LITTLE ROCK — The leader of a group that was seeking to place on the 2014 ballot a referendum on the so-called "private option" for expanding health care coverage said Wednesday the group will not meet the requisite number of signatures.
Conservative talk show host and former Republican 4th District congressional candidate Glenn Gallas of Hot Springs, chairman of Arkansans Against Big Government, said the group expects to have about 30,000 signatures by the 5 p.m. Thursday deadline, short of the 46,880 signatures needed to get the referendum before voters in next year’s general election.
The referendum would have asked voters to approve or repeal the Legislature’s plan, pushed through by Republican lawmakers this year, to use federal Medicaid dollars to buy private health insurance for the state’s working poor. The plan still needs federal approval.
Gallas attributed the failure of the group’s effort to the many legal hurdles it had to overcome before it could begin collecting signatures. He said the deadline to submit signatures is fixed at 90 days after the end of the legislative session, but by the time the attorney general certified the ballot language and the secretary of state certified the referendum, the group only had 52 days to gather signatures.
Also, the Legislature this year passed tough restrictions on paid signature gatherers, so the group chose to use about 200 volunteer canvassers, he said.
"It’s almost an impossible task," he said.
Gallas said his group will now concentrate on urging lawmakers to loosen restrictions on the petition process and abandon the private option, which he said he expects to lower the quality of health care in the state.
"(We will) try to get them to either A, go to a special session and actually create good law, or B, defund it in the fiscal session," he said.