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These are stories pertaining to the Legislative Session for Arkansas

Arkansas Governor signs strict anti-abortion law, touts ARHOME legislation

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed Tuesday (March 9) a bill that prohibits abortions except in cases involving the health of the mother. The pro-life measure does not have an allowance for abortions in the case of rape or incest.

The bill, SB 6 (now Act 309), sailed through the supermajority Republican state Legislature. With 78 Republicans in the House and 27 in the Senate, the bill met little resistance in either chamber.

Though litigation is expected over the law, without court intervention it would go into effect in Arkansas on Aug. 3, 2021.

Hutchinson had voiced concerns about the measure due to the lack of a provision for rape or incest. In signing the bill, he acknowledged that concern, but it did not stop him from making the bill state law.

“SB 6 is a pro-life bill that prohibits abortion in all cases except to save the life of the mother in a medical emergency. It does not include exceptions for rape and incest,” Hutchinson said.

“I will sign SB 6 because of overwhelming legislative support and my sincere and long-held pro-life convictions. SB 6 is in contradiction of binding precedents of the U.S. Supreme Court, but it is the intent of the legislation to set the stage for the Supreme Court overturning current case law. I would have preferred the legislation to include the exceptions for rape and incest, which has been my consistent view, and such exceptions would increase the chances for a review by the U.S. Supreme Court,” the governor added.

Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas executive director, said her group is planning a court challenge.

“Abortion is legal in all 50 states, including Arkansas, and we’ll fight as long as it takes to keep it that way. Governor Hutchinson: we’ll see you in court,” Dickson said in a press release.

Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, the lead sponsor of SB 6 said he was appreciative of the governor’s signature of Act 309.

“I would like to thank @AsaHutchinson for signing #SB6 standing with the Arkansas legislature & the people of our state against #abortion-a crime against humanity,” Rapert said in a tweet.

Pro-choice advocates said the new law is focused on the wrong health priorities for Arkansans.

“Arkansas politicians have a crisis on their hands, and it’s not limiting patients’ access to constitutionally protected care. Instead of working to improve the state’s underfunded public health system during a global pandemic, politicians are passing bills designed to gain publicity rather than address Arkansans’ needs,” said Dr. Brandon Hill, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes.

“Decisions about pregnancy are deeply personal and should be made by individuals in consultation with their trusted medical providers and their families, not politicians. Abortion is a critical component of comprehensive reproductive health care, and everyone deserves to have access to the health care they need, without interference from politicians. This blatant attempt to eliminate a patient’s right to access safe, legal abortion in Arkansas is a dangerous distraction from focusing on solutions to vaccinate more Arkansans and contain COVID-19,” he added.

MEDICAID EXPANSION
The governor also praised passage of the ARHOME initiative, the state’s latest version of Medicaid expansion, in the State Senate. The measure, SB 410, passed the 35-member chamber with 26 votes for, three against, one not voting, and four voting present. It now goes to the House for consideration.

ARHOME stands for Arkansas Health & Opportunity for Me. It retains the private insurance model for purchasing health plans for participants like the private option and Arkansas Works did. The federal government will cover about 90% of the funding, while the state pays for the remaining 10%. Under current scenarios, on average, the state is responsible for about $200 million per year – $1.032 billion over five-years – for Arkansas Works premium supplements.

Unlike Arkansas Works, there is no work requirement, but there are incentives to work. Arkansas’ work requirement was struck down by a federal lawsuit and is pending review at the U.S. Supreme Court. Beyond regular insurance, ARHOME creates three silos for handling healthcare scenarios. They are:

  • RuralLife360 – To help those in rural Arkansas, especially citizens with fewer access points;
  • MaternalLife360 – For pregnant women and families; and
  • SuccessLife360 – To help veterans, those who were incarcerated, and those once in foster care or the Division of Youth Services (DYS).

“Today was an important moment in this legislative session with the Senate passing the ARHOME (formerly Arkansas Works) legislation with overwhelming support,” the governor said. “This new initiative will assure continued health care coverage for over 300,000 Arkansans with accountability measures in place to improve maternal health, drug addiction support and mental illness. I applaud Senator Missy Irvin, Representative Michelle Gray and many other legislators who spent countless hours in working with my administration to develop this plan that will now move to the House.”

MEDICAL MARIJUANA COMMISSION
Arkansas House Speaker Matthew Shepherd has named Reginal Thomas, Sr. of Strong to serve on the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission. Thomas will serve a four-year term replacing Travis Story, whose term expired on December 7, 2020.

Thomas has been employed by Murphy USA since 2005. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems from Louisiana Tech University.

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission was created under Article 19 of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016. The commission is tasked with administering and regulating the issuance of licenses to operate medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities. Membership of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission is composed of five individuals, each serving a four-year term. Two members are appointed by the Arkansas Speaker of the House.