Capitol Notebook: Private Option Repeal Bill Filed

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 36 views 

A more immediate end to the Private Option could happen if seven senators have their way.

Late Monday, a state senator filed a bill to terminate the Private Option effective at the end of the year.

Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, R-Pocahontas, filed Senate Bill 144. The bill would “terminate the Medicaid Expansion Demonstration Program, commonly known as the ‘Private Option’, to terminate Arkansas’ participation in Medicaid expansion and to repeal the Health Care Independence Act of 2013.”

As of late Monday, Collins-Smith had six other co-sponsors for the bill – Sens. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, Scott Flippo, R-Bull Shoals, Blake Johnson, R-Corning, Bryan King, R-Green Forest, Terry Rice, R-Waldron and Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch.

The bill has not been assigned to a committee.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has proposed ending the private option, but called for funding through December 2016. He wants a task force to study larger health care reforms and make recommendations by the end of 2015 regarding the fate of the private option and other health coverage programs.

It may cost a little more to smoke an electronic cigarette if a bill introduced Monday becomes law, while current bills spent Monday working their way through the legislature.

Meanwhile, Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s tax cut proposal will tentatively head Tuesday to a House committee while another committee will receive his balanced budget proposal.

Rep. Charles Blake, D-North Little Rock, introduced House Bill 1156.

The bill, called the “Create the E-Cigarettes Tax Act”, would place a seven and a half cent per fluid milliliter tax on the product.

The bill describes an electronic cigarette as “an electronic oral device that provides a vapor of nicotine or another substance that, when used or inhaled, simulates smoking, including without limitation a device that is composed of a heating element, battery or electronic circuit …”

If approved, 25 percent of the revenue from the tax would go to the Child Care and Early Childhood Education Fund of the Department of Human Services, Aging and Adult Services Fund of DHS, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs cash fund and state general revenues.

The bill was sent to the House Rules Committee.

A bill was also introduced Monday involving the political freedoms of public employees.

Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, introduced House Bill 1163.

The bill says, “It shall be unlawful for any public employer to discipline, to threaten to discipline, to reprimand either orally or in writing, to place any notation in a public employee’s personnel file disciplining or reprimanding the public employee or to otherwise discriminate against a public employee because the public employee exercised the right to communicate with an elected public official or exercised a right or privilege under the Freedom of Information Act of 1967.”

As of Monday afternoon, the bill has not been referred to a committee.

The House voted 90-1 Monday to approve a bill that supporters say would bring clarity to existing law involving write-in candidates.

The bill – House Bill 1068 – would “notify the county board of election commissioners in each county in which the candidate seeks election at least 90 days prior to the election.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, said he sought an attorney general’s opinion last year “for some clarity.”

However, Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, told House members that the bill created more questions than answers, saying “I am not speaking against the bill, but the bill will not clarify anything.”

The bill now heads to the Senate.

Several major appropriations bills were introduced Monday.

The Joint Budget Committee introduced Senate Bill 111, which will fund the Arkansas Economic Development Commission; House Bill 1154, which will fund the state’s Military Department or National Guard; and House Bill 1155, which would fund the Attorney General’s office.

With Senate Bill 111, the bill has $200 million budgeted for so-called “superprojects” under Amendment 82 of the Arkansas Constitution and $50 million for the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund.

State officials are typically tight-lipped when it comes to economic development projects as well as information about projects that are not public record, according to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

The military department, or National Guard budget, appropriates nearly $100 million to fund various military training and disaster preparedness functions.

The bill sets aside nearly $20 million for Fort Chaffee, $6.5 million for general operations and nearly $3 million for the Arkansas National Guard Youth Challenge program.

The proposed Attorney General’s budget would fund a maximum of 142 employees and eight part-time or temporary employees from July 1 until June 30, 2016, according to the bill.

There is $16.5 million set aside for operations, while the crime victims reparations program would receive nearly $4 million, the bill noted.

It is expected to be a busy Tuesday in the House committees as nearly a dozen bills will be brought up.

The Joint Budget Committee is expected to receive a copy of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s proposed budget at a 9 a.m. meeting.

Very few details have been released about the budget, which would fund state operations from July 1 until June 30 of next year.

However, according to previously published reports, the budget will add money to the state’s public education system, no cuts to the state’s colleges and universities, a $100 million tax cut, and include funding tied to the private option.

The House Revenue and Taxation committee is expected to take up Hutchinson’s tax cut proposal at 10 a.m. Tuesday, although House Chairman Rep. Joe Jett, D-Success, said he was counting votes to decide if members were ready to take up Hutchinson’s tax cut bill.

The proposal – Senate Bill 6, which is geared toward middle-class taxpayers – was approved last Wednesday by the Senate Revenue and Taxation committee with an amendment to alter capital gains tax cuts made last session. A day later, the state Senate voted 30-3 to approve the bill.

The amendment would increase a capital gains exemption from 30% to 50% and exempt all capital gains over $10 million.

The amendment has also drawn opposition from House members, who say the exemption would raise taxes on investments.

However, legislators may be working on a possible compromise. The state House may only increase the exemption rate to 40%, Talk Business and Politics reported Monday.

The House Public Health, Welfare and Labor is expected to take up the so-called “web-cam abortion bill,” sponsored by Rep. Julie Mayberry, R-Hensley; while the House Education Committee is likely to take up House Bill 1077, sponsored by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville.

That bill involves concealed handguns in a college, community college or university building.

The House Education Committee is also scheduled to take up House Bill 1044 and House Bill 1050, both sponsored by Rep. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette.

House Bill 1044 would require cursive writing to be taught in elementary schools around the state, while House Bill 1050 would set three-year terms for school board members.

No regular Senate meetings are scheduled for Tuesday.

The following are a list of meetings scheduled for Tuesday in the Arkansas General Assembly:

Joint Committees
8 a.m. – Freshman Caucus, Room 138.
9 a.m. – Joint Budget Committee, Big MAC, Room A.

10 a.m. – House Judiciary Committee, Room 149.
10 a.m. – House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee, Room 130.
10 a.m. – House Education Committee, Room 138.
10 a.m. – House Revenue and Taxation Committee, Room 151.

No regular Senate committee meetings are scheduled. The House and Senate convene at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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