BRUMMETT ONLINE: Asa’s all shaken up

The special legislative session that began Tuesday upon the blessed adjournment of the fiscal session was supposed to be about two essential things.

Instead it turned out to be about Jan Morgan’s victory in the Republican gubernatorial pre-primary.

One of the essential things — or at least straightforward and expected — was to authorize the state Insurance Department to regulate pharmacy benefits managers (PBMs). These entities have sprung up in health-insurance plans because middlemen who reap profits by paying people’s medical bills now need their own middlemen. You see.

Allegedly, these PBMs started this year paying pharmacists such insufficient reimbursements for some drugs that your friendly druggist is all in a lather. And you don’t want pharmacists mad. They’re on every street corner. They see lots of voters. They dispense things voters need. Many of them are quite genial, until a PBM riles them.

The other supposedly essential thing was to conform an open-container law to federal mandate, so that the state could spend $11 million in federal highway money as it wished. Big deal. We’re getting ready to spend that much in a Little Rock minute on an Interstate 30 bridge and widening through the capital city that half of the population doesn’t want.

But the big news late Monday when Gov. Asa Hutchinson released the agenda for the “special” session, presumably for “extraordinary” emergency matters, was that:

People apparently were stranded on the sides of state highways in their all-terrain vehicles waiting for the Legislature to rescue them with a new law saying they may drive those contraptions wherever they darned well please so long as the path connects between the off-terrain trail and home.

Other people were sitting with mouse clicks at the ready to transfer tax-deducted money from their checking accounts into government-approved savings plans formerly only for college tuition. The idea now is that people could get the same tax break for setting aside savings to move their K-12 child from a public to a private school.

That’s a private school voucher delivered at the back door, just so you know. And the deal on it is that poor people couldn’t put aside enough money to enroll their kids anew in private school. Thus, the bill seems mainly a new tax break for people with enough money to have their kids enrolled in private school already.

I don’t know why they don’t put these bills together. A single measure could provide that you may ride your ATV on the interstate highway from home to private school, right past your public school, if your parents have put money in your savings plan.

Oh, and I almost forgot: Hutchinson also proposes in the special session that we protect that big hog farm in the Buffalo River watershed (and conceivably others) from regulation that might change the rules by which a permit was granted in the first place.

The proposal is that, if you seek modifications in such a permit, the state may only decide on the modifications, not the matters by which you were allowed to commence operating.

It might be instructive to note that Morgan, that gun-galore woman from Hot Springs who is challenging Hutchinson in the Republican gubernatorial primary because she claims to believe he’s a dad-blamed liberal, recently made a campaign stop in that hog farmer’s town. She assailed any state government action that might threaten a man’s making an honest living.

That’s what I mean by saying she’s won the pre-primary. She has the normally steady Asa all shaken up.

He doesn’t want anyone saying he let a good right-wing notion go to waste when he had a chance to address it in a special session a few weeks before the real primary.

He’s basically telling the sane people of the state that he went to the mat for them on their Medicaid expansion, but that now it’s time for him to win the insane primary.

I’m always surprised that I’m surprised at how frightened politicians are of election opposition.

To his credit, Hutchinson did not propose amending state Rep. Charlie Collins’ gun-galore bill to permit open-carry of AR-15s to Razorback football games.

That will await the actual Morgan administration. Or a Hutchinson one that gets any more scared.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Log in to comment