Rep. John Burris (R-Harrison), chair of the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee, will be front-and-center in the debate over some of the most controversial bills of the 89th General Assembly.

Already, his committee is slated to deal with a number of bills labeled pro-life or anti-abortion. Burris says he’ll “umpire” those debates to allow all sides to voice their concerns.

“For the most part, most people know how they feel about abortion,” Burris said in the latest Talk Business Arkansas daily update. He says he’s not concerned that his committee could be a conduit to litigation.

“Legitimate threats of litigation concern me, but to be honest I’ve never heard of a bill filed that was controversial that didn’t threaten to get us into litigation. I think it’s a little bit of an overused threat,” he said.

Medicaid is the dominant issue of the current legislative session. With a potential controversial and damaging report on the current Medicaid program expected on Friday, Burris said he’s opposed to expansion and wants to see the focus on repairing the existing program.

“I think the funding shortfall will be even smaller as the debate goes on,” Burris said. “The good news is we have plenty of ways to address.”

He cited the current surplus and revenue growth as ways to pay for a shrinking budget gap, but Burris said he wants to see longer-term reforms.

“I think that’s the debate we’re going to start having soon,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of proposals, I don’t think there’s going to be a shortage of proposals for how we can tweak the system.”

When pressed to define a measure, Burris said, “Right now we don’t do any income verification or any means testing for a lot of our programs, including some of the ones with the highest enrollment… We don’t cross reference or check at all to make sure that when people are applying for programs that what they’re putting on those applications is accurate. Before you start talking about anything else, simply talking about verifying that the people who are on the system are supposed to be on the system is a good place to start.”

Burris is opposed to expansion right now.

“Especially the way you phrased that – ‘expansion right now’ – because I have not seen a reason yet why we need to make this decision in the next 60 days,” he said.

You can view his full interview below or listen here to a mp3 of our daily update.

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