Over the past two months the people of Arkansas have seen several legislative inquiries into perceived lack of accountability and transparency at both the University of Arkansas — Fayetteville and the Arkansas Securities Department.
Concern about the University of Arkansas had arisen over a $4 million deficit in the university’s advancement division and accusations of violations of the Freedom of Information Act. Questions from members of the Joint Performance Review Committee were directed to representatives of the University of Arkansas and delved into those accusations and to what changes have been made in the financial affairs of the university. Former employees of the University were also allowed to provide sworn testimony about their belief that two university officials had not been truthful in previous sworn testimony before the Joint Audit Committee.
Another well publicized Joint Performance Committee inquiry was into Arkansas Securities Commissioner Heath Abshure’s practice of ordering contributions in lieu of fines to a national organization of which he was connected as a past president. Stephens Inc. of Little Rock has accused Abshure of illegally steering more than $170,000 to the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASA). Through newspaper accounts and my questioning of Abshure in committee hearing it was revealed that NASA had paid for over 50 trips in a 2 1/2 year time frame — all unreported in Abshure’s required annual Statement of Financial Interest. Abshure has since agreed to bring a halt to the practice of allowing contributions in lieu of fines and to also amend his Statements of Financial Interest to adequately report the benefit he received from his association with NASA.
Both issues underscore the importance of legislative oversight as we move into the fiscal session and review appropriations for fiscal year 2014 — 2015. This is especially critical in the area of Medicaid expansion under what has become known in Arkansas as the “Private Option.” As things stand in the first week of the fiscal session it appears there are not enough votes in the Senate to approve the Private Option funding appropriation for the next fiscal year. Concerns over decreased reimbursements to medical providers and delays in the employer mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act have proven to be problematic in renewing the a Private Option funding.
As we move through the fiscal session I will try to provide a weekly update on the activities of the House and Senate either through a column or through interviews with Maumelle Monitor writers.
If you would like to talk with me about issues being considered during the fiscal session please feel free to call me at 837-5221 or come by my legislative office in the Dean Files City Complex building at 550 Edgewood Drive in Maumelle. Regular office hours for the part-time office is 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. During the fiscal session I will be at the Capitol most mornings but part-time staff are available at the Maumelle office to relay your concerns to me.