We have new information on Medicaid. There are more developments with a historic economic development project. And one committee is now in the process of finding millions in tax reductions. These are just a few reasons why so many are calling this seventh week of the Regular Session a “game changer.”
First, we will address the big news on the Medicaid front. Governor Mike Beebe met with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius late last week. The Governor was informed in that meeting that the 250,000 Arkansans, who would have been eligible for Medicaid if the state chose to expand the program, could instead go on a private insurance plan through the exchange. The premiums would be paid for by federal Medicaid dollars for the first three years. There are several questions that will now have to be answered including what this would mean for the state in the long term.
Next, the legislature has entered into two contracts to provide us with an independent economic analysis of the Big River Steel project. Big River Steel has proposed building a steel mill in Mississippi County which would hire 500 workers at an average salary of $75,000 a year. General Revenue for large economic development projects. House and Senate leadership has asked for two independent studies to ensure we have an accurate assessment of the cost and benefits this will have on the state budget before we make this decision.
Another big development in the Capitol this week took place when Speaker Davy Carter made a brief appearance in three committee meetings. He told members we are coming out of half-time and going into the third quarter. He asked the Revenue and Tax committee to begin deliberations on a $150 million tax cut package. He said there are currently $2 billion worth of tax cut bills filed this session, all of which cannot make it to the House floor. The Speaker has said publicly he believes this can be accomplished without cuts to any state agencies. We will keep you informed on this effort as it evolves.
By the end of the 7th week, the Governor had signed 147 House bills into law. Those include a bill to create a tiered system of awards for the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship, a bill to prohibit certain novelty lighters, a bill to reward state employees who report theft or waste in government, and a bill to prohibit anyone convicted of rape from filing for custody or visitation of a child conceived as a result of that rape.
Week 8 is expected to be a rather busy one as well. Not only will we be hearing more about the decisions facing us concerning health care for Arkansans, but the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee will also be in the process of hearing testimony on proposed Constitutional Amendments. The legislature can refer three to the voters for the November 2014 ballot.
We will continue to keep you updated. And remember you can always watch House floor proceedings and most committee meetings at arkansashouse.org.