TODD HERMAN: Leaving the Arkansas Arts Center.

<b>Suit seeks to block ballot measure</b>

A lawsuit was filed last week in Pulaski County Circuit Court saying Issue 1, proposed by the legislature, should be removed from the November ballot because it unconstitutionally proposes four separate constitutional amendments to voters in one ballot measure and fundamentally rewrites the balance of power in the Arkansas Constitution without informing voters of the fact.

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The ballot measure would 1) set a $500,000 cap on noneconomic damages in tort cases such as medical malpractice and nursing home negligence; 2) limit attorney fees to a third of net recovery in tort cases; 3) allow the legislature to enact court rules, a reduction of power given in the Constitution’s judicial amendment; and 4) lower the vote percentage necessary for the legislature to change a court rule from two-thirds to 60 percent.

Retired Pulaski County Circuit Judge Marion Humphrey of Little Rock is the plaintiff in the case. His attorneys are Jeff Priebe, David Couch and David Williams. Judge Mackie Pierce will preside over the case. Secretary of State Mark Martin, who oversees elections, is the defendant. The suit seeks no damages, only an order that the proposed constitutional amendment not be certified for the ballot and votes not be counted.

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The lawsuit presents some problems for the Arkansas Supreme Court, which must ultimately decide the case. Chief Justice Dan Kemp in a recent speech urged lawyers to oppose Issue 1 because of the rule-changing authority. Justice Shawn Womack insists he has no personal opinion on the issue, but was a sponsor as a senator of legislative tort reform measures similar to those in the amendment. He could hardly be viewed as impartial. Should either of these justices recuse, Governor Hutchinson would name replacements. He’s on record repeatedly over the years in support of tort reform measures.

Millions of dollars have already been contributed by the powerful business lobby, led by chambers of commerce, nursing homes and medical interests, to get Issue 1 on the ballot and approved by voters. Opponents, particularly trial lawyers, have raised significant sums to fight the amendment. It would be foolish to think those political considerations won’t have some influence on the legal decision-making.

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<b>Arts Center director quits</b>

Todd Herman, the executive director of the Arkansas Arts Center, is leaving the institution for a job at The Mint Museum in Charlotte, N.C.

His departure, effective Aug. 10, comes as the Arts Center is about to embark on a $70 million renovation and expansion of the building, part of which dates to the 1930s. The Arts Center will close in the fall of 2019 for construction and reopen sometime in 2022. The collection of more than 15,000 artworks will be moved into storage and offices will be found for employees. Details on where programming, such as the Children’s Theatre and the Museum School, will be held are being worked out.

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Laine Harbor, deputy director and chief financial officer, will act as interim director until the position is filled. The Arts Center, which is a public institution that receives support from the city of Little Rock, is being expanded with public dollars, in the form of a tax on hotel rooms, and private dollars. The foundation has not yet announced the amount of private support it hopes to receive.

<b>Work rule doesn’t work for 26 percent</b>

As anticipated, thousands failed to report sufficient hours under the new work rule put in place in the Arkansas Works Medicaid program at the beginning of June. Some 7,000 people, or about 26 percent of those who are subject to the requirement at this point, didn’t satisfy the reporting mandate.

It takes three months of noncompliance to lose coverage for the rest of the year. A court has struck down a work rule in Kentucky. There’s still some thought that a legal challenge could be in the offing in Arkansas.

Some of those who didn’t report might not have been able to figure out the online-only reporting system in one of the least computer-ready states in the country.