Capitol Notebook: One Approved, One Down, One To Go On Private Option

by Michael Wilkey ( 25 views 

A key Senate committee approved one bill and turned down another bill on the Private Option, while a House committee voted against a measure that would eliminate the dual status of a controversial state holiday.

The Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee voted 6-1 Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 96, sponsored by Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs.

Hendren told Talk Business and Politics that the debate over the issue has moved a lot since a Jan. 22 speech by Gov. Asa Hutchinson at UAMS.

“I think after the governor’s speech, I think everyone realized that he’s charted probably the only path that could avoid a meltdown, so I’m glad, and it’s about what I expected,” Hendren said.

The bill would set a Dec. 31, 2016 deadline to end the Private Option. From there, a 16-member task force would have until Dec. 31, 2015 to come up with solutions to the state’s healthcare system.

Voting in favor of the bill were Sens. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, David Sanders, R-Little Rock, Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, Scott Flippo, R-Bull Shoals and John Cooper, R-Jonesboro.

Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, voted no while Sen. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, was not present.

Senate Bill 144, sponsored by Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, R-Pocahontas, failed by a 3-3 vote.

Collins-Smith’s bill would have set a Dec. 31, 2015 deadline to end the program. Bledsoe, Flippo and Stubblefield voted yes on the Collins-Smith bill, while Sanders, Flowers and Cooper voted no.

Ingram and Irvin did not vote.

A state House committee voted Wednesday against a bill to eliminate the dual status of a state holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King and Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

The House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs committee turned down House Bill 1113, sponsored by Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, by voice vote.

The bill, which would have eliminated the Lee holiday and a June 3 holiday honoring Confederate president Jefferson Davis, would have instead created a Patrick Cleburne-Robert E. Lee Southern Heritage Day on Nov. 30.

Supporters of the bill said it would honor both men and their place in history, while opponents said the bill would harm the historical legacy of Lee.

The House Rules Committee also approved a bill to help the Arkansas Ethics Commission answer questions and issue advisory opinions in the aftermath of a constitutional amendment approved by voters last year.

The committee sent House Bill 1002 to the House floor, its sponsor, Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, said.

Sabin, who was a proponent of the constitutional amendment (Amendment 94), noted the amendment took effect the day after the November general election.

Since then, the commission has not had the authority to answer questions or issue the opinions. Sabin said lawmakers plan to look at the bill further to make sure it addresses needs.

“It is a slow, deliberate process,” Sabin said. “Amendment 94 is a long, complicated amendment and we are going line-by-line to address concerns.”

The bill is expected to go to the House floor next week, Sabin said.

A bill – Senate Bill 154 – to create adult education charter schools was referred Wednesday to the Senate Education Committee.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. David Johnson, D-Little Rock and Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, would allow a variety of groups to be able to offer a high school diploma or an industrial certification program to people 19 to 54 years old.

Among the groups able to apply for the charter are:
· A public institution of higher education.
· A private nonsectarian institution of higher education.
· A governmental entity.
· Or an organization that is nonsectarian in its program, admissions policies, employment practices, operations and is tax-exempt.

The group would apply to the Department of Career Education for the charter school and would have to provide at least $1 million in direct or in-kind funding as well as a proven track record of work in the area among other criteria, the bill noted.

The state House is expected to take up Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s tax cut proposal Thursday, Rep. Joe Jett, D-Success, the chairman of the House Revenue and Taxation committee, said.

The House Revenue and Taxation Committee approved Senate Bill 6, with an amendment, Tuesday. The amendment would exempt 40% of the income on capital gains.

The overall bill is geared toward middle-class taxpayers for individuals making $21,000 to $75,000, officials have said.

The House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee is also supposed to take up another Private Option repeal bill.

Rep. Donnie Copeland, R-Little Rock, turned in House Bill 1181 Tuesday.

The bill would seek to phase out the Private Option with a Dec. 31, 2015 deadline, with federal funding covering 100% of the cost of temporary coverage with no state money being used.

The following is a list of hearings scheduled Thursday in the Arkansas General Assembly:

Joint Committees
7:30 a.m. – Joint Budget Committee-Personnel, Room B in MAC.

10 a.m. – Education, Room 138.
10 a.m. – Judiciary, Room 149.
10 a.m. – Public Health, Welfare and Labor, Room 130.
10 a.m. – Revenue and Taxation, Room 151.
10 a.m. – Transportation, Room B in MAC.

Upon adjournment of Senate – State Agencies and Governmental Affairs, OSC.

The Senate will convene at 9 a.m. and the House will meet at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.