Un­der the state tree are gifts to un­wrap for Arkansans

Siloam Springs Herald Leader - - OPINION - Maylon Rice

Yes, to­day is Christ­mas Day, or so the news­pa­per may say Dec. 26 at your house, I am sure, there are piles of gift wrap­ping pa­pers, empty gift bags and lots of card­board boxes scat­tered about.

Just like, I can imag­ine, a sim­i­lar scene, like un­der the big tree in the Gov­er­nor’s Man­sion.

This Christ­mas, there are plenty of wrap­ping pa­per, bags, and boxes un­der the tree of some very ur­gent state busi­ness.

Not all of these sparkly presents will be pleas­ant to un­wrap in 2019’s Leg­isla­tive Ses­sion as the law­mak­ers gather for the 92nd Gen­eral Assem­bly.

Per­haps the big­gest one un­der the tree is what to do about Med­i­caid and the fed­eral health care is­sues. Adding to the pack­age is the re­cent added wrap­ping by one fed­eral district judge, who de­cided it would be nice to over­turn – at least in part – if not in to­tal­ity – the Af­ford­able Care Act.

This headache, for law­mak­ers and Gov. Asa Hutchin­son, was to be a man­age­able-sized box with the Arkansas Works tweaks in it. This pack­age would make cer­tain that adults of work­ing age on the state pro­gram, ei­ther worked, vol­un­teered or tried to get some ed­u­ca­tional cred­its while draw­ing fed­eral aid to pur­chase state spon­sored health in­sur­ance.

The feds had warned Gov. Hutchin­son and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Les­lie Rut­ledge that the “work re­quire­ment” por­tion of Arkansas Works might not pass fed­eral muster. But both Hutchin­son and Rut­ledge were ar­dent in their sup­port of the rules and laws passed by the 92nd Gen­eral Assem­bly and at Hutchin­son’s be­hest, did pass and were for­mu­lated into the Arkansas Works Act.

Now this com­plex gift might be the vir­tual “doll house or bi­cy­cle in a box” that plagues a fam­ily once in a while.

You know it is that gift that Dad and Mom worked on for weeks to put it all to­gether for the kids. It might be a week long (or ses­sion) prob­lem fix­ing Arkansas Works.

An­other gift, stuck at the very back of the tree, firmly along the base­board in the cor­ner of the room is the oddly an­tique Arkansas Prison Sys­tem.

Re­mem­ber get­ting enough of the lethal drugs to kill-the-killers on Death Row, is an ever present prob­lem. It is to once again raise its ugly head this ses­sion.

And there is ap­par­ently an ongoing breach of se­cu­rity that al­lowed at least five (and some say more) in­mates to die from smok­ing what seems to be a syn­thetic mar­i­juana sub­stance last sum­mer.

The over­crowd­ing in Arkansas’ prison and the ever-present prob­lem of hav­ing the high­est in­car­cer­a­tion rate in Amer­ica (which has the high­est in­car­cer­a­tion rate in the civ­i­lized world) is still an epi­demic pack­age no one wants to open.

Then there is a brightly wrapped Tax Cut Pack­age.

It is done up in very elab­o­rate vel­vety rib­bons and shiny, satin bows on a very or­nately pat­terned pa­per. The Tax Cut Pack­age, which has a nu­mer­i­cal name of sim­ply, we un­der­stand, 2, 4, and 5.9.

Once these in­tri­cate bows are pulled and the pretty pa­per be­gins to fall on the car­pet, we shall see the first glimpses of the man­ner and ur­gency of these tax cuts which were promised dur­ing the lead-up to the Novem­ber Mid-Term Elec­tion.

Af­ter the pa­per is off, we ex­pect noth­ing less than one very shiny, odd shaped ob­ject that ev­ery­one will look at war­ily. This pack­age will be hard to han­dle (and even harder to ex­plain).

There is an­other sadly wrapped pack­age con­tain­ing the prob­lems at the state’s Ju­ve­nile De­ten­tion Fa­cil­i­ties. It looks like some­one tried to wrap a rope.

While these are se­ri­ous prob­lems, it is still very ugly wrapped in pa­per, it still looks like a rope. One can­not just close down the two prob­lem fa­cil­i­ties, to fix the prob­lems. That ef­fort can only re­sult in not enough beds avail­able or a deadly over­crowd­ing sit­u­a­tion.

So, it ap­pears not all the gifts un­der the state’s tree look so lovely upon in­spec­tion.

The 92nd Gen­eral Assem­bly be­gins in three weeks.

Hang on and look for the imp­ish Elf on the shelf ev­ery­one. Maybe he can help us. Merry Christ­mas ev­ery­one.

— Maylon Rice is a for­mer jour­nal­ist who worked for sev­eral north­west Arkansas pub­li­ca­tions. He can be reached via email at may­lon­[email protected]­hoo.com. The opin­ions ex­pressed are those of the au­thor.

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