Government holiday includes Hutchinson news conference | Arkansas Blog

Monday, February 19, 2018

Government holiday includes Hutchinson news conference

Posted By on Mon, Feb 19, 2018 at 7:10 AM

click to enlarge QUIET TODAY: The Arkansas House will be empty today on account of the government holiday. But Gov. Asa Hutchinson will talk about the budget session and a potential special session on health coverage issues.
  • QUIET TODAY: The Arkansas House will be empty today on account of the government holiday. But Gov. Asa Hutchinson will talk about the budget session and a potential special session on health coverage issues.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson
won't take today's government holiday off. He's holding a 3 p.m. news conference to respond to a call from leaders of the House and Senate to hold a special session on the issue of pharmacy reimbursements under the state's expanded Medicaid health insurance coverage.

I suspect he'll be amenable, particularly if the deal somehow brings enough people over to approve his budget with its continuation of the Arkansas Works program. But that might have to wait for a special session, too, when three Senate seats currently vacant are filled by special elections.

As Benji Hardy wrote Friday, the legislature likes to limit the so-called fiscal session to strictly budget matters. A change in policy would not be a budget matter. But it can take up other matters by a two-thirds vote. And it may do the same even in a special session with an agenda set by the governor.

Speaking of which: A former lawyer for the legislature, David Ferguson, has outlined this procedure in an essay posted by Conduit for Action, the conservative interest group that would like to kill the Medicaid expansion entirely and which is working to win Senate seats to prevent the three-fourths vote necessary to approve appropriation bills.

Ferguson sees the efforts of House Speaker Jeremy Gillam and Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang to work out a special session agenda in advance with early filing of legislation supported by two-thirds of members as an assault on "representative democracy."  He sees their "suggestions" for preparing for an expeditious special session as an end-run around rules of the houses. It's political maneuvering, no doubt.

But as Ferguson himself notes, all he needs is 67 representatives and 24 senators to agree with him on a different course of action. It's called representative democracy. The noise suggests he doesn't have them.

Ferguson is right about the power that has come to be vested in chamber leadership, particularly the House with the speaker's control of committees. But that was a product of a vote, too.

PS: Benji Hardy has explored more deeply the pharmacy reimbursement issue for the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network.

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