards for plaintiff's seeking punitive damages and compensation for pain and suffering — though it wouldn't limit awards for lost wages or hospital bills, or in cases of intentional misconduct — at $500,000.

Nationally, this kind of amendment is what is commonly referred to as "tort reform."

Deadline To Report Work Info Or Lose Arkansas Works Coverage

Aug 31, 2018
File photo: Gov. Asa Hutchinson presenting part of his Arkansas Works plan, the state's version of Medicaid expansion.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Thousands of Arkansans are at risk of losing their healthcare coverage this weekend for failing to comply with a recently enacted work requirement for the state's Medicaid expansion program. The deadline is Friday at 5 p.m.

August is the third month that a work requirement has been in place for the Arkansas Works program. Enrollees who fail to report three months in a row will lose their coverage on the first day of the following month. That means those who haven't reported anything will be cut from the program on Saturday.

Daniel Breen / Arkansas Public Media

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge on Wednesday released her full personnel file from her time at the state Department of Human Services, two days after a judge ordered the files opened.

In a conference with reporters Wednesday, Rutledge produced the eight previously unreleased pages of her file regarding work performance and filing for unemployment benefits.

Leslie Rutledge Attorney General
Talk Business & Politics

A Pulaski County Judge ruled Monday in a political tussle over previous state employment records of Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, but answers to many of the questions are far from complete.

Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Tim Fox ruled from the bench, ordering the release of Rutledge’s job performance records regarding her work as an attorney with the Arkansas Department of Human Services in 2007, seven years before she was elected to her present office.

Rusty Cranford
Arkansas Nonprofit News Network

Next week, the first in a series of sentencing hearings will be held for former Arkansas lawmakers, a college president and others who were convicted or pleaded guilty for their roles in a wide-ranging corruption scheme.

It’s a complicated story largely centered around Rusty Cranford, a once-powerful lobbyist. Reporter David Ramsey wrote about this in a story for the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network.

Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas’s newly-implemented work requirement for recipients of the state’s Medicaid expansion program is the subject of a new federal lawsuit seeking to remove the requirement.

The lawsuit was filed by the National Health Law Program, Legal Aid of Arkansas, and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of three recipients of the state’s expanded Medicaid program, known as Arkansas Works. The suit, filed in United States District Court for the District of Columbia, names U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma as plaintiffs.

Arkansas Board of Apportionment

On a gray afternoon, Nick Wiench walks to the University of Central Arkansas's Torreyson Library. He studies philosophy and film, not political science, but he's concerned about an easily-overlooked part of the electoral system.

"I know gerrymandering is the thing where they split up basically the districts almost by Republican and Democrat to try and get the most votes into their own political party. It's kind of biased, in a way… but I'm not sure exactly how we can fix it," Wiench said. "It's not exactly a smooth thing that we can do."

But now, two almost identical proposals are seeking to change the way Arkansas draws both its congressional and state legislative districts. 

Bill Gwatney
Arkansas Business

Monday marked the 10th anniversary of the murder of Bill Gwatney, chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas. He was shot August 13, 2008 at the party’s state headquarters in Little Rock and died several hours later. The gunman would be shot and killed by police later that afternoon.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's departure from the state Department of Human Services more than a decade ago is the subject of a new lawsuit filed Thursday on behalf of the state Democratic Party.

The lawsuit, filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court on behalf of party spokesman Reed Brewer, alleges the Department of Human Services violated the Freedom of Information Act by withholding parts of Rutledge's personnel file during her time as a staff attorney at the department.

Tom Cotton
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas' junior U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton says he's running for reelection in 2020, but that his focus now is on helping Republicans win state and national offices in this year's midterm races.

Cotton appeared at a political event Wednesday and said he thinks Republicans will hold their majority in the House of Representatives and expand their majority in the Senate.

Arkadelphia
Nick Juhasz / Wikimedia Commons

The consequences of President Donald Trump's trade battle are hitting home in one rural Arkansas town.

Arkadelphia has been planning on a new paper mill and the hundreds of jobs it would create since the project was announced two years ago by a Chinese company.

But optimism has been giving way to concern in recent months amid Trump's escalating trade dispute with China.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas Term Limits spokesman Tim Jacob says it’s time for the wishes of state voters to be honored and this year’s term limits proposal should keep lawmakers from altering them in the future.

On Friday, supporters of a proposal to curtail term limits gained approval of signatures from the Secretary of State’s office to qualify for the November ballot.

Jeff Sessions Cody Hiland
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited Arkansas on Wednesday for a pair of events. Speaking at the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, he called for a fix to a Supreme Court ruling regarding violent offenders. Sessions later joined Gov. Asa Hutchinson and other officials near Hot Springs to discuss school safety.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Yet another guilty plea has been entered in a kickback scheme using tax money related to convicted lobbyist Milton “Rusty” Cranford, a former Preferred Family Healthcare executive.

Duane “Dak” Kees, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, announced Thursday that Jerry Kennedy Walsh of Magnolia, Ark., pleaded guilty today to conspiring to misapply over $380,000 from South Arkansas Youth Services (SAYS)without the authority of the non-profit’s Board of Directors.

Corey Lewandowski
C-SPAN

The former campaign manager for Donald Trump’s presidential bid will be speaking at the annual convention of the Republican Party of Arkansas this weekend. Corey Lewandowski and conservative commentator Candace Owens are scheduled to be special guests at the gathering which is taking place in Benton.

State party spokesman Stephen Houserman said in an email that party members are eagerly anticipating both guests.

Bill Clinton George W. Bush
Clinton Foundation / Facebook

Former President George W. Bush has expressed concern with the national immigration debate, saying the conversation is ignoring the "valuable contributions" immigrants make to society.

Bush and former President Bill Clinton spoke Thursday to graduating students of the Presidential Leadership Scholars program at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock. During a discussion before the ceremony, Clinton also warned of growing global Chinese leadership.

Arkansas Secretary of State

Friday was the deadline for groups hoping to put proposals before Arkansas voters in November to deliver signed petitions to the state. 

Three groups, two putting forth constitutional amendments and one an initiated act, hauled in box loads of petitions throughout the day to the Secretary of State's office. Among the petitioners are groups seeking to allow casino gaming, raise the minimum wage, and impose overall term limits on state legislators.

Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

The latest effort to combat public corruption in Arkansas is coming from the state’s top law enforcement official.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced Wednesday her office is forming a Public Integrity Division under the existing Special Investigations Department to investigate claims of corruption against public officials.

Rutledge noted the division’s creation is not intended as a direct response to a slew of convictions of former legislators and lobbyists for misdirecting or misusing state general improvement money.

Rev. Betsy Singleton Snyder of First United Methodist Church calls for compassion for migrant families during Wednesday's press conference.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Midway through a press conference with the Arkansas leaders of several religious denominations who were calling for an end to separating children from their parents at the U.S. border with Mexico, David Cook’s phone vibrated. The legislative director for Faith Voices Arkansas read a news bulletin that said President Donald Trump had reversed his position on families caught crossing into the U.S.

Cook then stepped to the podium to share the news.

Jake Files
Arkansas Times

Former Arkansas state Sen. Jake Files was sentenced Monday to 18 months in federal prison for what the judge called "egregious" violations. The Republican of Fort Smith pleaded guilty in January to charges of wire fraud, money laundering and bank fraud as part of a wide-ranging corruption investigation.

Jacob Kauffman / KUAR News

New ethics rules are being put forward by a bipartisan group of Arkansas Senate leaders following a slate of convictions against lawmakers found guilty of redirecting state money in exchange for bribes.

Foremost among the changes may be the creation of a five-member Senate Ethics Committee to investigate claims against members.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren is leading the effort.

Clinton School of Public Service

Former President Bill Clinton brought his co-author James Patterson through Little Rock Saturday on the latest leg of a book tour; one that has generated headlines for reasons unrelated to the book.

Clinton and Patterson, a best-selling thriller novelist, came to the UA Little Rock Jack Stephens Center to discuss their novel “The President Is Missing” in a panel moderated by actress and Arkansas native Mary Steenburgen.

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