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State Capitol in review

Jay Bradford, director of Arkansas Insurance Department, said the state will stay with its current stance which requires insurance policies that do not meet the standards of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to end by Dec. 31, 2014, or be amended to meet the federal law’s requirement.

The state’s largest insurers already planned to give customers the option of renewing in late December of this year for coverage under the act rules that would extend to December 2014.

About 50,000 Arkansans are in plans that already were considered “grandfathered” because they were in effect before March 2010 when the law was signed. Bradford said some people will likely want to keep their plans for another year, while others, especially those who qualify for subsidies will want to switch to plans offered on the exchange. A total of 7,430 in Arkansas were found to be eligible for Medicaid.

The Board of Corrections is still working on policy changes. They amended a policy that addressed concerns about parolees who did not follow the rules or commit new crimes while under state supervision. The rules that had been put in place has had the county jails being overcrowded while these parolees were waiting for revocation hearings.

However, some of the changes to the policy are contingent on a new GPS monitoring system which should help ease the backlog in the jails. This system is monitored by a company rather than parole officers. That means more parolees could be outfitted with ankle monitors instead of remaining in jail until revocation hearings are held.

The Game and Fish and Wildlife Services listed the Neosho mucket as an endangered species and the rabbitsfoot mussle as threatened. The area where these are found could be on the critical habitat proposal. The Association of Counties said the critical habitat designation would put federal restrictions on one third of private landowners in the state.

A combined legislative committee voted last week to ask the attorney general’s office to intervene in discussions over a proposed “critical habitat” designation. The committee also approved drafting a resolution expressing support for reducing the size of the habitat and challenging how economic analysis for designations are performed.

The Charter School Authorizing Panel passed out two applications for charter schools. It rejected three more and tabled the decision for two more. Charter schools are public schools and receive state funding. However, they are exempt from many state regulations and are allowed to experiment with innovative teaching strategies, in many cases in order to better prepare children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Parents and school officials in every state are continuously debating the merits and the scope of charter schools. It is expected that when the legislature convenes in regular session in 2015, that it is likely that some lawmakers will file bills to open up the charter school process. There are two basic types of charters now. An open enrollment charter is run by a tax exempt organization and a district conversion charter is one that had been a traditional public school and was converted into a charter by the local school district. Arkansas has 18 conversion charter schools and 19 open enrollment charters.

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. Box 2387, Greenwood, AR 72936.

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