Arkansas General Assembly
12:55 pm
Fri February 21, 2014

Deadlock On Private Option Carrries On In Arkansas Legislature

For the fourth time in as many days, the Arkansas House of Representatives failed to pass a measure that would fund the private option, the state’s unique plan to provide hundreds of thousands of poor people with private health insurance.  The funding bill failed on a 71 to 18 vote, with many members voting in absentia (Friday is normally a day off for legislators.

Although it appears that little progress is being made to achieve the 75 vote supermajority, House leaders say the votes will be there to pass the legislation. One member of the House, Rep. Mark Lowery (R, Maumelle), changed his previous “present” vote on the private option into a “yea” vote Friday.

From the House floor Lowery said even though he believed the private option was imperfect, it props up poor working people.

“We’re giving them an opportunity to be able to stay healthy, to be able to stay on the job, to not have to call in sick,” he said, noting that people earning minimum wage often do not have sick leave and therefore do not get paid when they are infirmed.

"If we keep them on this program, then they’re able to make that money and they’re able to buy groceries, they’re able to pay income tax, they’re able to churn that money back into the economy,” he said.

“We have an imperfect bill,” he said. “But it is a compromise.”

House leaders continue to say that the needed votes to pass the appropriations legislation are there.

“There are some members waiting for Tuesday to cast a yes vote,” House Speaker Davy Carter (R, Cabot) said. “We’re going to get this issue resolved and there’s no question to that.”

“The reality is, this is the bill. There aren’t enough votes to amend the bill, to send it back to [the Joint Budget Committee] to do anything different...So it’s time that we deal with this because...we have a lot of other bills to deal with,” Carter said. “We have to set a budget for this entire state.”

Meanwhile, House Democratic leaders say that if the private option bill does not pass on Tuesday, their caucus may pursue options like holding up appropriations in more budget areas as leverage, though House Minority Whip Joe Jett told reporters "nobody wants to do that" in his caucus. But he noted, if repeated failed votes continue to drag on "it's going to be a lot harder to hold our members together."

Despite Friday's vote count of 71 yeas, many observers say there are at least 73 yeas in the House because two non-voting members (Rep. Stephanie Malone (R) and Rep. Hank Wilkins (D)) were already  'yeas' on previous private option votes this session.

How Arkansas House members voted:

Yeas:

Republicans (23): Altes, Baird, Bell, Biviano, Bragg, Branscum, Burris, Carter, Collins, Dale, Davis, D. Douglas, Eubanks, Gillam, Hickerson, House, Lea, Linck, Lowery, Mayberry, Neal, Scott, Shepherd

Democrats (47): E. Armstrong, C. Armstrong, Baine, Baltz, Broadaway, Catlett, Copenhaver, Dickinson, Edwards, Ferguson, Fielding, Hawthorne, Hillman, Hodges, Holcomb, Jett, Julian, Kizzia, Lampkin, Leding, Lenderman, Love, Magie, McCrary, McElroy, McGill, McLean, Murdock, Nickels, Overbey, Perry, Ratliff, Richey, Sabin, Steel, Talley, Thompson, Vines, Wagner, Walker, Wardlaw, Whitaker, B. Wilkins, Williams, Word, Wren, Wright

Green (1): Smith

Nays:

Republicans (18): Barnett, Carnine, Clemmer, Cozart, Deffenbaugh, Dotson, Farrer, Hammer, Hobbs, Hopper, Hutchison, Kerr, D. Meeks, S. Meeks, Miller, Rice, Westerman, Womack

Democrats: None

Not voting: Republicans (10): Alexander, Ballinger, C. Douglas, Fite, Gossage, Harris, Jean, Malone, Payton, Slinkard

Democrats: (1): H. Wilkins