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Legislative digest - Feb. 26, 2014

We have now entered our third week of the fiscal session.

By the end of the second week, the House passed more than 100 appropriation bills.

The joint budget committee continues to work to balance a $5 billion budget for the next fiscal year. The committee will soon be hearing proposals on how $126 million in unobligated surplus funds from the current fiscal year should be spent.

Most of our time on the House floor this week was spent debating on HB1150 and SB111. These bills are the House and Senate appropriations for the Department of Humans Services Division of Medical Services. Included in the bills is the appropriation for the Private Option, Arkansas’s alternative to Medicaid expansion.

Appropriation bills need 75 votes to pass. HB1150 failed to get the needed votes on the floor three times this week. The Senate passed the identical version of the bill, SB111, on the 20th. The Senate version failed on the House floor with a vote of 71-18.

House rules do not limit the amount of times members can vote on an appropriation bill. It is expected that we will continue to vote on the Private Option bill in the third week of the session.

Meanwhile, the House did adopt an amendment which could help to fund the state’s share of the Private Option in future years. Members voted in favor of an amendment which would divert the taxes collected on insurance premiums sold through the Private Option to the Health Care Independence Trust Fund. These taxes could generate more than $20 million a year.

Also this week, the House voted in favor of a resolution to allow us to address vacancy of the office of lieutenant governor. Because fiscal sessions are to be limited to budget bills, two-thirds of the General Assembly must agree to take up a non-budget bill in the form of a resolution. This resolution opens the door to subsequent legislation. Currently, the governor is required to call a special election within 150 days of the office being declared vacant. Lt. Gov. Mark Darr resigned from the office Feb. 1.

We expect to vote on legislation which would allow the lieutennt governor’s position to remain vacant until the November election. We will continue to update you on our budget process as we progress.

And remember you can watch all House floor proceedings on your desktop or mobile device at arkansashouse.org.

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