LITTLE ROCK — State lawmakers closed out a three-day special session Wednesday by giving final legislative approval to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s proposed changes to the state’s Medicaid expansion program and all other items on his agenda.


The House also met in caucus Wednesday and adopted rules for bringing forth articles of impeachment against a public official, clearing the way for possible action to remove an outspoken circuit judge.


Arkansas Works


The House and Senate approved and sent to the governor matching bills to direct the state Department of Human Services to seek federal approval 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.


Senate Bill 3 by Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, passed in the House in a 69-21 vote after passing Tuesday in the Senate. House Bill 1003 by House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, passed in the Senate in a 19-7 vote after passing Tuesday in the House.


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.


Hutchinson said in a news conference after the special session was adjourned, “I was delighted with the result that we accomplished the authority that I needed to seek the waiver for Arkansas Works to strengthen its reform efforts in terms of work and responsibility and cost savings.”


Some legislators have voiced concerns that some people disqualified from the program may go without insurance, resulting in rising uncompensated care costs at hospitals. Hutchinson told reporters, “We’re committed to work diligently with our providers and our insurance carriers to make sure this is a smooth transition, and then secondly, by doing that we want to make sure that any impact on our rural hospitals or uncompensated care is negligible.”


Articles of impeachment


Immediately after the House adjourned at 10:30 a.m., Gillam opened a House caucus meeting and asked members to approve his House Resolution 1001, a proposal to write into the House’s rules a process for bringing forth articles of impeachment against a public official. After some debate, the resolution passed in a 73-13 vote.


Two days earlier, Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, issued a news release urging the House to begin the process for impeaching Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen for, in Garner’s view, showing bias. On Good Friday, shortly after issuing an order in a death-penalty case, Griffen participated in an anti-death penalty protest by strapping himself to a cot in simulation of an inmate on an execution gurney.


Gillam told House members Wednesday he was not asking for action to impeach anyone, but he said he believed the chamber should have rules in place for carrying out its impeachment power, granted by the state constitution.


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 to the House. Gillam said the committee likely would be the House Judiciary Committee, but the speaker would have discretion on that point.


If at least two members of the committee disagree with the majority’s recommendation, they could submit a minority opinion to the House. That chamber could decide on impeachment with a simple majority vote.


If the House issues articles of impeachment, the state constitution requires the Senate to hold a trial.


Speaking against the proposal, Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, said, “There is already a process in place. Because we have the separation of powers, there is a code that is defined by judicial canon, and the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission exercises its role in assessing judges.”


Rep. Karilyn Brown, R-Sherwood, spoke in support of the measure, saying, “We don’t need a chaotic process like in some third world country.”


Gillam told reporters later he did not know whether 34 House members support impeaching Griffen. He said he did not expect to see an immediate move to impeach the judge.


“It’s not something that we’d rush into,” he said.


Hutchinson said Wednesday he thought it “made sense” for the House to adopt rules on impeachment. He declined to say whether he believes Griffen should be impeached.


Asked what he has told legislators privately on the issue, Hutchinson said, “I’m certainly not encouraging anything. But this is a legislative prerogative, and I’ve tried to give them the freedom. Obviously, I don’t have any control over it one way or another.”


Griffen has defended his actions publicly. In an April 19 blog post, he said, “People have strong views about capital punishment. I know that. I have strong views about capital punishment also. But none of our views about capital punishment, whatever they may be and however strongly we may hold them, affect the facts in the (temporary restraining order) motion I reviewed and decided on Good Friday.”


Reserve fund


Earlier Wednesday, the House approved and sent to the governor a measure 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.


SB 5 by Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, passed in a 70-24 vote after passing in the Senate on Tuesday.


Presenting the bill in the House, Rep. Joe Jett, R-Success, said it would aid the state in efforts to improve its bond rating from AA to AAA and thereby qualify for better interest rates on bonds.


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 accessing the fund with a two-thirds vote. The money could not be used for any purpose not already included in the state budget.


Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, called the bill “good economics.”


Speaking against the bill, Rep. Deborah Ferguson, D-West Memphis, said, “If you vote yes for this, you are voting to subvert the vote of the people of Arkansas who voted that the tobacco settlement trust fund should be used for health care.”


Other bills


The chambers also approved and sent to the governor 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.


Lawmakers also approved and sent to the governor matching bills to make technical corrections to measures passed during this year’s regular session regarding ethics and medical marijuana.