Stakes increase for Arkansas Works passage as legislature convenes


The stakes have become even higher for passage of the state's version of the Affordable Care Act as the legislature convenes Monday for the biennial fiscal session.

The resignation of Senator Jake Files of Fort Smith, whose last day in office was Friday, created the third vacancy in the Senate. Those who previously filled the three Senate seats had all supported Arkansas Works, the state's version of the Affordable Care Act.

In 2017 during the regular legislative session, the Senate passed funding authorization of Senate Bill 196 in March and sent the measure to the House. The passage of SB 196 came with just 27 votes in favor, the minimum needed for passage.

As KTLO, Classic Hits 101.7 and The Boot news first reported in late December, for the sixth consecutive year Arkansas lawmakers are poised to enter a legislative session with the financing of the state's version of the Affordable Care Act uncertain.

The state legislature must reauthorize Arkansas Works, previously known as the Private Option, annually - with a 75 percent majority in both the House and Senate. In 2014, it took five attempts to pass reauthorization.

One of those voting in favor of the measure, former Senator Eddie Joe Williams of Cabot, was appointed by President Trump this past fall for a position with the Southern States Energy Board, creating one of two vacancies.

The second Senate vacancy was created with the death of the late Senator Greg Standridge of Russellville who died on November 16th after a long bout with cancer. Records indicate he was one of seven voting against SB 196.

Files's resignation created the third vacancy.

Locally, Senator Scott Flippo of Bull Shoals, who voted against SB 196, says the vacancies add uncertainty to the reauthorization of Arkansas Works.


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Prior to Files' resignation, Gov. Asa Hutchinson had set schedules for three special elections to coincide on the same dates in early 2018. The primary elections will be held on February 13th, followed by a runoff election on March 13th, if necessary. General elections for the special races will be held on Tuesday, May 22nd.

The third special election involves the District 83 House seat that became vacant after Rep. David Branscum announced his resignation on November 17th to become the USDA’s rural development director in Arkansas.

Pointing to the timeline for the special elections, some have questioned if the Governor will take voting on Arkansas Works off the fiscal session calendar and call for a special session later in the year in hopes those filling the vacancies will be favorable to its passage.

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