'Private Option' Bill Fails in Arkansas House, 70-27

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014 4:00 pm  

Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, says he remains opposed to the private option as a policy but doesn't see the need to spur a budget showdown over the vote.

Sen. Jane English, who had voted against the private option last year, announced that she would support the program's funding in exchange for changes to the state's workforce training program. Senate leaders say English's backing gives them the 27 votes they need to pass the bill in the 35-member Senate, and said they may take up an identical version of the funding bill on Wednesday.

English R-North Little Rock, announced her support after negotiating a deal with Gov. Mike Beebe and state officials to overhaul the state's workforce training program. Beebe said the changes will help make the program more coordinated and performance-based.

"Instead of having more and more and more people on low income and poverty programs to find a way to get those people off those programs so we don't need the private option and we don't need those food stamps," English said.

The proposal failed in the House despite changes proposed to the private option law that are intended to win over opponents of the program. They include a prohibition on the state spending any public funds on promotion or outreach for the private option, as well as the insurance marketplace created under the federal overhaul.

Rep. Nate Bell, who had proposed the amendments, said he remains opposed to the private option as a policy but didn't see the need to spur a budget showdown over the vote.

"Just blocking a bill doesn't pass anything," Bell, R-Mena, said before voting for the funding measure. "Without a realistic plan from anybody to pass an alternative, we'll be sitting here 45 days from now pushing buttons and wasting the people's money and listening to rhetoric that doesn't convince anybody."

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