Thursday, February 28, 2013

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – The Senate approved two far reaching anti-abortion bills, overriding the governor’s veto in the process.
            Also last week, the Senate voted to restructure lottery scholarships to make sure the Academic Challenge Scholarship program is financially secure.
The governor reported making progress in negotiations with federal officials on Medicaid expansion, opening the door to the option of Medicaid helping low-income families pay for private health insurance.
The Speaker of the House outlined his fiscal policy in discussions with the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, where he said the legislature should prioritize about $150 million in tax cuts.
The Senate overrode the governor’s veto of HB 1037, which prohibits abortion after 20 from conception.  The bill cites medical research indicating that at 20 weeks the nervous system of the unborn child is sufficiently developed to feel pain.  The Senate amended HB 1037 to exclude cases in which the mother becomes pregnant because of rape or incest.
The final version of HB 1037 received 80 votes in the House and 25 in the Senate.  The votes to override the gubernatorial veto received 53 votes in the House and 19 in the Senate.  A simple majority is necessary to override a veto, which means 51 votes in the House 18 in the Senate.
On the same day the Senate voted to override the governor’s veto of HB 1037, it also approved SB 134 to prohibit abortions after 12 weeks, if the physician can detect a heartbeat using an abdominal ultrasound.
Physicians who violate the act would be disciplined by the state Medical Board, which could revoke their license.
SB 134 passed the Senate with 26 votes.  Like HB 1037, the Senate bill has exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest and in cases where an abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother.
The changes to lottery scholarships are in HB 1295, which both chambers approved and sent to the governor.  Eligible students at four-year universities will get $2,000 as freshmen, $3,000 as sophomores, $4,000 as juniors and $5,000 as seniors. Academic Scholarship recipients at two-year colleges will get $2,000 each year.
The governor got concessions from federal officials over the method Arkansas could expand Medicaid to cover about 250,000 more people.  The federal officials said it would be acceptable for Medicaid to pay for their private health insurance.
Now, about 770,000 Arkansans qualify for Medicaid services.  Expanding eligibility to 138 percent of the poverty level would add about 250,000. However, many legislators strongly oppose such a large scale expansion of a government program.  The concessions that the governor got from the federal government improve the chances for a compromise between legislators who favor expansion and those who don’t.
Approval from the federal government is necessary because more than 70 percent of Medicaid costs are paid by the federal government, while state government pays for the rest.
At a meeting of the House Committee on Revenue and Taxation, the Speaker told members to prioritize about $150 million tax cuts.  It would hamstring state government if the legislature enacted all the tax cut bills that have been filed, because they total about $2 billion.  State general revenue is about $4.7 billion this year.

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