Health Care Tops To-Do List for Arkansas Legislature

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas lawmakers face a daunting to-do list as they try to wrap up this year's session by a self-imposed Friday deadline. From a proposal to expand health insurance to 250,000 people to finalizing the state's $4.9 billion budget, the Legislature faces key votes on several issues this week. Here's where they stand on the unfinished business of the 89th General Assembly:

HEALTH CARE: The Arkansas House plans to vote Monday on a proposal to use federal Medicaid dollars to purchase private insurance for thousands of low-income residents. The private option proposal is being considered as an alternative to expanding Medicaid's enrollment under the federal health care law. The legislation setting up the program has won the support of the House and Senate, but they're still short of the votes needed to OK an attached budget bill. The House had originally planned to vote on that budget bill Friday, but Speaker Davy Carter delayed that vote after lawmakers said they needed more time to talk with constituents about the idea. If the House approves the budget bill, it and the enabling legislation for the private option still needs to clear the Senate. The budget bill needs at least 75 votes in the House and at least 27 in the Senate.

TAX CUTS: An expected package of $100 million in tax cuts has been on hold as lawmakers weigh the private option proposal. The tax reductions being considered include proposals to cut the state's income and capital gains taxes, as well as taxes paid by manufacturers and farmers. Also pending before the Legislature is Gov. Mike Beebe's proposal to cut the state's grocery tax if the state's desegregation payments to three Little Rock school districts or several bond obligations decrease by $35 million over six months.

BUDGET: Legislative leaders say they hope to present the proposed Revenue Stabilization Act, the legislation laying out the state's $4.9 billion budget for the coming year, early this week. The legislation must sit on lawmakers' desks for three days before they can take any action on it. The bill spells out the state's spending priorities based on expected revenues for the year. House and Senate leaders say they don't plan on presenting the budget bill until the private option is resolved.

STEEL MILL: The House was expected to take final action Monday on Beebe's proposal to provide a company with $125 million in state financing to help build a steel mill in northeast Arkansas. Beebe has asked the Legislature to authorize the state to issue bonds to provide a loan and pay some construction costs of the $1.1 billion facility in Osceola. Big River Steel has promised to create at least 525 permanent jobs with an average wage of $75,000 in exchange for receiving the state financing and other tax breaks.

AMENDMENTS: Lawmakers have to decide which proposed amendments to the state constitution they'll refer to voters next year. The Senate has approved referring one amendment that would give the Legislature the ability to require that agencies' administrative rules receive legislative approval before taking effect. That proposal now heads to the House. A House-backed proposal focusing on campaign finance and ethics rules is being sent back to a joint committee for changes. That proposal would refer to voters a constitutional amendment that would restrict corporate campaign contributions and gifts, extend term limits and establish a commission to set the pay for elected officials.

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