Gay rights story 3rd in Arkansas top 10 stories
Little Rock, Ark. (AP) — The Republican takeover of Arkansas' state government and subsequent political fights over gay rights, religious freedoms and a novel approach to the federal Medicaid expansion were among the state's top news stories in 2015, according to a poll of Associated Press-member editors, news directors and journalists.
After Gov. Asa Hutchinson led a GOP sweep of all statewide offices in 2014, the Republican influence at the state Capitol and beyond was voted the top story of 2015. The Arkansas prison system's failed attempt to jumpstart executions was voted second.
In 2014, Arkansas' top story was a tornado at Mayflower and Vilonia that killed 16 people.
The top 10 stories in Arkansas for 2015, in order, were:
1. Hutchinson-GOP: The governor's office returned to Republican hands at the start of the year, and with the GOP already in control of the Legislature the party enjoyed a level of influence not seen since Reconstruction. Legislators moved swiftly to apply their thumbprints to state policies in ways that earned their own place on the top 10 list.
2. Executions: Lawmakers hung a veil over Arkansas' execution procedures in April, saying companies that deal in lethal drugs wouldn't help the state put inmates to death if their involvement was subject to public scrutiny. Using state records, the AP revealed the likely sources of three drugs to be used. A judge halted eight scheduled executions to review the new secrecy law and consider whether Arkansas broke a 2014 agreement to share drug information with the condemned inmates.
3. Anti-Discrimination: Arkansas legislators ultimately tweaked a religious objections law at Hutchinson's request after retail giant Wal-Mart and the governor's own son expressed concerns an earlier version was anti-gay. The law prohibits state and local government from infringing on someone's religious beliefs without proving a compelling interest. Separately, some cities and counties challenged a new law aimed at prohibiting local anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual andtransgender people.
4. Private Option: After hedging through the election season, Hutchinson said he would support keeping the state's hybrid Medicaid expansion but with restrictions on eligibility and benefits, should the federal government allow them. A task force endorsed Hutchinson's plan. The state must focus on where to find the $50 million to $60 million in Medicaid cuts the governor says will be needed each year once Arkansas has to pay for part of the expanded coverage.
5. Rehoming banned: Legislators banned "rehoming" adopted children, a manner by which a family could transfer custody of youths to others. The issue came up after disclosures that state Rep. Justin Harris transferred custody of two girls to a man who worked at Harris' child care center. The employee later pleaded guilty to sexually abusing the older girl. Harris said later he wouldn't seek re-election.
6. "19 Kids" scandal: TLC cancels the Arkansas-based TV show "19 Kids and Counting" after Josh Duggar said he had molested some of his siblings and a baby sitter.
7. Presidential politics: Former Arkansas and U.S. first lady Hillary Clinton and former Gov. Mike Huckabee launch bids for the White House. As the campaign shifts into 2016, Clinton, a former U.S. senator from New York and former secretary of state, leads among Democrats. Huckabee's effort to win the GOP nomination is faring far worse than his 2008 try.
8. Abortion fight — Arkansas asks the U.S. Supreme Court to review lower court decisions tossing out a 2013 law that would ban most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy. Separately, Hutchinson moves to pull a state Medicaid contract with Planned Parenthood after videos reveal that tissue from aborted fetuses is used in medical research.
9. Tornadoes and floods: A tornado in May kills a young couple at Nashville, then heavy rains in Oklahoma and Texas drain toward Arkansas and inundate the Red River Valley. Heavy rains return in December, swamping the western half of the state.
10. Supreme spat: Arkansas Supreme Court justices engage in a brief public spat over a gay marriage ruling that never came. After hearing arguments as a panel that included a special justice in November 2014, the court failed to release an order before the makeup of the court changed Jan. 1, 2015. As justices debated whether a newly elected judge should weigh in, two members of the bench recused, saying the panel was violating court precedent by not letting the special justice continue.
By Kelly P. Kissel, Associated Press. Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
The Gayly – December 31, 2015 @ 3:10 p.m.