Thursday, May 13, 2010

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – The federal Justice Department has filed suit alleging that the state government of Arkansas discriminates against people with developmental disabilities, in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The suit alleges that the state institutionalizes them when instead it should put them in community-based or home-based treatment. Depending on the outcome of the lawsuit, the state agencies most affected by the litigation will be the state's six Human Development Centers. They are at Conway, Warren, Booneville, Jonesboro, Arkadelphia and Alexander.

According to the federal Justice Department, Arkansas families who don't want their developmentally disabled relatives to be in an institution, and who prefer them to be cared for in more mainstream environments, have little or no choice because the waiting lists for a Medicaid waiver are too long. Without a Medicaid waiver the cost of community based care is prohibitive for all but the wealthiest of families.

The lawsuit claims that families seeking care for someone with developmentally disabilities have a stark choice - either they accept state care in an institution or receive no care at all.

The six HDCs care for about 1,100 people with disabilities, many of them severe. Many of the residents have multiple disabilities. The Justice Department says that 1,400 Arkansans with disabilities are on a waiting list to get community based care, and that the waiting list moves at a very slow pace.

The state, through spokesmen for the governor's office and the Human Services Department, counters that the lawsuit reflects a difference in philosophy between federal and state officials. The federal government wants to eliminate institutions like the six HDCs in Arkansas, while the state believes that a continuum of care must include institutions that can care for people who are so medically fragile they cannot thrive in community care.

Lottery Machines Coming

The state Lottery Commission plans to install 100 vending machines in retail stores around Arkansas. The machines will sell scratch-off tickets that pay prizes of up to $500. Opponents of the idea quickly pledged to seek legislation during the 2011 legislative session to prohibit lottery machines.

One of their concerns is that machines could make it easier for minors to buy lottery tickets, in violation of state law that limits the lottery to people over 18. Opponents also see lottery machines as another big step in the growth of state-sponsored gambling in Arkansas.

The director of the Lottery Commission said machines were vital for the future financial viability of the lottery. He said that in seven years lottery machines would be the basis of the industry in Arkansas.

After installation of the first 100 machines later this year, the director said he hoped to put in an additional 100 machines next year. When 400 machines have been placed around the state, they will generate an additional $28 million a year in revenue. After paying prizes and administrative costs, the lottery proceeds pay for scholarships of $5,000 a year at four-year universities and $2,500 a year at two-year colleges.

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