Saturday, September 24, 2016

State Capitol Week in Review From Senator Eddie Cheatham

September 23, 2016

LITTLE ROCK –From 500 to 900 people with developmental disabilities would move off the current waiting list and receive home-based or community-based services under a plan announced by the governor.
He proposed allocating about $8.5 million from the state’s tobacco settlement revenue to provide the services and shorten the waiting list, which now has about 3,000 people on it.
Under the formula for this method of Medicaid spending, the federal government would provide an additional $20.5 million, so the total amount of new spending on services for people with developmental disabilities would be about $29 million a year.
The state Department of Human Services said that currently about 4,200 people with disabilities receive home or community services. A common alternative to community and home-based services is to place the person with disabilities in an institution, such as a Human Development Center (HDC).
The department operates HDCs in Arkadelphia, Booneville, Conway, Jonesboro and Warren.
Arkansas policy makers, like those in many other states, are in a debate about how best to provide care for people with developmental disabilities. Some families prefer that their loved ones remain at home and that the state provide support services. Other families are satisfied with the care that is provided in HDCs.

From State Representative Jeff Wardlaw

It has been estimated that in 2008, 6 million Americans did not vote because they either missed a registration deadline or didn’t know how to register.
We want to make sure every Arkansans who wishes to vote in the November election has that opportunity.  The deadline to register for the upcoming election is October 10.
On September 27, volunteers and organizations from all over the country will “hit the streets” for National Voter Registration Day. By partnering with non-proļ¬ts not usually engaged in voter registration drives, and amplifying existing drives through event-based recruitment and cultural outreach, National Voter Registration Day will bring together thousands of volunteers across the nation to register voters.
Be aware that submitting your voter application in Arkansas does not guarantee your registration.  You must receive acknowledgment of your registration from the county clerk.
Currently, there are 1,703,609 registered voters in Arkansas.  We hope to see that number increase in the coming days ahead.
We also hope if you are registered that you take advantage of every opportunity to cast your ballot.  Early voting begins October 24 leaving Arkansans several days to get to the polls.
In 2012, less than 67% of registered voters cast a ballot.  Minnesota had the highest voter turnout that year with 76% of the state’s population voting.
Although the presidential election is making the most headlines, it is just one of many decisions on the ballot that will have an impact on our communities.  There are ballot initiatives, state legislative races, and many city council positions that will be determined this November. Your vote matters a great deal.
You can register to vote at your local county clerk’s office, library, public assistance office, or you may print a form at www.sos.arkansas.gov/elections and mail it to the Secretary of State’s Office.
If you are not sure whether or not you are already registered, need to update your information, or want to find you polling place visit www.voterview.org .

Thursday, September 22, 2016

$5.9 Million FAA Grant for Clinton National Airport Project

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators John Boozman and Tom Cotton, along with Congressman French Hill, today announced that the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport will receive $5.9 million from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to rehabilitate the taxiway at Adams Field.

The grant money will be used to fund phase 2 of the reconstruction project that will improve 2,500 feet of the existing Taxiway A pavement that has reached the end of its useful life.

“Air travel is a vital part of our nation’s transportation infrastructure and it helps spur economic activity and growth,” Boozman said. “I am pleased that these funds will be used to upgrade part of the airport’s taxiway. This project will help Clinton National Airport continue to offer a high quality travel option that can connect travelers from Arkansas and beyond to the rest of the country.”

“Clinton National Airport is Arkansas’s largest commercial service airport and helps drive economic growth in Little Rock and across the state. It’s critical they maintain their operations capabilities,” said Cotton. “I’m confident these hard-earned taxpayer dollars will go a long way in upgrading airport infrastructure, and ensuring Adams Field can continue to provide top-notch quality and service it’s known for.”
“Arkansas’s largest airport moves over one million passengers every year and is instrumental in growing our economy in Little Rock and throughout our entire state,” said Hill. “By updating Adams Field we can better ensure safe and efficient travel for passengers at Clinton Nation Airport.”

 “The Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission is committed to providing a safe and modernized airfield,” said Ronald F. Mathieu, airport director. “We are extremely appreciative of this grant that will fund significant upgrades to accommodate larger cargo aircraft, which are frequently diverted to our airport.”

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Boozman, Cotton Support Ending Medicare Part D Retroactive Fees

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) helped introduce the Improving Transparency and Accuracy in Medicare Part D Spending Act, legislation that ends direct and indirect remuneration fees, or DIR fees, for Medicare Part D that are harming community pharmacists.

“Community pharmacists are right to be concerned about the inefficient and unpredictable DIR fees that affect their ability to provide Medicare Part D beneficiaries with the affordable, reliable services they need,” Boozman said. “As a member of the medical community, I know firsthand that providers and pharmacists share the goal of delivering the best quality care and treatment to patients. Eliminating onerous DIR fees associated with Part D will help pharmacists achieve this outcome and provide them with greater stability.”

“Arkansans can benefit from lower prescription costs when community pharmacists have greater certainty of their costs. I'm proud to sponsor this legislation that addresses a gap in Medicare reimbursements and provides greater transparency for both community pharmacists and Arkansas seniors,” Cotton said.

The Improving Transparency and Accuracy in Medicare Part D Spending Act would end clawbacks, or DIR fees, which are fees that are assessed by Medicare drug plans or their intermediaries. These fees are especially problematic because they are often assessed long after prescriptions are filled instead of being taken out of each individual claim, which results in periodic “reconciliation notices” from Part D Plan Sponsors or Pharmacy Benefit Managers. This ensuing lag time makes it more difficult for pharmacies to determine what their actual reimbursement rate is for Part D prescriptions.

This bill would improve transparency in Medicare Part D, as both the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) have urged, while resulting in lower beneficiary cost-sharing for Part D enrollees. Both CMS and NCPA officials agree that most price concessions can be determined at the point of sale, so ending costly and burdensome DIR fees is a natural step toward helping community pharmacists serve Medicare Part D customers in obtaining prescription medication that is often vital to maintain their health and well-being.

The Senate legislation was introduced by U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Jon Tester (D-MT). The senate bill is similar to H.R. 5951, which was introduced by Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), along with Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR) and four other members. Both bills have bipartisan support and are backed by NCPA.

This Week in the House: State Representative Jeff Wardlaw

This week the director of the Arkansas Department of Health, Dr. Nathanial Smith, appeared before the Public Health and Welfare Committee to update members on the outbreak of Mumps cases in Northwest Arkansas. This is the largest cluster of mumps cases that Arkansas has experienced since 2010.

Currently there are 162 cases, of which 49 have been confirmed by testing. The remaining 113 individuals are clinically diagnosed or have been identified as a close contact to a test confirmed case.

At this time, 22 schools in the Springdale school district, 5 schools in the Rogers school district and 1 school in the Huntsville school district are affected.
In response to the outbreak, the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) is requiring students in the same school with vaccine exemptions for the MMR (Mumps, Measles, and Rubella) vaccine to be excluded from school for 26 days from the date of exposure and until the outbreak has ended. Students with non-medical exemptions, who receive the recommended doses of MMR vaccine, may return to school immediately.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

State Capitol Week in Review From Senator Eddie Cheatham

September 16, 2016

LITTLE ROCK – Legal challenges have been filed against four measures that have been certified to appear on the November general election ballot.
Three other measures were referred by the legislature and there is no legal question about their being on the ballot. Depending on the outcome of the legal challenges, it is possible from three to seven ballot issues will be decided by Arkansas voters on November 8.
The state Attorney General’s office has approved their ballot titles and the Secretary of State’s office has certified that sponsors of the measures submitted enough valid signatures of registered voters to qualify for placement on the ballot. The legal challenges were filed by advocacy groups that oppose the measures.
Two of the ballot issues would legalize medical marijuana. One is a proposed constitutional amendment and the other is a proposed initiated act.
The difference between the two types of measures is that an initiated act, if approved by a vote of the people, creates a statute that may be changed by the two-thirds majority of the legislature. A constitutional amendment can be changed only by another statewide vote of the people, unless it specifically empowers the legislature to make changes. For example, Amendment 94 was approved in 2014 and it authorizes the legislature to make changes to it.
Two other proposed amendments were brought to the ballot by sponsoring groups that gathered signatures on petitions.  Both face legal challenges.
One would limit the amount of punitive damages that could be awarded in medical malpractice lawsuits and the other would allow three new casinos. They would be allowed in Washington, Boone and Miller Counties.
The legal challenges vary, but in general they question the accuracy of the ballot titles and the sufficiency of the signatures submitted by sponsoring groups. This year, under a new law, paid canvassers must undergo criminal background checks. One legal challenge claims that the background checks were not done properly for some canvassers, and therefore all the signatures they gathered should be invalidated.
To place a proposed initiated act on the ballot, sponsoring groups must submit signatures of registered voters gathered in at least 15 counties. The number of signatures must be at least 8 percent of the number of voters in the most recent election for governor. This year that is 67,887 signatures. To put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot you must submit signatures representing 10 percent of the number of votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election. This year that is 84,859 signatures.
Revenue Report
The state’s net general revenue for August was $416.1 million, which was 2 percent below forecast.
Sales tax remissions to the state were down 2.2 percent from August of last year, and income tax collections were down by 0.5 percent from past year.
July and August were the first two months of state Fiscal Year 2017, and for those
two months net available revenue was below forecast by $15.3 million, or 1.8 percent.
The forecast is the basis for writing state agency budgets. If collections fall too far below the forecast, state government will trim its budget to make ends meet. Arkansas operates under a balanced budget law know as the Revenue Stabilization Act.

Boozman Receives Commitment from CFTC to Reduce Regulatory Uncertainty

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator John Boozman, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government (FSGG), has been assured by U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Chairman Timothy Massad that he will recommend the commission abandon its proposal to allow rights of action against Regional Transmission Organizations (RTOs) and Independent System Operators (ISOs) which could have led to unnecessary electricity increases for Arkansans and people all across the country.

Earlier this year, Boozman led efforts to prevent CFTC from adopting its proposal. In April, Boozman included a bipartisan amendment in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry markup on CFTC reauthorization that would ensure the current regulatory framework remains in place and prevent inconsistent regulations between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and CFTC.

CFTC’s proposal was opposed by many consumer groups who made their concerns known to the agency during the comment period.

“Many commenters noted that FERC and state regulators work to balance the interests of market participants with the protection of consumers of electricity. They also feared that private actions could create costs within the markets in ways that regulators did not anticipate. These appear to be to me valid concerns,” Chairman Massad wrote in a letter to Boozman on Tuesday.

“I appreciate Chairman Massad’s decision. Over the past year, I’ve raised this issue with the chairman during congressional hearings and correspondence with the agency. I appreciate the chairman listening to my concerns and those of others. This is an important decision that will prevent unnecessary increases in electricity costs for consumers in Arkansas and around the country. Additionally, this decision reduces regulatory uncertainty," Boozman said.

"We are very grateful for Senator Boozman using the influence of his leadership position in the U.S. Senate to help bring a resolution to this proposed regulatory action that had the potential to increase costs to electricity consumers, not only in the 14 states that Southwest Power Pool (SPP) serves, but for the entire country. The wholesale electric markets are already regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the proposed resolution to this issue will still provide CFTC with broad behavioral enforcement authority, but will no longer expand their scope as they had considered doing,” said Nick Brown, President and CEO of SPP, a Little Rock based non-profit that manages the electric grid, operates the wholesale electric market and plans transmission for all or parts of 14 states.

Boozman is also Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry’s Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management and Trade that has jurisdiction over CFTC.