James Sturch, Arkansas Senator
A panel of three federal judges dismissed portions of a lawsuit filed against state officials, in which plaintiffs argue that the legislature violated the federal Voting Rights Act last year when it drew new maps for the state’s four Congressional districts.
The lawsuit contends that the new map dilutes the strength of African-American voters by splitting Pulaski County among three separate Congressional Districts.
Traditionally, Pulaski County has been entirely within the Second Congressional District, along with several other counties in central Arkansas.
Every 10 years the state legislature draws a new map of Congressional district boundaries. They reflect population shifts as indicated by fresh data from the U.S. Census, which occurs every 10 years.
Arkansas continues to have four Congressional districts. New York and California lost one of their Congressional districts. North Carolina added a Congressional seat and Texas added two because of population gains.
Using the most recent census data, the legislature drew new Congressional district maps during last year’s regular session. The map was debated vigorously, and soon after it was approved it was challenged in federal court. Plaintiffs are residents of Pulaski County and include an African-American senator and an African-American representative.
The legislature put areas of southeastern Pulaski County in the Fourth Congressional District, which includes most of southern and western Arkansas.
Legislators drew parts of eastern Pulaski County into the First Congressional District, which covers most of eastern Arkansas and much of northern Arkansas.
“What we can say at this stage is that the plaintiffs are a few specific factual allegations short of pleading a plausible vote-dilution claim,” the judges’ ruling said.
The panel of federal judges said that the plaintiffs’ case lacked enough evidence of racial motivation by legislators who drew the new map. They granted the plaintiffs 30 days in which to gather more evidence and file an amended complaint.
The judges dismissed the governor and the state of Arkansas as defendants in the legal challenge. The only defendant now is the Secretary of State, the top election official in Arkansas.
Lawyers for the state attorney general defended the new map before the three-judge panel. After the ruling, the attorney general told the media that she “is pleased the court recognized the lack of evidence and dismissed the suit in part.”
During the federal fiscal year that just ended, the attorney general’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit made 51 arrests and secured 33 convictions of people who had attempted to defraud the Medicaid system.
The offenders had to pay back $42.5 million in civil settlements, fines and court-ordered restitution. Those figures are a record for Arkansas.
Medicaid is a government health care program that provides coverage for senior citizens in nursing homes, poor families and children in low-income families, and people with disabilities.
Fraud occurs when providers file false claims for reimbursement, in which they report to Medicaid that they have provided medical services that they did not actually provide.
The attorney general’s office also obtained $159,000 in civil penalties from facilities that committed abuse or neglect of senior citizens.