Lawmakers Begin Fiscal Session Today

LITTLE ROCK, AR (Talk Business) -- The 2014 legislative fiscal session that begins Monday, Feb. 10 will be remembered for two words – Private Option – and three potential votes.

When Republican lawmakers, in concert with Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, fashioned the novel health care plan for Arkansas, there was no doubt that it would stir controversy. The hard-fought votes to secure the funding’s passage was testament to that.

In short, the private option takes the Medicaid expansion money offered under the Affordable Care Act and allows Arkansas to steer that money into a private health insurance exchange, where four carriers have a variety of plans for citizens of all income levels.

The funding votes in the Joint Budget Committee and on the floor of the House and Senate were close in the regular session of 2013.

Get ready for a replay in 2014, but consider two major factors that have boosted momentum for opponents of the plan.

First, the botched roll-out of the federal health care law has given tremendous momentum to those who disagree with the program. Secondly, the timing of a new private option funding vote – which requires three-fourths of approval from both legislative chambers – will take place less than a month before filing period opens for political office in Arkansas.

With many Republicans fearing conservative challenges from their right flank in party primaries this Spring, the political repercussions of a new vote will be felt.

Some supportive lawmakers argue the vote will already be on their record so why change it; others contend they can defend a shift in their position. The private option, which has garnered national attention, only passed with two votes to spare in each chamber, so the margin for error is miniscule.

Gov. Mike Beebe (D) and House Speaker Davy Carter (R-Cabot) both sat down recently for interviews on the topics and you can view their comments at the bottom of this post.

Click here for a more detailed breakdown of the issues ahead from Talk Business.

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