Arkansas Senate Upholds Governor's Veto To Continue Medicaid Expansion

Apr 26, 2016

Steps leading up the Arkansas Senate chamber.
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

An attempt in the Arkansas Senate on Tuesday to override Governor Asa Hutchinson’s veto – that allowed for Medicaid expansion to continue – failed on a voice vote. Many on both sides expected the veto override move to fall short of the needed majority since nearly all of the lawmakers who sent the budget bill to the governor's desk- knowing in advance he planned to veto the provision that would end Medicaid expansion - were supporters of his Arkansas Works plan.

State Senator Bart Hester of Cave Springs in Benton County made the motion on the Senate floor to override the governor's veto. No one re-hashed remarks made earlier this fiscal session but speaking afterward, Sen. Hester said the fight is not over.

"Time is on my side. There's never been a Medicaid program that has met expectations. They are all over enrollment predictions and over budget. Time is going to be my friend and we'll come back next year and show that this was not a good plan," said the northwest Arkansas Republican. "We'll continue to argue."

State Senator Gary Stubblefield, of Franklin County in western Arkansas, has opposed the governor’s Arkansas Works plan. He voted to override the line item veto from his fellow Republican too.

“We have done something, the governor has done something with these tactics that he’s using to get this thing through that I’m not sure he hasn’t circumvented the Constitution of the State. It’s just never been done before, defunding a measure and then refunding it through a line-item veto,” said Sen. Stubblefield.

Proponents of the move including Republican Senate President Jonathan Dismang and Democratic Joint Budget Chair Larry Teague have said it is a constitutionally sound use of the line item veto.

Last week, Sen. Dismang said additional legislation could be presented in a special session to safeguard the governor’s veto and the intent of the majority of the legislature at the time to keep Medicaid expansion through 2021 via the circuitous line item veto route. A minority of the Republican party had been blocking the overall Medicaid budget bill which required a three-fourths majority to pass. The line item veto was crated to work around the impasse.

Medicaid expansion is made possible by the Affordable Care Act and covers over 267,000 low-income Arkansans. The state will have to contribute up to 10 percent of the program’s coverage costs by 2021.