On Thursday, the same day that Governor Hutchinson signed legislation approving changes to the state’s Medicaid expansion program, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with the American Health Care Act, a plan that does not offer protections for people with pre-existing conditions, phases out the Medicaid expansion, defunds Planned Parenthood and provides a massive tax cut for the wealthy. It would leave millions of Americans without insurance. In Arkansas, Hutchinson’s bid to move 60,000 people off Medicaid expansion would eventually be moot; the AHCA would spell the end altogether of Arkansas Works, the state’s unique version of Medicaid expansion. It would also enact hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to the state’s traditional Medicaid program, which would affect the elderly in nursing homes, low-income children, very poor parents, the blind, the disabled and more. All four Arkansas congressmen, U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford, French Hill, Bruce Westerman and Steve Womack, voted for the AHCA. Sen. Tom Cotton is one of 13 white Republican men who will write the Senate’s version of the repeal-and-replace bill, which is expected to be substantially different than the House’s.
House one step closer to impeachment process
In a special session of the Arkansas Legislature that concluded last week, the House approved, 73-13, a rule change that sets up a procedure for impeachment proceedings. The legislature has not impeached anyone since the adoption of the 1874 Arkansas Constitution. House Speaker Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia), who initiated the rule change, said he’d looked into a need for impeachment proceedings years ago, when legislators got in trouble with the law. The matters were eventually resolved in the courts. He said he took responsibility for not moving ahead then with establishing a procedure in the rules. He referred to “recent conversations” in the Senate that highlighted the deficiency in the rules. That would be a demand by Sen. Trent Garner (R-El Dorado) that the House impeach Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen after he ruled on a case involving a drug used in the state’s death penalty protocol and joined a death penalty protest outside the Governor’s Mansion. Despite the rule change and noise by Garner, there appears to be no effort afoot to move forward with impeachment of Griffen, who is under investigation by the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission.
Gone for good
Tony Alamo, the former Arkansas evangelist serving a federal prison sentence in North Carolina, died at age 82. He was sentenced in 2009 on charges he took underage girls across state lines for sex, including a 9-year-old.
After his conversion to Christianity, Alamo (born Bernie Lazar Hoffman) established a headquarters in Crawford County. His cult-like ministry was controversial from the start, with a history dogged by lawsuits and controversies over tax evasion and theft of the body of his late wife, Susan, along with mistreatment of followers in various business schemes. He wanted the body of his wife because he claimed she would be resurrected.
The U.S. government has indicted three more people for mistreatment of juveniles held in a facility in Batesville.
A news release from the U.S. attorney said Will Ray, 26; Thomas Farris, 47; and Jason Benton, 42, former officers at the White River Juvenile Detention Center, had been charged with conspiring to assault inmates.
On April 26, two former supervisors at the center — Capt. Peggy Kendrick and Lt. Dennis Fuller — pleaded guilty to conspiring to assault inmates. They’ll be sentenced later. Kendrick also pleaded guilty to assaulting a 16-year-old girl with pepper spray and falsifying a report about it.
In the new seven-count indictment, the defendants are also charged with using pepper spray on juveniles and then, rather than decontaminating them, shutting them in their cells to “let them cook.”
Justice Department officials said the excessive force was unconstitutional and “particularly reprehensible” when used against juveniles who were not resisting.