Nearly three months ago, all 100 of us from different geographic regions across our state gathered for the first time with a single purpose. That purpose was to make Arkansas a better place to work and live.
We may all have different ideas on how that is best accomplished, but as we are now in the final weeks the focus of the session narrows. Healthcare and education are part of that narrowing focus and continued purpose.
The House will soon be considering a bill that defines the parameters what is being referred to as the “private option.” The Senate version of the bill, now making its way to the house, is SB1020. The identical version in the House is HB1143.
The bills allow for the Department of Human Services to pay for health insurance premiums for individuals who would otherwise qualify for Medicaid. That would include adults ages 19 to 65 years old with an income of 138% or less of the federal poverty level. Currently, that amount is an annual income of $15,414 for a single individual or $30,809 for a family of four. There are approximately 250,000 Arkansans who would qualify.
The funding to pay for the premiums would come from federal Medicaid funding. The state gradually picks up a percentage of the tab. By 2020, the state is expected to pay the maximum of 10%. A provision is written into the bill that should federal funding provisions change, the state can terminate the program within 120 days.
The bills also stipulate that at least two qualified health plans are available in each county of the state.
Meanwhile, education continues to be another top priority for legislators. The House education committee has held several extended meetings in recent days.
The House voted in favor of a bill which would develop an art infused curriculum program. Grants administered by the Department of Education would be awarded to 5 schools a year for a 3 year period.
An arts infused curriculum can create a real-life experience that bring meaning to math, science, and social studies concepts. An example would be an elementary science class learning about animals while using clay to sculpt the animals.
Another education bill now making its way the Senate would provide digital learning opportunities for our students.
HB1785 develops a pilot program to begin in the fall. Public schools and public charter schools will provide one digital learning course to their students as either a primary or supplementary method of instruction. Digital learning means using digital technology or an internet-based educational delivery.
One example of digital learning teaches high schools students how to use data and charts to support reasons why they need a car. And science classes may use digital projectors and software to learn about the solar system.
Over 700 bills have been enacted since the beginning of the session. But there are still hundreds making their way through both chambers. Although everyone wants to see this process move expeditiously, we continue to ask questions and give the issues before us due diligence.
We will continue to update you on these important matters. Remember you can watch most committee meetings and all House floor proceedings online at arkansashouse.org.