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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers

April 2, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Texarkana Gazette. April 2, 2019.

Arkansas’ law requiring Medicaid recipients to work, go to school or do community service has had its ups and down.

And right now it’s down.

The law, which took effect nearly a year ago, requires just 80 hours a month of work, education or community service for able-bodied adults between the ages of ages 30 to 49 — and only if they don’t have dependent children. This year the new rules were to apply to those between 19 to 29 years of age as well. Recipients are required to report compliance online. Nothing too strenuous in the law, in our view.

But as soon as recipients started dropping from rolls for failure to follow the new rules, the complaints started coming. Critics said it was difficult for recipients to comply when many don’t have access to the internet at home. They also fault the state for limiting hours the reporting website operates and failing to adequately make the new requirements known to lower-income families.

So Arkansas set up a system where recipients could report by telephone and launched a widespread education program to make sure every recipient knows about the new option. Still people failed to comply. About 18,000 lost their Medicaid.

Now the law itself is in jeopardy. Last week, a federal judge struck down the work requirements. Since the work requirements were made possible by a waiver from the Trump administration, Gov. Asa Hutchinson is urging the federal government to appeal.

Let’s hope they do.

Medicaid is not a right. Nor should it be a free ride for those able to work, train or help out in their communities. It’s a helping hand to those in need. Arkansas’ requirements were not particularly rigorous and anyone who values the help should follow them. Perhaps a higher court will see it that way.

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Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. April 2, 2019.

Any contractor who builds new homes and does renovations can attest to the fact that renovations are far, far less predictable than building a home from the ground up.

Why? In a renovation, a lot of the structures involved are hidden from view, leaving a contractor to rely on educated guesses about what “should” be behind that wall or under that floor. Sometimes it works out. Other times, the not-so-fun part of the contractor’s job is to call the homeowner. “You’ll never believe what we discovered when we tore into that wall,” is a phrase that usually precedes a discussion of how original estimates don’t always work out.

What’s the point?

A modified plan to put out an underground blaze in Bella Vista has merit, but imagine the savings if the “stump dump” would have been stopped years ago.

We wouldn’t go so far as to call the work necessary to extinguish Bella Vista’s “stump dump” fire a renovation, but questions about costs to put out the underground flames won’t be fully known until someone starts digging. What they’ll find — and how hard it is to deal with — will be discovered on an “as you go” basis.

Former property owners are apparently responsible for what’s been dumped in the now-covered ravine that’s been spewing smoke since last summer. Firefighters first responded to a blaze at the site July 29, witnessing smoke rising from the dirt and what appeared to be the remains of a brush fire on the surface.

For months now, local and state officials have worked to get a handle on the blaze, which is fouling the air for those who live nearby. An emergency contractor working for the Department of Environmental Quality initially estimated a solution, including excavation and removal of the material, would cost as much as $37 million. While the fire is choking up some of the residents of Bella Vista, that estimate had the same effect on Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Hutchinson directed the contractor and the state environmental agency to go back to the drawing board. What they’ve come up with sounds reasonable, in a builder-doing-renovations sort of way.

The plan involves digging up the waste that has systematically been buried there over many years. Rather than hauling the waste to a landfill -- action that would cost an estimated $11 million to $15 million — the state plans to use on-site “burn boxes” in which a curtain of air will prevent smoke from escaping. Rather, the smoke will be recirculated within the boxes and through a blaze until all particles of the smoke are consumed.

It is a massive undertaking. The experts anticipate 175,000 to 225,000 cubic yards of waste will be excavated. Our news staff broke that down into consumable terms: If a football field including the end zones was dug out one yard deep, it would amount to 6,400 cubic yards. The “stump dump” is expected to require excavation of 27 to 35 times that amount.

Will it all work? It’s hard to say, and that’s quite the concern for people living or working in the area. But the state understandably needs to take the most fiscally cautious path toward a solution. In other words, there’s no money to burn.

As we’ve noted before, beyond the immediate need to put out the fire, the larger question is about this landfill’s existence in the first place. Is there something state regulators should be doing to discover such threats to public safety before they start belching smoke into nearby neighborhoods? If not, what exactly is the nature of our state’s enforcement when it comes to “environmental quality?”

Imagine how much money today could have been saved if this landfill had been stopped before it became such a massive headache to Bella Vista and the state.

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Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. April 2, 2019.

Vice President Mike Pence wants America to boldly go where man has gone before: the moon, and fast. He announced last week that NASA has five years to put humans back on the lunar surface “by any means necessary.”

The hurry with which the Trump administration seems determined to carry out so ambitious an aim makes clear that the primary goal is to advance not science but the image of U.S. dominance. China landed a spacecraft on the moon’s far side this year. An Israeli craft is in orbit and scheduled to land soon, and India plans to follow.

But pretty as the concept of plopping astronauts down to, as Pence said, “mine oxygen from lunar rocks that will refuel our ships” or “extract water from the . . . craters of the south pole” may be, we don’t know how to do any of that yet. How do we start figuring it out? Send some robots.

There are bad reasons to go back to the moon, and there are better ones. Sticking another American flag in the ground just to watch it wave will accomplish little. Anyone calling for the 21st-century lunar renaissance should be thoughtful about the space program’s goals and honest about the costs.