Legislative Roundup: Session's First Week Is Light; Medicaid Looms

by Mark Carter  on Monday, Jan. 21, 2013 12:00 am  

Gov. Mike Beebe and the state’s first Republican-controlled Legislature since the 1870s presided over a period of mostly settling in as the 89th General Assembly convened last week.

But both parties know that Medicaid expansion looms.

Despite the historic change in the Legislature’s political makeup, Democrat Beebe stressed in his State of the State address that his expectations for the session haven’t changed, and the 2013 version — his last regular session as governor — would be business as usual.

Beebe said he expects compromise from both sides on the issue of Medicaid expansion and the state’s role in it. On Wednesday, he made the first move in that direction by announcing his willingness to meet with Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to see if Arkansas could craft a partial Medicaid expansion.

State Republicans have been wary of Medicaid expansion and the federal government’s role in it. Beebe told reporters following last week’s Little Rock Political Animals Club meeting that he would try to meet with Sebelius at the National Governors Association winter meeting next month in Washington, D.C.

Also last week, Beebe revealed to the club that he’d sign a bill repealing the death penalty in Arkansas if he had the chance. Of course, the chances are next to none that he’d be given the opportunity, but his revelation did have legislators contemplating.

Senate President Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, said Beebe’s admission sounded like an invitation to file legislation.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Benton, said in light of the state’s execution law being struck down by the Arkansas Supreme Court last year, it would behoove the Legislature to address the issue in some fashion.

Arkansas last executed a prisoner in 2005.

Speaking of Hutchinson, he filed Senate Bill 38 last week to require drug testing for anyone applying for unemployment benefits.

Drug testing would be administered randomly to applicants after the first and 13th weekly payments, under the bill’s provisions, and anyone refusing the test could not receive benefits.

Hutchinson was not idle in the session’s first week, filing as well Senate Joint Resolution 2, the Tort Reform Amendment of 2013.

It would require anyone filing a civil lawsuit later ruled to be frivolous to pay court costs and fees up to $10,000 to the defendant.

In addition, expert witnesses in medical cases would be required to practice the same treatment or procedure at issue in the case.

By definition, the bill cites, “a physician who by education, training and experience is familiar with the treatment or procedure at issue in an action for medical injury shall be deemed to practice in the same specialty at issue.”

Meanwhile, the House passed a new rule in its first week creating a two-day waiting period once a bill leaves committee before being presented to the full House for a vote. Previously, the wait was one day.

House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, ran the bill and said he felt the extra time would allow legislators to more thoroughly review bills and consult with constituents.

The Joint Budget Committee passed the session’s budget bill, leaving out proposed 2 percent raises for judges and prosecutors that would’ve cost more than $600,000.

The $38 million bill would maintain the current $15,869 salaries of state legislators.

Co-chairman Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, and Rep. Duncan Baird, R-Lowell, said the committee could revisit the proposed raise for judicial officials later in the session. For now, the full House is expected to take up the bill on Tuesday.

Also, the Senate Judiciary Committee tabled action on a bill that would make it a misdemeanor offense to both videotape livestock and poultry operations without the consent of the owner and to apply for a job at such farms under false pretenses to gain access to the property. The committee tabled another bill that would ban investigations into animal cruelty.

(Compiled from Associated Press reports)



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