LITTLE ROCK —A bill to prohibit insurers from providing abortion coverage in policies offered through Arkansas’ health insurance exchange won final legislative approval in the Senate on Thursday.
The Senate also passed legislation detailing the procedures the state Department of Correction is to use to put a condemned prisoner to death, a measure to establish a new state veterans home and a bill that would remove the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse charges.
The House was to convene Thursday afternoon.
House Bill 1100 by Rep. Butch Wilkins, D-Bono, would prohibit insurers from offering coverage for elective abortions through the state’s health insurance exchange except through a separate rider on the policy with a separate premium which would have to be paid by the customer.
The bill, which previously passed the House, won Senate approval on a 25-9 vote and goes to the governor.
Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, presented the bill on the Senate floor and said the federal Affordable Health Care Act allows states to opt out of offering abortion coverage and that 18 states have approved similar legislation.
Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, spoke against the bill, saying there are currently no insurance riders for abortions offered, so the bill would essentially prohibit anyone from receiving an abortion under the federal Affordable Health Care Act.
She said its passage would penalize lower income women who can’t afford private insurance and must purchase through the exchange.
"With this bill passing, if it is your wife, your sister, your daughter and you don’t happen to have to buy your health insurance on the exchange, you’ve had a privilege … everyone of you in here will have a privilege because you’re not going to have to buy health insurance on the exchange," Elliott said.
She also said while everyone calls the insurance exchange a government program, people will use their own money to buy the insurance.
"Give other people the same privileges and rights," she said. "It’s not government if I’m writing the check."
Bledsoe told reporters later that in adopting the measure, the Legislature did nothing that the federal government does not allow. She said she believes there eventually will be an insurance rider available for abortions.
Bledsoe also noted that HB 1100 does allow abortion coverage in cases of rape or incest, or the life of the mother is in danger.
With no discussion, the Senate passed Senate bill 237 by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, which details the procedures the state Department of Correction must follow and the drugs that must be used to execute an inmate on death row.
The measure is intended to address a state Supreme Court ruling last year that struck down the state’s lethal injection law. The court said the statute gave the state prison director too much authority to select the drugs used in the execution and that setting the type and quantity of drugs used in the process was the Legislature’s constitutional responsibility.
Thirty-seven inmates are on death row, eight of which have exhausted all appeals and are awaiting execution.
SB 237, which passed 33-0, now goes to the House.
HB 1013 by Rep. John Edwards, D-Little rock, calls for the creation of a new veterans home to replace the one that closed in Little Rock after it failed building and health code inspections. Since the veterans home closed, the state has had just one in operation in Northwest Arkansas.
The bill passed 34-0 and goes to the governor.
SB 92 by Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, would eliminates the age limit for victims of child abuse to speak up and accuse their abusers in court. Currently, victims must speak up by the age of 28.
The bill passed 34-0 and goes to the House.