2019 Legislative Session Kicks Off January 14, 2019

The 2019 legislative session kicks off next Monday, January 14th. Watch this page for legislative updates and information. Pre-filing began some time ago, and after some niceties and introductions, the legislature should be in full gear in short order.

If you have questions or comments, please post them here, and I will try to work my way through them as quickly as possible!

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Issue 1 Debate at Political Animals - July 19th at 11:30 - Next Level Events

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Jesse Gibson will participate in an Issue 1 debate this July 19th at 11:30, sponsored by the Political Animals Club.  The debate will be held at Next Level Events in Little Rock, Arkansas, at 1400 West Markham Street in Little Rock, Arkansas.  You can get your tickets through the Political Animals Club by clicking on the link below.  See you there!  It should be a great debate, with great information why you should vote AGAINST Issue 1 this fall.  

Issue 1 Debated at the Arkansas Bar Convention

Issue 1 was the hot topic of debate at the Arkansas Bar Convention in Hot Springs a few weeks ago.  A legislative panel addressed the topic at length, and many of the sponsors of the proposed constitutional amendment were grilled and their motivations questioned.  Click the link to read the article from the Hot Springs Sentinel Record.  Judge for yourself whether elected officials in Arkansas side with their constituents or the monied special interests and lobbyists that swarm the Capitol during the session.

HB 1753 - Bill to Abolish "Made Whole" Returns - More Insurance Giveaways that Harm YOU

The Arkansas General Assembly is back at it again this week, attempting to pass legislation that fattens insurance bottom lines while sticking it to their own constituents.  You might remember two years ago during the 2015 legislative session, when then-Rep. Micah Neal (R - Springdale) attempted to introduce HB 1907, which would gut what is known as the "made whole" doctrine.  Due to a groundswell of opposition, Rep. Neal tabled the bill and it died a justifiable death.  Right now, Rep. Neal has bigger legal fish to fry.

Never ones to be outdone, Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville) and Senator Jason Rapert (R-Bigelow) have revived this bill, which is being championed and pushed by big insurance companies.  You know, good government groups like Allstate, State Farm, Shelter, and Farmers.  All those friends of the people.  These insurance companies must be struggling financially, because this bill would allow them to reach into their customers' pockets.  Here's how "made whole" works:

Oftentimes, when a person is injured by the negligence of a third party and no fault of their own, the injured party's insurance company pays benefits for the health care the injured party receives.  Makes sense, right?  You paid your premiums for health insurance in case something bad happens, and something bad happened.  That's what it's there for, right?  But we all know that insurance companies don't really like paying claims, do they?  So they often seek "subrogation," where they step into the shoes of their insured and seek to have those benefits reimbursed by the negligent third party's insurance carrier. 

The made whole doctrine provides that unless and until the injured party is "made whole," the insurance has no right of subrogation.  Unless the person who is injured has been fully paid for all of the injuries, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc, then and only then does the health insurance carrier have any right to be reimbursed or to "subrogate."  Makes sense again, right?  Been the law in Arkansas for years and years and years . . . until the 90th Arkansas General Assembly got together.

This bill would do away with the made whole doctrine and provide that the first entity that had to be paid out of any settlement or jury verdict is . . .who?  The injured party?  Nope.  Your insurance carrier.  Oh, but the health insurance carrier has to repay all the premiums they collected from you, right?  That would only be fair, right?  Nope.  They get to collect your premium payments and stick them in their pocket AND take money out of any settlement or verdict to repay them for the benefits they paid.  They get paid on both sides of the equation.  It's a classic double dip.

Why is this bad?  Several reasons.

1.  It requires ordinary folks who purchase insurance with their hard earned money to act as their insurance company's collection agency.  They get your premiums on the front end, and then you are pressed into service to get that same insurance company's money on the back end.  Didn't you pay them in the first place to cover you if something happens?  Guess what?  You now work for them and your insurance company gets a windfall.

2.  It's free to the insurance companies.  You and your lawyer pay through the nose.  The bill provides that no cost of collection or attorney's fees are payable to either the insured or their attorney.  Again, the insurance carrier hits the jackpot and you foot the bill.  

3.  Cases can never settle if this passes.  If you know you have to repay your insurance company every single dime before you ever see a dollar of any settlement or verdict, no one will ever have the impetus to settle a case.  The result will be even MORE litigation, MORE expense, and MORE uncertainty.  It will hardly ever make sense to settle a case, because it will almost universally go to your insurance carrier.  There will also be MORE dollars pumped into the insurance company's bottom lines.

4.   This applies to all kinds of insurance.  Not just health insurance.  Homeowners, MedPay or PIP, car insurance.  Everything.  All coverage.  You will now have a second job as a collection agency for every single insurance company you have coverage with if, God forbid, they actually have to pay something when you make a claim.

This is slot machine legislation.  Insurance companies take your premiums hand over fist every month and when they have to pay back, they enslave you and your lawyer to go get it back for them.  This is bad policy.  This is bad law.  Contact your legislator and urge them to vote against HB 1753.  The In-Session House number is (501) 682-6111.  The In-Session Senate number is (501) 682-2902.  Here are the sponsors' contact information.  Contact them DIRECTLY:

Rep. Charlie Collins.  (479) 283-9303.  clcollins6@cox.net

Sen. Jason Rapert.  (501) 336-0918.  jason.rapert@senate.ar.gov

SB 176 Would Restrict Nursing Home Employees from Obtaining Petition Signatures from Residents

Senator Bryan King (R)- Green Forest filed SB 176 today.  The bill would prohibit employees of nursing home facilities or long term care facilities from obtaining petition signatures at the facility where they are employed.  Here is a copy of the bill.

You may remember the situation that was discussed on this blog where nursing home administrators and employees combed the nursing homes where they worked to get their patients to sign in support of Issue 4, a giveaway to nursing homes and lobbyists.  Marci Manley of KARK did great reporting on that horrible situation and the potential for serious abuse.  Please watch her story here.

This bill would protect vulnerable seniors from being presented with petitions that they may not be able to understand or comprehend.  Although it was only recently filed, watch this blog for updates on this piece of legislation and others as the 2017 General Assembly moves forward.

What Would HB 1228 Actually Do?

There has been a ton of media coverage regarding House Bill 1228.  The bill was approved overwhelmingly by both the Arkansas House and Senate, and sent to Governor Asa Hutchinson for his signature.  After quite a backlash from citizens, business, and the media over similar legislation in Indiana, Governor Hutchinson asked the legislature to recall the bill and to send him language that was identical to the federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act ("RFRA").  It is unclear whether the legislature will recall the bill or take any action whatsoever to change the substance of the bill.  If they do not (and as of the time of this writing, it does not appear that the legislature is inclined to do anything), House Bill 1228 will become law without Governor Hutchinson's signature on April 6th. 

The big question is, what does this bill do and what will the effect be?  What are the differences between the federal statute and some other state statutes?  First, the big difference is that HB 1228 would apply to individuals and private corporations and disputes between two private entities.  The federal legislation and other state statutes focus on a government or state actor infringing on an individual's religious freedom.  HB 1228 would allow private individuals to claim as a defense to their actions that they took actions that were allegedly discriminatory against a gay or lesbian person due to their religious beliefs.  Why is this a little ironic?  Because sexual orientation is not a protected class in Arkansas.  There are currently no protections in favor of LGBT individuals.  

What the ultimate effect will likely be is an explosion of litigation (usually unsuccessfully, I predict) by many people where if they get sued or arrested or in a dispute with someone that any actions they took were based on their religious beliefs, and they are therefore allowed.  An example I have seen used often is someone claiming that he or she shouldn't have to pay taxes or abide by the speed limit because their religion does not recognize the laws of man.  

Two reasons this is going to be a complete mess:

First, defining what is and what is not a religion is not easy.  If someone has honestly held beliefs, who will make the ultimate determination as to whether or not those amount to a religion?  In addition, you would be fooling yourself to believe that this could only be applied to Christian beliefs.  It would seemingly apply to Muslims, Buddhists, pagans, satanists, and even those who worship doorknobs or Fred Flintstone.  Too many people get caught up in the bakery owner who does not want to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple's wedding.  What if the tables were turned and someone who practices another religion refused to do the same for a straight wedding?  The potential permutations are mind boggling.

Second, it's going to be expensive.  Imagine all the possible defenses to private causes of action that can be asserted.  It literally boggles the mind.  Even the most slam dunk, easily won cases would be gummed up and extra expense incurred defending what will often be ridiculous positions cloaked in religious beliefs.  It will likely add another layer of bureaucracy and expense and lead to a definite boom in litigation.  That seems to be the definition of big government.

Would this law change much in Arkansas from the way things currently are?  Yes, potentially.  Is it really needed?  No.  But is this piece of legislation worth all the fighting and stigma of "backwards little ol' Arkansas" that will inevitably happen if it passes?  Is it worth losing potential good paying jobs and business growth here if it passes?  Is it worth an inevitable loss in the arts and cultural activities by alienating people from out of state?  Lets think long and hard about this one and ask who this will really serve, if it is needed, and if it is worth it.