LITTLE ROCK — The House put off a scheduled vote Friday on an appropriation bill that would fund a state plan to use Medicaid money to purchase private insurance for low-income Arkansans.
House Speaker Davy Carter, D-Cabot, said that because of the enormity of the issue, House leaders concluded it was "in the best interest of the state of Arkansas" to put off a vote until Monday.
The Senate endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment to give the Legislature final say on rules written by state agencies, rejected a proposal to raise the threshold required for ballot initiative groups to get extra time to gather signatures and sent an ethics reform proposal back to committee for amendment.
On Thursday, the House joined the Senate in approving enabling legislation for the so-called private option — proposed as Arkansas’ novel alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. House Bill 1143 passed 62-37 and Senate Bill 1020 passed 63-35.
The votes were a prelude to the more critical vote that was planned for Friday on HB 1219, an appropriation bill that would clear the way for the state to use federal money for the program. Passage would require a three-fourths majority, or 75 votes in the 100-member House — at least a dozen more votes than either version of the enabling legislation got Thursday.
All week, Carter had expressed confidence that the appropriation bill was primed to pass the House, though even some lawmakers who support the measure said they needed more time to sell the program to constituents back home.
The House speaker relented Friday, saying in a statement that his leadership team, "after numerous conversations with members and careful consideration … decided it is in the best interest of the state of Arkansas for the House to wait until Monday" to vote on HB1219.
The Legislature can refer up to three proposed constitutional amendment proposals to the general election ballot every two years and a fourth proposal to change salaries. No salary measure was proposed this session. The legislative Joint Committee on Constitutional Amendments recommended three proposals this year.
By a 32-1 vote, the Senate on Friday passed Senate Joint Resolution 7 by Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe. The measure goes to the House.
If referred to the ballot and approved by voters, the measure would amend the state constitution to allow the Legislature to require by law that state agencies submit all proposed rules to legislative review before they take effect and would not allow the rules to take effect until legislators have reviewed and approved them.
Currently, lawmakers can review proposed rules and advise state agencies, but agencies do not need legislative consent to implement regulations.
The Senate rejected SJR 16 by Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs. The vote was 11-13.
The measure would require a group collecting signatures in support of a ballot initiative to submit a number of valid signatures equal to 90 percent of the total number of signatures required to place the measure on the ballot in order to qualify for extra time to make up the deficiency.
At Sample’s request, the Senate referred the proposal back to the joint committee. Sample said he planned to reduce the percentage requirement, but he did not know by how much.
The Senate also sent House Joint Resolution 1009 back to the joint committee for amendments.
The measure is sponsored by Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock. If voters approved, it would ban corporate and union gifts to political campaigns, ban most gifts to public officials and allow legislators to serve up to 16 years. It also would increase the minimum period between when a legislator leaves office and is allowed to become a lobbyist from one year to two years and create a citizens’ commission to set the salaries of legislators, constitutional officers and judges.
Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, who presented the bill in the Senate, told reporters later that he was approached by Scott Trotter, and Little Rock lawyer and former director of Common Cause in Arkansas, about several amendments.
The government watchdog group successfully spearheaded a 1988 ballot initiative that led to the state’s first comprehensive set of ethics rules for political candidates and elected officials.
Woods said Friday he read Trotter’s proposals and liked them, so he and Sabin decided it best to amend them into the proposed constitutional amendment before seeking Senate approval.
"They are totally reasonable requests," Woods said. "They are things we were probably going to do later, but I don’t want it to be a distraction for the next year and a half … so we’re going to go ahead and put that in there."
Among the proposed changes was one that would prohibit members of the salaries commission from receive gifts.
The House voted 57-8 to approve SB 896 by Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, which would allow a person with a concealed handgun permit to carry a handgun into a church that also operates a K-12 private school, if the church gives permission.
The bill also would add a new defense against prosecution for possession of a firearm on school property.
A new law adopted earlier this year, Act 67, allows a person with a concealed handgun permit to carry a gun into a church if the church allows concealed weapons inside.
The bill goes to the governor.
In an 83-0 vote, the House approved SB 961 by King, which would make the destruction of ballot or ballot materials a felony punishable by up to six years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. The bill goes to the governor.
The House voted 82-1 to approve SB 970 by Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, which would increase the fine for improperly disposing of substances in a disposal well from $2,500 to $100,000. The bill goes to the governor.
In a 52-26 vote, the House narrowly approved HB 1741 by Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, which would allow quorum courts to pass county ordinances regarding road standards that supersede city ordinances on road standards. The bill goes to the Senate.
The House voted 55-26 to approve HB 1871 by Rep. James L. Word, D-Pine Bluff, which would create a task force to develop a formula for distributing funding to the state’s eight area agencies on aging. The task force would take into account the geographical distribution of older Arkansans and the distribution of older Arkansans with social and economic need. The bill goes to the Senate.