The leaders of the two state legislative chambers think there has been more policy discussed in the current fiscal session than in previous years, which has complicated the budget work lawmakers hope to finish later this week.
Appearing on Sunday’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, Senate President Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, and Speaker of the House Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, said despite the heavy lift centered around the Arkansas Works program, things have gone “pretty smooth.”
Finding a 75% vote approval for the budget bills of the Arkansas Department of Human Services, which includes the controversial Medicaid expansion program known as Arkansas Works, has always been a difficult lift. This year, several Senators who supported the program do not hold office due to resignations and a death.
“I think that policy has probably injected itself into this particular session, probably more so than the ones we’ve had in the past, and it’s really been hard to have a dialogue with the members about the appropriations, about revenue stabilization, because so much of the discussion is centered around these policy issues,” Dismang said.
He and Gillam said members are still asking questions about Arkansas Works and vote counting hasn’t happened yet.
“I agree with the [Senate] President that there have been a lot of policy discussions that have kind of been outside the normal appropriation discussions we’ve had,” Gillam said. “Based on the conversations that members have had, I think we do [have the votes]. I’ve not done an official vote count, but it seems like there’s kind of consensus building for the votes.”
On Monday, lawmakers may get a whole lot of answers. Gov. Asa Hutchinson will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. on Monday, March 5 with the federal Centers for Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma. The press conference is expected to announce if CMS will approve the work requirement provision and other changes requested by Arkansas for its Medicaid expansion effort.
Both Gillam and Dismang agree that federal approval would do a lot to finalize the votes for or against Arkansas Works.
“I think that it’s a big factor in a lot of the decisions for the House members. I think it would definitely help if we had that knowledge of the approval prior to the vote,” Gillam said.
On a lighter note, the two legislative leaders previewed the upcoming Hoops for Kids Sake charity basketball game. It’s the 6th annual event and will be held on Tuesday, March 13 at 7 p.m. at UALR’s Jack Stephens center. Proceeds benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas and the Boys & Girls Club of Bryant and of Saline County.
The House holds a 3-2 overall lead in the series, but State Senate is on a two-game winning streak.
“I think coaching probably has helped a little bit,” “Coach” Dismang said, while bragging about last year’s 15-point “beatdown.”
Gillam said as his speakership comes to a close, this year is a must-win for the House of Representatives.
“We have to. I do not want to go out on a loss. I would much rather go out a winner, but at the end of the day, we do this because we believe in the cause,” he said.
Read more about Hoops for Kids Sake here. Watch the full interview with Dismang and Gillam below.