LITTLE ROCK — The legislative Joint Budget Committee on Tuesday endorsed a bill that would pay the 125 court assistants across the state for two months until lawmakers can find a permanent solution to a shortfall in the Administration of Justice Fund.
Senate Bill 82 by Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, would take $100,000 in unobligated funds from the County Juror Reimbursement Fund and $50,000 in unobligated funds from the Municipal Court Judge and Municipal Court Education Fund to pay the court assistants.
"This will give them funding for 60 days while we try to get them some revenue," said Sen. Larrry Teague, D-Nashville, chairman of the Joint Budget Committee.
"They’ve got another week’s payroll in the fund and this just fixes, Band-Aids it," Teague said, adding that a long-term solution to address the shortfall has not yet been found.
In late 2011, lawmakers learned that the Administration of Justice Fund had been losing money for years because of a drop in fee and fine collections.
In November 2011, Gov. Mike Beebe infused $130,000 into the fund to avoid furloughs and layoffs of the court assistants.
During last year’s fiscal session, lawmakers discussed possible ways to address the shortfall but could not agree on a funding method.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel in February donated $450,000 from legal settlements, and the Administrative Office of the Courts was able to move about $150,000 from the agency’s automation project to the fund to keep court assistants on the job through the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.
SB 82 is expected to be considered by the Senate on Wednesday.
Also Tuesday, the Senate Insurance and Commerce Committee endorsed SB 53 by Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, which would require doctors working for medical corporations owned out of state to be licensed in Arkansas to practice.
Hutchinson said the State Medical Board supports the measure, which is expected to be before the Senate for consideration Wednesday.
During the committee meeting, Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, said he hopes to have two special meetings within the next month to discuss the state’s health insurance exchange. Based on those meetings he said he would file a bill with recommendations for the Legislature to consider.
Under the federal Affordable Care Act, nearly everyone is required to have health insurance and every state is required to have a health insurance exchange where people and small businesses can shop for insurance plans that suit their needs.
The exchanges can be run by the states, by the federal government or by the federal government in partnership with states. In December, Beebe advised the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that Arkansas wishes to pursue the third option, a federal-state partnership.
Some Republican legislators have said they would prefer to see the state have no role in running the exchange.
In December, the Legislative Council endorsed accepting a $18.6 million federal grant to continue building an insurance exchange. Republican lawmakers say they want the Legislature to have a discussion on the exchange before the state accepts any more federal funding for it.
"We have many new members who have not been a part of the discussion whatsoever," Rapert said after Tuesday’s committee meeting. "I believe … I would like us to simply make a decision and act on our responsibility to be a voice for the people of the state of Arkansas."