LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas lawmakers will be back at the Capitol on Monday to bring the regular 2017 session to a close and begin a special session that is expected to last three days.
The regular session started Jan. 9 and went into recess April 3. Monday is the day scheduled for sine die, the official adjournment of the session, but it also will give lawmakers an opportunity to take care of some last-minute business, possibly including an attempt to override a veto from the governor.
After adjourning the regular session, the Legislature will gavel back in Monday afternoon for a special session primarily focused on the state’s Medicaid expansion program but with a few other items on the agenda as well.
Earlier this month, Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed Senate Bill 496 by Sen. Scott Flippo, R-Mountain Home, which would have prohibited the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Division from enforcing gambling laws.
The governor said at the time he vetoed the bill because it would require law enforcement officers to ignore illegal conduct and would prohibit an executive agency from enforcing state law. He said that if the Legislature wants to address issues with the state’s gambling laws, it should make changes to those laws.
Flippo said Friday, “At this time I am moving forward with the intent on working to override the veto.”
He said he has been in talks with the governor’s office and the leaders of the House and Senate on a possible compromise, but as of Friday no agreement had been reached.
“If there is an 11th-hour something that pops up that settles the issue, great. But I’m not holding my breath for that to happen,” Flippo said.
Flippo said he filed the bill because ABC recently cracked down on gaming machines in the lodges of fraternal organizations in his district, even though the machines had been there for years without receiving ABC’s attention. He said ABC only went after gaming machines in establishments with liquor permits, raising concerns about inequitable enforcement of the law.
“Instead of singling these places out, let’s just leave it to local prosecutors,” he said.
The measure passed 24-5 in the Senate, suggesting it may have the support there for a veto override, but in the House it narrowly passed in a 53-22 vote, receiving just two more votes than the 51 needed for passage.
A veto override requires a simple majority vote.
Flippo said that if a veto override fails, he intends to bring the issue up again in the future.
Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, said last week the Senate could choose Monday to take up measures that were waiting for a Senate vote for final legislative passage when the session went into recess. He said he did not know which measures the body might consider.
House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, said he was not aware of any bills from the regular session that could be taken up in the House on Monday.
In the special session, Hutchinson will ask lawmakers to approve modifying the program formerly known as the private option and now known as Arkansas Works. The program provides government-subsidized private health insurance to Arkansans earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
The governor wants to lower the maximum income level for eligibility to 100 percent of the federal poverty level and add a work requirement, changes he says will control costs and add an element of personal responsibility to the program.
State Department of Human Services Director Cindy Gillespie has estimated that the changes would save the state up to $93 million over the next five years and cause a “minimal” number of people to lose health insurance.
If the Legislature OKs the changes, the state will ask the federal government to approve them. The administration of former President Barack Obama would not permit the changes, but Hutchinson has said he believes President Donald Trump’s administration will approve them.
Dismang and Gillam said last week they believe majorities in each chamber support the governor’s proposal.
Health Insurance Marketplace
Hutchinson also will ask lawmakers to approve restructuring the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace to give the Legislative Council oversight of it, make the state’s insurance exchange for small businesses optional and prohibit the development of a state-based insurance exchange for individuals. The state currently operates the individual exchange in partnership with the federal government.
Hutchinson also will ask lawmakers to approve transferring money from the state’s 1998 settlement with tobacco companies to a long-term reserve fund.
“This is important because it is necessary to enhance our bond rating in the state,” Hutchinson said Friday, the day he issued the call for the special session. “It’s also necessary to make sure that we have the reserve funds and rainy-day funds available for any unforeseen emergencies in the future as well with appropriate safeguards.”
On the same say he issued the call for the session, Hutchinson announced he will cut $70 million from the state budget for the current fiscal year because state revenues are lagging below projections.
Also on the agenda for the special session are proposed technical corrections to multiple measures on ethics and medical marijuana that were passed during the regular session. The proposed changes are aimed at making sure the measures are consistent and do not leave any gaps.
The Legislature’s Code Revision Commission is empowered to make technical corrections to most measures on its own, but two-thirds votes in the House and Senate are needed to make corrections to measures affecting constitutional amendments.