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Weekly Address – February 5, 2021

From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our great nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.

The Senate Committee on Revenue and Taxation provided some much needed good news for Arkansans who lost their jobs because of the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The bill creates an income tax exemption for unemployment benefits paid in 2020 and 2021, even for the expanded benefits that were awarded after the pandemic began.

It’s estimated that the bill will save Arkansas working families about $59 million.

In other legislative news, the Senate approved a bill prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities, when they need an organ transplant.

All too often, transplant agencies and some physicians assume that the families of individuals with disabilities cannot provide adequate care after the operation.

The bill prohibits an agency from moving an individual down on a waiting list, based on their disability.

It’s called “Lila’s Law,” after a seven-year old girl with Down syndrome who was born with a hole in her heart. Doctors told her parents that she was ineligible for a transplant.

Federal law prohibits discrimination under the Americans With Disabilities Act, but it is not always enforced, because transplant agencies and physicians don’t realize that it covers organ transplants.

The Senate passed other legislation of importance to physicians and their patients. It would restrict the growing use of step therapy by health insurance companies.

Step therapy in a health insurance policy requires doctors to start with the cheapest possible drugs when they prescribe medication.

They can only prescribe more expensive medications after the cheaper options have proven to be ineffective.

The danger is that while physician and patient are going through the stages of step therapy, the patients’ health may be damaged.

The Senate bill allows doctors to prescribe the most appropriate medication, and if an insurance company objects the appeals process must be clear and transparent and convenient.

Also this week, both chambers approved a Senate bill to strengthen financial transparency measures at state colleges and universities.

Institutions must post financial statements and audits on their web sites, where they can easily be accessed by students, their parents and taxpayers.

The financial statements must include the total of students accounts receivable. Last year, it was revealed that Henderson State University allowed students to enroll even after they had accumulated thousands of dollars of unpaid tuition.

The policy led to severe financial difficulties for the university.

Henderson State has since merged into the Arkansas State University system, and the legislature formalized that merger earlier this year.

From the Capitol, it is always my great honor and sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.


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