We began the first week of the Fiscal Session at a rapid pace. The House passed 19 budget bills. And by the fourth day, an amended appropriation for the Department of Human Services Division of Medical Services was on its way to the House floor.

This appropriation includes the funding for the Private Option.

The Health Care Independence Act, commonly referred to as the Private Option, passed during the last Regular Session. It was our state’s alternative to expanding Medicaid. It uses federal dollars to provide low income Arkansans with a private health insurance plan.

Amendments were adopted to the bill before making it out of committee. One amendment includes a provision banning any advertising or promotions for the program by state agencies. Another amendment addresses deadlines for the federal government to approve specific waivers. One such waiver would allow the state to implement cost sharing for those making above 50% of the Federal Poverty Level. Another waiver would allow the state to implement its own plan when it comes to non-emergency transportation for individuals covered in the plan.

In the amendments, if the waivers are not approved by the federal government by the end of this year, then funding for the plan would end February 1, 2015.

It is an appropriation bill. This means in order to pass it will take 75 votes from the House and 27 from the Senate. The House will vote on the bill next week.

While this is the vote which will receive the most attention, it is not the only one before us.

The House voted in favor of a resolution to allow us to address vacancy of the office of Lt. Governor. Because Fiscal Sessions are to be limited to budget bills, 2/3 of the General Assembly must agree to take up a non-budget bill in the form of a resolution. This resolution opens the door to subsequent legislation. Currently, the Governor is required to call a special election within 150 days of the office being declared vacant. Mark Darr resigned from the office February 1st.

We expect to vote on legislation which would allow that office to remain vacant until the November election. We do not expect to address any other issues outside of the budget during the session.

We invite the public to watch to the process. We stream House floor proceedings live on our website at www.arkansashouse.org. And remember, you can now watch the proceedings on your desktop or any mobile device.