They are approaching 300 bills filed so far, but most are standard appropriation bills that will be considered in context of an overall budget. The only political heat generated this week came from gun-related legislation as the national debate over gun-control spilled into the General Assembly.
The House State Agencies Committee recommended passage of HR1003, which would encourage preservation of Arkansans' right to bear arms. This is what I call a "soap box" bill since it cannot directly impact policy and is simply an opportunity to publicly take a position on an issue. With one out of every two southerners being a gun owner and more than 127,000 concealed carry permits in Arkansas, being pro-gun is usually safe political ground in this state.
The General Assembly also saw legislation (SB71) filed to allow concealed carry permit holders to take their handguns into churches if that church allows it. While, HB1035 would authorize staff or faculty at higher education institutions to carry a concealed weapon on campus.
The Senate also dipped its toe into the Medicaid expansion debate this week as the Public Health Committee heard testimony from Arkansas Surgeon General Joe Thompson and University of Arkansas Medical System Chancellor Dan Rahn. Both Drs. Thompson and Rahn support expansion of Medicaid to Arkansans earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level. Both were questioned about the possibility of partially expanding the program to Arkansans earning up to 100% of the federal poverty level. The federal government has not indicated a partial expansion is possible at this time. Roby Brock with Talk Business reported on this story, which can be found HERE.
Without some sort of partial expansion solution allowed by the federal government, Medicaid expansion could hinge on developing a plan to fund the future state share that Arkansas must assume beginning in 2017 and what happens if the federal government reduces their current funding commitment. Leadership in the House have stated that once the new Medicaid recepients are added to the system the possibility that the state would throw them off if federal funding is reduced seems very unlikely. So mitigating future budget risks will be an important component of the expansion negotiation.