After securing passage of funding for Arkansas Works last week, Speaker of the House Matthew Shepherd said he expects the 92nd General Assembly to complete its business this coming week. He also said he’s been approached about seeking a second term as Speaker.
Appearing on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, Shepherd, R-El Dorado, said a number of developments happened in short order to make House members comfortable with their vote on Medicaid expansion funding, which received 75 votes on Tuesday after only receiving 52 votes in a previous effort.
“I think having a little more time and having the opportunity to hear from the governor. Some wanted to hear from the governor, get a little more information, hear from DHS on some of the ramifications that were involved. And also, having a little more time to digest the court’s opinion from the previous week,” Shepherd explained as the difference makers in the votes.
A federal judge ruled less than two weeks ago that the work requirement for Arkansas Works, as implemented, was illegal. The ruling gave legislators pause on passing the funding for the program for the next fiscal year.
“I was very confident that we would get from 52 to 75, and I think it was the right move, just in terms of continuing forward with the appropriation, irrespective that there’s differences related to the policy and maybe some different ideas. But at this point, I really felt like it was the right move, and I was glad to see that the membership agreed,” Shepherd said.
He joked that without a vote to spare for the three-fourths threshold needed for passage, he didn’t waste any “extra votes.” Shepherd also said that the program will continue to be contentious for legislators as the appeals process continues.
“The biggest thing for the membership and really the biggest thing for me is what happens with regard to that particular court case,” he said. “I think that really that’s where the focus is going to be and what happens. Is there an appeal? We believe there will be. And once that appeal occurs, what ultimately is the final decision, either from the D.C. circuit or perhaps even from the United States Supreme Court?”
Next week, the Speaker expects to take up the Revenue Stabilization Act (RSA), the omnibus budget prioritization legislation that signals the end of session business. He noted that the governor’s transformation bill will need clean-up approval in the House and an Internet sales tax bill must go back to the Senate after changes made in his chamber.
Earlier in the session, several names floated to succeed Shepherd as House Speaker, but he said he’s been approached about running for a second term, like his predecessor, former State Rep. Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia.
“There’s been different discussions and there have been some of the members that have approached me about considering whether to come back and attempt to serve as Speaker again, and I’ve told them that I would consider it,” Shepherd said. “My focus right now is on this session… so, we’ll see what happens as things move forward.”
When asked if that was a “definite maybe,” Shepherd responded, “Well, maybe.”
You can view his full interview in the video below.