Legislators will return to Little Rock tomorrow to begin the second week of the regular fiscal session of the Arkansas General Assembly. Funding the appropriation for the Arkansas Works program, which was passed two weeks ago with a simple majority in a special legislative session, is the governor’s plan for Medicaid expansion in Arkansas. It will certainly be at the center of the debate again this week.
The appropriation bill (SB121) to fund Arkansas Works is contained in the overall budget for the DHS Division of Medical Services. Attempts to fund SB121 were derailed last week when an amendment to the bill failed to make it out of the Joint Budget Committee. The amendment, which actually de-funds Arkansas Works, would allow senators who have been opposing the program to cast a vote for the appropriation in good conscience. The Arkansas Constitution of 1874 requires a ¾ majority of both houses to pass an appropriation. Under this plan, the Governor could actually line-item veto the amendment, which would enable the original funding for Arkansas Works to be reinstated. An override of a Governor’s veto requires only a simple majority of both houses.
It’s a long way to go around the barn to pass much-needed legislation, but neither the governor nor this group of senators has indicated they will compromise on funding the appropriation. Will the governor get the votes for the amendment in committee? Assuming that he does, will the governor get the required votes for passage and for defeating the subsequent veto override? Will the legislative Democrats, who have been long-time supporters of Medicaid expansion and have seen their numbers dwindle in the last few years because of this being used as a campaign issue against them, go along with the governor’s plan? Will this override plan survive a threatened legal challenge, which is a possibility that has been talked about, as well? Will this solution hold? We will definitely know the answers to most of these complicated questions by the end of this week.