Arkansas Politics

State Rep. Doug House (R-North Little Rock).
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

The Arkansas House of Representatives passed two bills changing the state’s medical marijuana amendment Tuesday, including narrowly passing one change the bills’ sponsor said was necessary to ensure physicians would certify patients have a qualifying medical condition. Both now move to the Senate.

On Thursday state Sen. Missy Irvin of Mountain View filed a bill that’s a bit of a rejoinder to Little Rock Rep. Clarke Tucker’s maternity leave bill.

Irvin is a Republican and Tucker’s a Democrat. 

Late last year Tucker filed House Bill 1046 that would give state employees six-weeks paid maternity leave or $500 a week, whichever is more.

On Thursday Sen. Missy Irvin filed Senate Bill 125. It would also codify state employees’ rights to maternity leave, but not as an employment benefit funded by state agencies. Rather, it calls for maternity leave to be treated as any other leave for sickness or disability, and for the first time would make available hours from the Catastrophic Leave Bank, a pool of accrued annual and sick leave that employees donate unused hours to in order for other employees desperate for paid leave to draw upon.

Tucker said he’s happy the Republican Party is taking up the issue of maternity leave. It's not a threat to his own bill, though presumably both will not make it to the governor's desk.

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.

House Speaker Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia) speaking in the press gallery.
Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

This week, the 91st Arkansas General Assembly convened. KUAR’s Chris Hickey and Political Reporter and Morning Edition host Jacob Kauffman were there for much of it and took a dive into some of the first week’s big issues, including new rules on committee assignment process, party-switching former Democrats and attitudes surrounding proposed ethics reform legislation. 

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.

Scott Pace is the CEO of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association.
Karen E. Segrave / Arkansas Business

With President-elect Trump and a Republican Congress expected to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Arkansas hospital officials are watching the situation with a great deal of uncertainty.

Almost 11 percent of Arkansans – about 325-thousand people – now have coverage through an exchange set up through the state’s Medicaid expansion program.

Reporter Mark Friedman with Arkansas Business talked with several hospital officials for a story in this week’s issue. Friedman also spoke with KUAR's Michael Hibblen about what he heard. You can hear the full interview above.

Huddle up by the fireplace and tune into this week's Week in Review podcast from the KUAR News team. This week we highlight some of what to look for in next week's legislative session, a bribery case in NWA with potentially far reaching implications, the opening of the U.S. Congress, Tom Cotton's take on Russian hacks, and a new state partnership with Facebook.

Take a listen and make sure to subscribe to the podcast this year to keep up to date with state news at large and all the happenings from the state legislature during the upcoming 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 Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood swearing in Elector Jonathan Barnett in the Old Supreme Court room at the state Capitol building on Monday.
Jacob Kuaffman / KUAR News

All six members of the Electoral College from Arkansas cast their votes for Donald J. Trump on Monday at the state Capitol. Electors met in the Old Supreme Court room and took oaths, cast ballots, and heard a few anti-Trump outbursts along the way.

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