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.

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.

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