Friday, February 04, 2011

EDITORIAL >>The Ledge in session

When the legislature has little serious business to tend to, it turns its attention to monkey business. We knew there would be a lot of monkey business in the 88th General Assembly after the tumultuous elections last year, and there seems to be nothing momentous to do this winter but pass Gov. Beebe’s little half-penny reduction in the sales tax on groceries and a tight state budget. The prospect for embarrassing and even dangerous mischief has looked overwhelming.

But after nearly a month, things do not look so bleak. We mention a few favorable developments that suggest the sensible quotient in the legislature may still predominate. At least sanity seems to prevail on one committee, the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor.

First, the committee killed a widely ballyhooed bill that was supposed to block implementation of the federal health-insurance reform law in Arkansas. The bill prohibited the federal government from requiring businesses and individuals to purchase health insurance if they could afford it, or else pay a small penalty to the federal government to cover health costs. The attorney general and the former attorney general (now the governor, Mike Beebe) said it was nonsense because the state cannot block federal law, as every first-semester law student knows. Arkansas has suffered mightily several times when its leaders thought the state was supreme in matters of federal-state policy.

The attorney general and the governor warned that if the bill became law, the state would be sued and would lose, at a cost of hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars. Moreover, if the state was going to insist that the federal government could not require insurance protection in Arkansas, would it also insist that the state stop other forms of federally mandated insurance, such as unemployment, disability, old-age and survivors insurance (sometimes called Social Security)? Would the state government be bound also to interpose itself between the people and the Social Security Amendments of 1965, which required the purchase of hospital and medical insurance for the elderly and disabled, otherwise known as Medicare?

The committee killed the bill 12-7, saving Arkansas disgrace and the taxpayers lots of money.

The same committee this week thwarted, at least momentarily, the first bill by Rep. Loy Mauch, who gained fame for labeling Abraham Lincoln a traitor for signing a proclamation freeing the slaves. Mauch’s bill would make every water utility in the state publicly detail every chemical in the water and prevent them from using any chemical that is not just to protect normal bodily functions. There is an ancient conspiracy theory that the communists or other enemies of America, with the help of city water companies, were poisoning water supplies through things like fluoride that would make people susceptible to a communist takeover. Mauch hears that lithium and statin drugs are being put into the water that to make people docile. Stopping such foolishness was another good day’s work by the Public Health Committee.

Another bill sought to use the new federal health-insurance law to make it impossible for insurance companies to offer coverage for abortions in the case of rape or incest. The bill would prevent insurance companies from offering coverage for abortion under any circumstances in the new state insurance exchanges that will be set up in 2014. The committee amended the bill to comply with federal law so that insurance companies could continue to write policies that provided coverage for abortions in cases of rape and incest as long as the policies were purchased entirely with personal or employer funds and not with taxpayer dollars.

The sponsors pulled the bill down then because they said the amended bill violated the state constitutional provision barring public funds for abortions. The state Constitution has been found to violate federal law if it prohibits abortions in the case of rape or incest.

All three bills were mere posturing. They would accomplish nothing in the end but embarrassment and expense, and Arkansas can afford neither. Let’s hear it for the Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee. There may be few chances for hosannas for anyone in this session.