Arkansas’ political week focuses on health care rulings, alcohol sales

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 137 views 

Some Republican candidates in Arkansas are jumping on the opportunity to comment on Tuesday’s (July 22) rulings by two federal appeals courts that affect the nation’s healthcare law.

The rulings came within hours of each other. A divided court panel in Washington ruled that the subsidies that help millions of low- and middle-income people pay their premiums can only be paid in states that have set up their own insurance exchanges. But in Virginia, another appeals panel unanimously came to the opposite conclusion.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, said in a statement about the first ruling: “Today’s ruling is just the latest example of why we must start over on healthcare reform.”

Cotton has made his opposition to the federal healthcare law a cornerstone of his campaign against U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who supports the law.

Pryor responded to the ruling too, taking after Cotton.

“Congressman Cotton isn’t leveling with Arkansans, and that’s because he has no solutions except kicking 180,000 working Arkansans off of their private health care plans, raising taxes on nearly 40,000 more, and returning to the days where insurance companies denied coverage to Arkansans with pre-existing conditions,” Pryor said.

Republican and State Representative Bruce Westerman – who is running for Cotton’s congressional seat – said in a statement that both rulings “highlight the fact that Obamacare was a poorly-written takeover of people’s healthcare and an ill-conceived law.” Westerman faces Democrat James Lee Witt in November.

The White House says policyholders will keep getting financial aid as the administration sorts out the legal implications. The Department of Justice said Tuesday that the Obama administration will push for a review by the full 11-judge panel.

The department issued this statement: "We believe that this decision is incorrect, inconsistent with Congressional intent, different from previous rulings, and at odds with the goal of the law: to make health care affordable no matter where people live. The government will therefore immediately seek further review of the court's decision. In the meantime, to be clear, people getting premium tax credits should know that nothing has changed, tax credits remain available."

Some legal experts say that if the two appeals courts remain in conflict, the issue may find resolution by the U.S. Supreme Court.

A Friday firm lawyer representing a group opposed to a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the legal sale of alcohol in all 75 Arkansas counties has asked Secretary of State Mark Martin to stop accepting petitions for the measure.

The Arkansas Beverage Retailer’s Association is behind a push to keep a proposal to legalize alcohol sales statewide off the November ballot. The association has formed a group called “Let Local Communities Decide For Themselves.”

Attorney Betsy Murray, representing Let Local Communities Decide For Themselves, said the petitions were submitted in violation of state law. Citing Amendment 7 of the Arkansas Constitution, Murray said the deadline for statewide petitions to be submitted should have been July 4, not July 7, as was scheduled by Martin.

Amendment 7 says that “initiative petitions for statewide measures should be filed with the Secretary of State not less than four (4) months before the election in which they are to be voted upon.”

The general election is slated for Nov. 4, 2014. Murray said state law mandates that the petitions were turned in after what should have been a “specified deadline.”

A Secretary of State spokeswoman says it’s standard practice to roll the deadline to the following business day if the deadline falls on a holiday. She says the Secretary of State’s office is researching the matter in order to present the appropriate response. They said they are anticipating litigation and couldn’t comment any further about what their response will be.

The group pushing for expanded sales of alcohol, Let Arkansas Decide!, has been given permission to collect more signatures for its proposal under a 30-day “cure” period. It needs to submit more than 78,133 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Give Arkansas A Raise Now, which is pushing to raise the state’s minimum wage to $8.50, is also collecting additional signatures after submitting its initial collection to the Secretary of State on July 7.