Legislators have a few weeks before they come back to officially wrap up the session, but Tuesday was likely the last day of business for Arkansas lawmakers as they approved the budget and Governor Mike Beebe signed into law a health insurance expansion that many lawmakers agree was the biggest issue of the session.
Social issues dominated the beginning of this legislative session indicating Republicans and Democrats might have trouble reaching agreement. That was not the case toward the end as lawmakers tackled Medicaid expansion and economic incentives for a billion-dollar steel mill. Speaker of the House, Republican Davy Carter, said accomplishing those issues and tax cuts was quite a feat.
“Any one of those things by itself is a huge deal and for this body to tackle all three of those things in one session, I think is pretty remarkable,” Carter said.
Senate President Pro-Tem Michael Lamoureux, a Republican, says Medicaid expansion through the private option is indeed the biggest issue lawmakers tackled.
“Because it’s so broad and because it’s so new – first in the country to be like this – and because the potential of not doing something was so substantial,” is why Lamoureux said it was the biggest issue.
However, Medicaid expansion did show a possible split in the Republican Party. Some, like Lamoureux, saw the plan as a solution to a problem while others saw it as an endorsement of the federal health care law.
“I think we owe an accounting of ourselves to those that are disappointed,” Lamoureux said. “We came down here, there’s a lot of people that sent us down here, that I’m not saying they don’t understand what we did, but they’re waiting to hear what we did. And so, in terms of factions, I don’t think so.”
So, Lamoureux says, it’s time for lawmakers to explain their decisions to their constituents.
“I do think, we’ve come down here, we’ve served for a lot of days, we’ve passed a lot of laws and we need to go home and explain ourselves and stand before our communities and see if they approve of what we did,” Lamoureux said. “It’s hard for them just to read a newspaper or read an Internet site and find out what we did, you know, in 5,000 votes.”
Senator Keith Ingram, a Democrat from West Memphis, agreed that Medicaid expansion was the big issue and that the parties worked together to make it happen.
“We have now 250,000 Arkansans that are going to have health care insurance that didn’t before,” Ingram said. “I think we demonstrated, quite honestly to the country that two parties can work together for the benefit of the people, I think that’s the story of this session.”
Back on the House side, Representative Joe Jett, a Democrat, said the deal lawmakers reached on Medicaid showed bipartisan effort.
“By and large I think the two party system is good for the state of Arkansas, it gives good balance, there are some good people on both sides of the isle, Republicans and Democrats, a lot of good people worked together this session, I was proud of that,” Jett said.
Though lawmakers adjourned Tuesday they can meet again before May 17th for several reasons, one of which is to override a veto. That’s now a possibility after Governor Mike Beebe issued three vetoes on bills that would make changes to the state’s election commission.
As of Tuesday night, it was unclear whether lawmakers will make the trip back to Little Rock for the override.