LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas lawmakers on Tuesday advanced bills to impose new restrictions on the state’s Medicaid expansion program, as well as other measures on Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s agenda for the special session that began Monday and is expected to last three days.
Also Tuesday, a House committee advanced a measure to create a process for approving articles of impeachment. The move came a day after a state senator called for the impeachment of a circuit judge.
The House and Senate approved matching bills to direct the state Department of Human Services to seek federal waivers to add a work requirement to the Arkansas Works program, formerly known as the private option, and lower the program’s maximum income level for eligibility from 138 percent to 100 percent of the federal poverty level.
House Bill 1003 by House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, passed in the House in a 71-23 vote. Senate Bill 3 by Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, passed in the Senate in a 23-9 vote. The measures go next to the opposite chambers.
More than 300,000 Arkansans have obtained government-subsidized private health insurance under the program, which was created in 2013 as an alternative to the expansion of state Medicaid rolls envisioned in the federal Affordable Care Act.
Hutchinson and DHS officials say lowering the income cap will remove about 60,000 Arkansans from the program. They say those people will have the opportunity to enroll in insurance through the health insurance exchange and receive federal subsidies that will match the state and federal assistance they now receive.
Some lawmakers said they were concerned that some who now have insurance under the program would fail to enroll through the exchange.
“There’s no question that … some are going to fall through the cracks,” said Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia.
Maloch said that according to DHS’ estimates, if 90 percent of the people moved out of Arkansas Works were to obtain insurance through the exchange, uncompensated care costs at hospitals would increase by $27 million over the next four years because of the 10 percent who would become uninsured — and he said those costs would be higher if more than 10 percent fall through the cracks.
Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, objected that lawmakers have not seen a detailed analysis of the expected impact of the proposed changes.
“I want to find out what’s in it and what does it do before I vote on it,” he said.
King also said the proposed work requirement is not a true work requirement because it would allow alternatives to employment, such as volunteer work.
Dismang said he believes low-income Arkansans want to improve their lives and the lives of their families.
“What I am very tired of is taking this entire population as a whole and trying to say they’re all deadbeats,” he said.
SB 5 by Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, a bill to transfer $105 million from the Arkansas Healthy Century Trust Fund, which contains money from the state’s 1998 settlement with tobacco companies plus interest, to a long-term reserve fund, cleared the Joint Budget Committee and then passed in the Senate in a 27-7 vote.
Under the bill, the reserve fund could only be used in the event of a revenue shortfall, defined as a situation in which the state’s fiscal office projects that revenue collections will increase by less than 3 percent from the previous fiscal year because of changes in economic conditions. The Legislative Council or Joint Budget Committee would have to approve using the money.
Hendren said one factor that has kept the state from being upgraded from its AA bond rating to an AAA rating is its lack of a long-term, easily accessible reserve fund.
In the Joint Budget Committee, King proposed an amendment to require a two-thirds vote of each chamber to access the reserve fund, saying he believed all 135 legislators should have a say in such a decision.
Hendren said that would defeat the purpose of the bill because bond rating agencies would not consider the fund easily accessible if an act of the full Legislature was required to access it. A motion to adopt King’s amendment failed.
The bill goes to the House.
Articles of impeachment
The House Rules Committee gave a “do pass” recommendation to House Resolution 1001 by Gillam. Under the proposal, if at least 34 House members sign a resolution calling for impeachment of an elected official, the speaker would refer the matter to a committee that would conduct an investigation and make a recommendation.
The full House would then consider the recommendation and could adopt the impeachment resolution with a majority vote.
If the House adopts an impeachment resolution, the state Constitution requires the Senate to hold a trial to determine whether the official should be removed from office.
Gillam filed the bill Tuesday, a day after Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, issued a news release calling for the impeachment of Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen for, Garner claimed, showing bias.
On Good Friday, shortly after issuing an order in a case involving the death penalty, Griffen participated in an anti-death penalty rally during which he strapped himself to a cot in simulation of an inmate on an execution gurney.
The bill goes to the House.
The House and Senate approved matching bills to make the Legislative Council the legislative oversight body for the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace, prohibit the development of a state-based insurance exchange for individuals and make the state-based insurance exchange for small businesses optional.
The chambers also approved matching bills to make technical corrections to measures passed during this year’s regular session regarding ethics and medical marijuana.
The bills go next to the opposite chambers.