Week Ahead: Constitutional Amendments, Private Option on Agenda

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 90 views 

The legislature heads back to the capitol Monday for a ninth week of this year’s session as lawmakers prepare to make key decisions.

Members of the House and Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs committees will likely spend the week going over proposed constitutional amendments, while the task force looking into the Private Option will start its meetings Tuesday.

Also, lawmakers face another deadline – a 5 p.m. Monday deadline – to file non-appropriations bills for this session.

The following is a breakdown of action expected this week in the Arkansas General Assembly:

The work of narrowing down a long list of proposed constitutional amendments starts Monday. Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, who chairs the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs committee, told his committee this past week that they have their work ahead of them.

Nearly 40 proposed amendments were submitted this year by lawmakers in time for a Feb. 12 deadline. Many of the amendments have centered around elected officials, while others involve the electoral process.

Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, filed House Joint Resolution 1002 to get rid of the state’s fiscal legislative session, while Rep. Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, filed a bill that would create a selection process for picking state Supreme Court justices.

Rep. Julie Mayberry, R-Hensley, filed three bills involving the lieutenant governor’s office, with one of the bills – House Joint Resolution 1026 – seeking to abolish the job.

Rep. Mickey Gates, R-Hot Springs, also filed a resolution to amend the state’s constitution. Gates’ bill would allow the General Assembly to determine the manner of publishing notices required under state law.

There are also proposed amendments involving term limits, tort reform and voter identification.

One of the tort reform amendments was Senate Joint Resolution 14, filed by Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock.

His bill would allow the state legislature to create laws “prescribing the amount of compensation to be paid by employers for injuries to or death of employees, and to whom said payment shall be made.”

The bill would also limit punitive damages in civil cases not to exceed $1 million. But, the amount of punitive damages can be unlimited if a limitation exists on the amount of noneconomic damages that may be awarded in a civil case.

The Senate committee is expected to take up the amendments Tuesday. Bell has said that the committees would like to narrow the 40 or so down to about five or six on each side to present to the Joint Committee on Constitutional Amendments.

That committee would then narrow the 10 to 12 to three that would be presented to voters in the 2016 general election.

A 16-member task force recently appointed to study the state’s healthcare system and the aftermath of the Private Option will start its deliberations this week.

The Private Option Task Force will have an organizational meeting Tuesday afternoon to begin going over its work, House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, told House members Friday.

The task force idea came as a result of Senate Bill 96, sponsored by Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, who pushed the legislation at the request of Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

The bill, which was approved by both houses and signed into law by Gov. Hutchinson, would set a Dec. 31, 2016 end date for the Private Option in the state.

Meanwhile, the task force will be meeting this year to come up with ideas for the program. The task force has until Dec. 31, 2015 to present its ideas to the legislature.

The House members of the task force are Reps. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville; Justin Boyd, R-Fort Smith; Kim Hammer, R-Benton; Joe Farrer, R-Austin; David Meeks, R-Conway; Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna, Michelle Gray, R-Melbourne and Deborah Ferguson, D-West Memphis.

Hendren and Sens. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers; Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock; Jason Rapert, R-Conway; Terry Rice, R-Waldron; David Sanders, R-Little Rock, John Cooper, R-Jonesboro and Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis are the Senate representatives.