Senate President Dismang shares thoughts on healthcare, taxes and executions

by Roby Brock (roby@talkbusiness.net) 181 views 

Senate President Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, said he thinks it’s premature to investigate circumstances surrounding state prison officials’ acquisition of lethal injection drugs. The state Senate’s leader also said this week’s special session largely focused on healthcare is meant to give the state flexibility as federal reforms unfold.

Appearing on this week’s TV edition of Talk Business & Politics, Dismang said, “we’re still trying to figure out what exactly occurred” as it relates to the state’s receipt of the drugs used in the three-drug cocktail for carrying out state executions. According to testimony from Department of Correction director Wendy Kelley earlier in April, the state received “donated” drugs from a source she declined to identify under state law.

Dismang said, “There’s some controversy, I think, between what’s being reported and then also what’s coming out of the executive branch of how that transaction came to be. Of course, we would want more transparency where there needs to be. But at the same time, at this point, it’s the will of the people of Arkansas to carry out executions and that’s done through this procedure.”

When pressed if there should be stronger legislative oversight on the matter, Dismang said, “I don’t think that there’ll be an investigation at this point. I think there will be a discussion about what happened and making sure we had the facts and understand the situation.”

He also said that lawmakers will spend a lot of time in the coming months discussing a variety of issues around the state’s first executions since 2005. Dismang does not believe a special session is needed to alter laws related to the process.

Next week, legislators will implement changes to the state’s Medicaid expansion program, now known as Arkansas Works. They will also set up the state for possible changes to the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace (AHIM). Gov. Hutchinson has called the special session to begin on Monday, May 1 at 2 p.m.

One of the biggest changes the Governor is proposing, which will require a federal waiver he expects to receive, is to curtail eligibility for Medicaid expansion health insurance in Arkansas Works for those making between 100% and 138% of the federal poverty level. For an individual, that is between $12,060 and $16,643 annually, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Dismang says for Arkansans in that range there needs to be less reliance on the state Medicaid program.

“…Those individuals have the ability to go onto the exchange or they actually have the ability to stay on as Medicaid recipients. What we’re doing is saying we prefer that those individuals go onto the exchange. They’ll buy their own policies, they’ll have some co-pays and that sort of thing in place, but again, that will not be part of our Medicaid program,” he said.

Lawmakers will also be asked to put a work requirement on Medicaid expansion recipients to encourage more efforts to gain full-time employment.

Finally, Dismang touched on another special session item call. The governor wants to move $105 million from the Health Century Trust Fund into a long-term fund for emergencies and contingency funding. In part, the move is a reaction to Gov. Hutchinson’s announcement on Friday that the state will be about $70 million short of revenue expectations in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Category B funding will be cut this year, but state government jobs and state services are not expected to be impacted.

Dismang said part of the revenue shortfall is due to online purchases not having a system to remit sales and use taxes. He sees an upcoming Arkansas Tax Reform and Relief Task Force, which will consist of 16 legislators, finding a way to address the issue.

“I think that goes back to a bigger picture and what that task force is going to be charged with as we get out of this session, the task force is going to take a look at our taxation structure here in the state. I think right now our system is fairly archaic and needs to catch up to the world’s economy,” he said.

Watch Sen. Dismang’s full interview below.

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