Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Jan. 16, 2015
Ignoring our right to know
Arkansans should be outraged with how the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace is handling a $99.9-million federal grant to establish a state health-insurance exchange.
This group and its director, Cheryl Smith, are thumbing their noses at the public's right to know by how they are handling competitive bids from third-party vendors. The law creating this is clearly covered by the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, but they are ignoring it.
This week the group met in a small conference room and refused to allow reporters and the public into the meeting, saying there was no room for the public. Instead, the group offered our reporter and the public a larger conference room with a speakerphone. Officials even disguised the names of the bidders with Southeast Conference mascots, dubbing them the Commodores and the Gators.
As columnist Dave Barry used to say, we're not making this up.
The public certainly has a right to know about this bidding, especially since it seems so unusual. As John Norman, director of the marketplace operations, said, he was "underwhelmed by all of the responses" and shocked by their estimated costs. These two bidders submitted much higher bids than the lowest bid, where the so-called Gators had a quote of 1.8 times higher than the lowest bid, and the Commodores' bid was 6.27 times higher than the lowest bid. The public certainly has the right to try to sit in and listen to why these bids seem so much higher.
This charade begs another question: Why is Arkansas trying to set up its own health insurance exchange? Most states have gone with the federal exchange, and some states that have tried a state-run exchange, like Oregon, have had disastrous results.
It is estimated that maybe 50,000 Arkansans not on the private option might participate in this exchange. If so, that means it is costing the federal government almost $2,000 per person for this health insurance exchange.
The Obama administration's idea behind the exchanges is that the government has to provide a marketplace for people to choose insurance. It assumes people are just not capable of shopping on their own for health insurance. What if, some day, the government decides people are incapable of shopping for their own cars, and the government mandates that there be an auto exchange set up by the federal government so people can compare the price of cars? Or houses. Or groceries.
Clearly, the federal government requiring health-insurance exchanges under Obamacare is not going to lead to lower costs. Already the federal government is imposing a 3.5 percent premium fee or tax assessed against those participating in Medicare exchanges. This is in addition to what calculates to be a $2,000 per person cost for the estimated 50,000 who might participate. So much for making insurance affordable.
The new governor and the new legislature should re-examine whether Arkansas really needs to have its own health-care exchange. Is it really more desirable and cost effective than using a federal exchange?
Log Cabin Democrat, Jan. 17, 2015.
Why the Maggio case still matters
We are simple people. When certain news items crawl across the bottom of the television screen, our eyes tend to widen, especially if there is a salacious undercurrent to said news item.
That's just the way it is. Many people can recite major political sex scandals of the past 50 years, but when they are asked about Bill Clinton's Whitewater investigation or the Iran-Contra mess involving Oliver North and Ronald Reagan, the minds get fuzzy and the responses become vague.
That is what has happened with the most recent news involving Mike Maggio, former judge in Faulkner County. The latest in his saga was the guilty plea he gave involving bribery charges after he reduced the financial penalty against a nursing home, following a donation by the owner of the nursing home to Maggio's campaign. That nursing home was found negligent in the death of a resident, but Maggio reduced the penalty awarded the family by millions.
But what made Maggio a brief national story was not that. It was an earlier ethical dilemma he waded into by making anonymous statements on a Louisiana State University message board about presiding over a private adoption involving movie star Charlize Theron.
That is a pretty sad and stupid breach of ethics, but in terms of his offenses, it doesn't touch the problems with the money given to him by Michael Morton and the resulting reduction in penalties by $4 million against Morton.
But Charlize Theron is beautiful and famous, and the mere notion that she might have stepped foot inside Faulkner County for even a few hours is enough to distract many. But it's not where our focus should be.
The reason why this latest page in the Maggio saga is important is because Morton has given money to many other local and state officers, including judges and legislators. Does that mean they will automatically do him any favors? No, but it's definitely something to keep your eyes on, at least in the near future.
Where campaign money comes from and who it comes from is not necessarily the "sexy" story, but it is more important to our well-being. Those who accept money from certain influential beings need to realize that their future actions will be monitored.
The Charlize Theron sidebar is much like the magician waving his right hand up in the air so you don't see what's going on in his left.
We can't be distracted by the pretty people, especially when regular people are getting hurt in the process.
Texarkana Gazette, Jan. 14, 2015
Signs of the Times
Back in the early 1970s, Canadian rock group Five Man Electrical Band had a Top 10 hit with a song about signs. "Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind," the song's chorus goes.
Well before and since, signs have been a source of pleasure, profit and pain depending on who you ask.
Environmentalists say they block the view. Cities and towns want to regulate them, calling them clutter. Business owners say they are key to profit. Citizens with a cause to promote or put down say they are free speech.
And some folks just like to look at them or argue against them.
That is as true in Texarkana as any place in the nation. We have had more than one public controversy over signs in the past several years.
Right now a church in Gilbert, Arizona, is in the middle of a long running feud with the city over the church putting up signs to invite and direct visitors to their services. The church says the signs are free speech and, furthermore, protected by Freedom of Religion.
The city says these signs are no different from garage sale placards and should not allowed to stay up for any length of time.
Well, the case has blown up into an argument over just how far can cities go in regulating signs, especially on private property.
Well, the case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Justices heard arguments Monday and should reach a decision by summer.
It's a matter that will affect both sides of the state line as well as cities across the nation. How do we balance free speech and property rights and keep our streets from being permanently littered with signs of all sizes, shapes and slogans?
In our view, sensible regulation of signs is a valid power for local governments. But there must be limitations on that power so that one individual or group is not singled out because of unpopular views. It will be a tough call for the court to somehow make that work.