Arkansas lawmakers expected to adjourn Friday

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 2,660 views 

State legislators anticipate finishing their regular session business – minus a formal adjournment – on Friday (April 7).

If legislative business wraps up Friday, lawmakers will reconvene on Monday, May 1 to consider corrections or vetoes, and then officially “sine die,” which will officially end the regular session of the 94th Arkansas General Assembly.

This week, lawmakers have pushed or are poised to deliver a balanced budget bill, a sentencing reform and criminal justice package, tax cuts, and a proposed constitutional amendment through both chambers.

The balanced budget bills known as the Revenue Stabilization Act – SB569 and HB1833 – outline spending for the state’s anticipated $6.2 billion in tax collections. The increase in spending is approximately $177 million above last year, although several big ticket items will be paid for by state surplus funds. Some of those expense allocations, detailed in SB578, include:

$330 million for correctional facilities to build a new state prison
$200 million for a new State Crime Lab building
$37.5 million for public school safety projects created by the LEARNS Act
$12 million for teacher academy scholarships created by the LEARNS Act
$15 million for education freedom accounts created by the LEARNS Act
$12 million for a Charter School Revolving Loan program created by the LEARNS Act

HB1833 is expected to clear the Senate on Friday, while SB569 will be voted on by the House. The two bills are mirror bills. SB578 has cleared both chambers and is awaiting Gov. Sarah Sanders’ signature.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives approved SB495, the Protect Arkansas Act. This bill is Gov. Sanders’ primary criminal justice legislation and makes changes to sentencing and parole policies for offenders. It must pass the Senate one last time to approve an amendment added in the House before heading to the governor’s desk.

During their regular session, Arkansas legislators are allowed to refer up to three proposed constitutional amendments to voters in the next general election. Only one measure, HJR1006, has mustered the support of both chambers and is expected to be the sole referral for consideration. HJR1006, which has 59 Republican and Democratic sponsors, allows vocational and technical schools to qualify for lottery scholarship funding for students. Present law only allows two-year and four-year colleges or universities to be eligible for lottery scholarships. It will appear on the 2024 general election ballot.

A normally cantankerous debate over Medicaid expansion funding did not take place in this session. SB53, the medical services appropriation bill for the Department of Human Services, contains language and appropriations for that agency’s operations, which include oversight of the Medicaid expansion program, now known as ARHOME and formerly known as the private option or Arkansas Works.

Funding for Medicaid expansion comes largely from the federal government through a provision of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

The State Senate approved the measure on Wednesday by a 32-0 vote, while House members approved the spending bill 95-3. In previous years, Republicans have forced multiple votes on the appropriations bill to voice opposition to this aspect of ACA.

There is speculation that a special session could take place later this year to reconsider Medicaid funding in light of major changes coming to the program through post-pandemic disenrollment and an effort by Gov. Sanders to impose a work requirement for Medicaid expansion recipients.