Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced his intent to call a special session early next week (Tuesday, March 13) to consider legislation to address state highway funding, regulate so-called pharmacy benefits managers (PMBs) and consider other issues “that warrant immediate action by the legislature.”
“I appreciate the General Assembly’s quick action on all appropriation bills in the fiscal session. I’ve previously indicated that a special session would follow the fiscal session, assuming that the appropriation bills were passed in regular order,” Hutchinson said in a statement posted Friday (March 9).
The popular Republican governor, who is running for re-election in the 2018 election in November, said he will formally issue a call for a Special Session of the 91st General Assembly on Monday. He added he hopes the legislature’s work will in the special call will be “swift and productive.”
Hutchinson first said on Feb. 19 he was considering a special session after Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, and Speaker of the House Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, wrote letters Friday to him requesting the extraordinary legislative meeting after the fiscal session, which will officially adjourn Monday.
Both Dismang and Gillam alerted the governor that PBMs have become an issue since Jan. 1, when Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield began contracting with CVS Caremark as its pharmacy benefit manager. However, state’s pharmacists claim they are losing money on many transactions and that CVS Caremark, which also contracts with insurance provider Ambetter, has been illegally keeping too much of the insurers’ payments that belong to them.
“The most obvious solution to this as I’ve mentioned is a market-based solution that we are getting closer to resolving,” Hutchinson told reporters. “I know that the (insurance) carriers as well as the PBMs and pharmacists have worked together trying to alleviate this challenge and raise the reimbursement rates. That’s an ongoing process, but I think they are close to having some beneficial results from that.”
Earlier this week, Rep. Michelle Gray, R-Melbourne, said she drafted a bill that would allow the state insurance commissioner to establish rules regarding licensing, fees and other standards for pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). The standards would have to be reviewed by the Arkansas Legislative Council in time to go into effect by Sept. 1.
Hutchinson has also indicated he would like the special call to also address clean-up legislation on open containers of alcohol in motor vehicles. Before a new law was passed in the 2017 session, it was perfectly legal to drive in Arkansas with an open can of beer or bottle of whiskey sitting in the driver’s cupholder.
Rep. Mat Pitsch, R-Fort Smith, said the legislation does not match federal requirements, though the intent was to do so. Because of that, $11.6 million, or 2.5% of all federal funds the state receives for highways, would have to be dedicated to safety and training expenditures dictated by the federal government. needs. House Resolution 1007 filed in the first week by Pitsch in the fiscal session would give the flexibility to spend that money on other needs.
Besides those two draft bills, other legislation is circulating that lawmakers would like to see on the special session call, including a “legislative fix” for federal 529 savings accounts, changes to state bingo restrictions and a measure to alter handling of ADEQ permits.