An official with the U.S. Treasury Department announced that the Obama administration will delay penalties for large employers who do not provide health insurance coverage to workers under the Affordable Care Act. Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy at the Treasury Department Mark J. Mazur said, "The Administration is announcing that it will provide an additional year before the ACA mandatory employer and insurer reporting requirements begin."

In 2014, companies with 50 or more full-time equivalent workers, which could include groups of part-time workers, were expected to provide detailed information regarding employees’ tax information and related health insurance benefit details. If the information was not provided, employers would be subject to significant fines and penalties. The delay defers those negative consequences for one year.

Arkansas fiscal year ends with nearly $300 million surplus

Arkansas’ fiscal year ended nearly $300 million in the black as net general revenues broke a record $5 billion. The state ended the year with a $299.5 million surplus, up 6.3 percent above last year. All categories of the budget were funded during the year. Individual income taxes accounted for the lion’s share of the revenue.

Arkansas Metro jobless rates rise in May, while nationally numbers fall

Seven of the eight metro areas in or connected to Arkansas had jobless rate increases in May compared to April, and jobless rate increases compared to May 2012. That’s roughly 87 percent of the metro areas, which displayed a negative trend while national numbers painted a much different picture.

During May, the lowest metro jobless rate in the state was in Northwest Arkansas with 5.6 percent and the highest rate was 9.6 percent in the Pine Bluff area. May jobless rates were lower in 68 percent of the 372 U.S. metro areas and higher in 23 percent of the metro areas.

ADEQ to hold Big River Steel hearing in Osceola

An air quality permit approved by the state’s environmental agency remains a crucial hurdle to clear for the Big River Steel Mill, the $1.1 billion superproject planning to locate in Osceola. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) will hold a public hearing on a draft permit for the new steel mill on July 30 at 6 pm in the Osceola High School Cafeteria. ADEQ staff has reviewed the proposed permit and granted it tentative approval.

Two banks announce moves

First Federal Bancshares of Harrison (FFBH) acquired First National Security Co., the parent company for First National Bank in Hot Springs and Heritage Bank in Jonesboro. Under the terms of the merger agreement, First Federal will acquire 100 percent of the stock of First National and shareholders of First National will receive shares of FFBH common stock and $74 million in cash.

Little Rock-based Bank of the Ozarks said it expects to open a loan production office in New York City on July 5. The office will be an extension of Bank of the Ozarks’ successful Dallas-based Real Estate Specialties Group, according to the bank.

Rural health providers raise concerns about medicaid shift

Rural health providers expressed concerns to the Department of Human Services (DHS) about the private option use of Medicaid dollars to subsidize low-income insurance plans. A waiver DHS is preparing to send to federal Medicaid officials asks the government to let rural health centers get paid whatever the private market bears, instead of a set amount from Medicaid.

"If the health centers don’t get the revenue to sustain their model of care, we’re going to be in trouble and there’s going to be some health centers that may end up closing," said Sip Mouden, CEO of Community Health Centers of Arkansas.

AG McDaniel rejects proposal to legalize marijuana

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has rejected the ballot title submitted by a group seeking to push forward on an initiative to legalize marijuana. The group, Arkansans for Medical Cannabis, is pushing a measure somewhat similar to an effort that made the ballot in 2012, but failed in a close general election vote. McDaniel cited "ambiguities in the text of the measure" in his reasons for rejecting the proposal. The group can make changes and resubmit its initiative for review.

Lawsuit to challenge Arkansas same-sex marriage ban filed

Less than a week after a gay rights group submitted the wording for a proposed ballot measure that would repeal the 2004 state constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage, a gay couple has filed a lawsuit to challenge the law. The lawsuit, filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court, challenges Amendment 83, Arkansas’ constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.


Roby Brock, a freelance journalist based in Little Rock, writes weekly for the Arkansas News Bureau. His weekly television program airs at 10 p.m. Sundays in Central and Northwest Arkansas. His e-mail address is; his website address is