A User's Guide To The Arkansas Legislature's 2015 Session

Jan 12, 2015

The Arkansas State Capitol
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The Arkansas Legislature convenes Monday at Noon for its regular legislative session. A new governor takes office on Tuesday.

A rundown on the session and how to follow the lawmakers' activities:

WHAT'S AT STAKE? - The biggest question lawmakers face revolves around the future of the state's "private option" Medicaid expansion, which uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents. The program was crafted two years ago as an alternative to the Medicaid expansion envisioned under the federal health overhaul. Reauthorizing the program another year requires a three-fourths vote from the House and Senate, a difficult hurdle to clear after anti-private option legislators were elected in November. Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson says he'll announce later this month whether he supports continuing the program.

WHO'S IN CHARGE? - Two years after controlling the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction, Republicans have expanded majorities in the House and Senate. The GOP holds 64 of the 100 seats in the state House and 23 of the 35 seats in the Senate. One Senate seat remains vacant, but is set to remain in Republican hands after no Democrats filed to run in an April 14 special election. The Republican primary for the seat is on Tuesday. Hutchinson, a Republican ex-congressman, will be sworn in Tuesday as Arkansas' 46th governor.

WHAT WILL IT COST? - Senate officials estimate their costs at about $13,200 a day during the session, while the House estimates it costs about $18,698 each day.

HOW LONG WILL IT LAST? - Arkansas constitution says regular legislative sessions cannot go longer than 60 days unless two-thirds of the House and Senate approve an extension. The 2013 regular session lasted 100 days.

WHO'S MY LEGISLATOR? - Both chambers have sites where you can find your legislator by putting in your address and ZIP code. The Senate website is www.arkansas.gov/senate and the House site is www.arkansashouse.org.

CAN I MAKE A DIFFERENCE? - Definitely, if you take the time. You can track bills and legislative activity on the General Assembly website at www.arkleg.state.ar.us.

CAN I WATCH? - Yes, but it's easier to watch in person than online. The House broadcasts its proceedings online at www.arkansashouse.org but the Senate does not livestream its meetings. At the state Capitol, the House and Senate galleries are open to the public, and there is seating for the public at committee hearings. For a schedule of committee hearings and agendas, go to www.arkleg.state.ar.us.

Andrew DeMillo is the Arkansas Capitol correspondent for The Associated Press. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ademillo.