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State Capitol in review - Feb. 5, 2014

I think the biggest story this week is the weather and the snow. Everyone be very careful.

Another reminder about scams, especially over the phone or Internet. We have received several calls last week of constituents being contacted saying they are Publisher’s Clearinghouse or just some contest winner and the person has won a large sum of money. However, they say that there is a processing fee or they need your bank account number and social to wire money to your account and in one instance it was they needed $500 for processing and would meet the person at a local store. These are scams. If you truly won something, there will not be a processing fee and you would not receive a call in this manner. Be very careful giving out personal information.

Arkansas unemployment rate declined one-tenth of a percent to 7.4 percent in December. Also, Arkansas home sales were up 18 percent in December. The percentage of students not academically prepared for college level coursework at Arkansas public colleges has dropped to 43.2 percent, the lowest since 1988 when the state began requiring entering freshmen to meet placement standards. These are all some of the good news in our state.

Lt. Gov. Darr sent in his official letter of resignation last week.

Gov. Mike Beebe discussed the private option this week and stated that the extension of the private option insurance in the state should not be a partisan issue. It is not in support of Obamacare. As long as Obamacare is the federal law, the states are having to deal with the consequences, such as the mandates and the taxes it imposes on everyone.

The private option in Arkansas was developed to mitigate some of the negative effects of Obamacare, as well as reform our Medicaid program, through the use of private health insurance. He said that even if the legislature votes not to continue to fund the state’s private option, the state will still have to deal with Obamacare, unless it is repealed on a federal basis. The private option is just the best way that was developed to handle the mandates put on the state.

The expansion of Arkansas’ Medicaid program, authorized by the federal government and approved by the state legislature, extended eligibility to adults with incomes of up to 138 pecent of the poverty level – $15,860 for an individual or $32,500 for a family of four. It made an estimated 250,000 Arkansans eligible for coverage that started in January. Under the private option, most recipients can sign up for private plans on the state’s health insurance exchange and have the premium paid by Medicaid dollars.

According to last week’s numbers, about 85,300 people have been approved for coverage since the Oct. 1 enrollment period started. If the legislature declines to authorize funding for the private option, Beebe has warned that there will be a hole of about $89 million in his proposed $5 billion budget for the fiscal 2015, and the legislature will then have to decide where to make cuts. The fiscal session begins Feb. 10.

Parolees often stop reporting to their officers because they do not have transportation or the money to pay their fines and fees. In an effort to get such parolees back under supervision, the Department of Community Correction is offering amnesty from not reporting until the end of March. This is if the parolee does not have any new felony charges, they can report to their officers without fear of being jailed or punished. If money is an issue, officers will work out a payment plan for those who have fallen behind. At this time there are about 2,200 parolees considered to be evading supervision.

If you would like to contact me, email me at bruce.holland@senate.ar.gov or call my office at 650-1884 or write me at P.O. Office Box. 2387, Greenwood AR 72936.

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