The end of the 89th General Assembly's regular session is close. Only a week remains to tackle the tough issues of healthcare, state budgets, tax reform, constitutional amendments and Big River Steel.
At this point, if a bill is on the deferred list or has not passed at least one side of the legislature, then it will more than likely not become law. There are too many bills in line to be passed to start the process with new ones. This is good news if you are against a bill on the deferred list as it likely will not become law at this time.
This is a fragile time in the legislature. Leaders of both parties have worked to craft a series of proposals on healthcare, taxes, state spending and super projects, but these agreements are not solid and could change quickly. Now is the time to keep your eye on the session for new developments in each of these areas.
The biggest area of concern is the Medicaid reform/private option insurance expansion. The private option will allow people earning less than $15,400 to purchase health insurance through the Health Benefit Exchange using funds originally designated for Medicaid expansion. Arkansas was the first in the nation to receive conditional approval for this plan. The Chamber is in favor of this option for the following reasons:
- It should reduce the $40 million per year in charity cases by increasing the number of insured
- It should reduce state Medicaid roles by approximately 35% over the next 3 years which in turn will reduce state funding.
- It will improve access to healthcare for 250,000 Arkansans who are not currently covered by insurance.
There are some influential conservative groups who are opposed to this plan stating that it adds to the federal budget and that there are still many unanswered questions about how it will all work. The main argument is that by implementing the private option we are supporting the implementation of the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. They would prefer the issue be dealt with at a separate time under a special session. The governor is not in support of this and has indicated he does not want to call a special session. He is the only one who can do this.
If the issue of Medicaid cannot be resolved, it is rumored that none of the discussed $100 million in tax cuts will be approved because the state will not have enough money to pay for them due to increases in the cost of Medicaid.
On a different note, the House passed the needed legislation for Big River Steel this week. It now appears this project will pass both sides.
Bills of interest include:
“PRIVATE OPTION” HEALTHCARE COVERAGE
***SB 1020 by Sen. Jonathan Dismang passed the House yesterday by a vote of 63 to 35 with 1 not voting and 1 voting present. The companion legislation HB 1143 by Rep. John Burris also passed the House by a vote of 62 to 37 with 1 voting present. The emergency clause on each bill failed. Both bills would prescribe the creation and administration of the “private option” for expansion of health care insurance to low income Arkansans. SB 1020 must now return to the Senate to concur in a House amendment while HB 1143 has been referred to the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.
The State of Arkansas has received preliminary approval from the federal Department of Health and Human Services to use Medicaid expansion dollars in a different way that allows for low-income Arkansans to receive health coverage via private insurance.
***HB 1402 by Rep. Butch Wilkins has been withdrawn by the author. This bill would raise the state hourly minimum wage from $6.25 to $8.25 and changes the calculation for student employees, from an effective hourly minimum wage of $5.52 to $5.36.
***SB 802 by Sen. David Sanders has been delivered to the Governor. This bill would specify that owner/operators providing commercial motor vehicles or drivers to a motor carrier under contract are not employees of the carrier but independent contractors for purposes of workers' compensation law.
***SB 38 by Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson is on the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee agenda. As originally drafted, SB 38 would require applicants and recipients of unemployment benefits to be tested for illegal drug use. Amendment No. 4 would prevent the results of a drug screen as provided by this bill from being released or used as evidence for criminal prosecution. _
***SB 875 by Sen. Bart Hester is on the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee agenda. As originally drafted, this bill would reduce weekly unemployment benefits from 66 2/3 percent to 60 percent of the average weekly wage for insured employment, with a maximum benefit amount of $325 per week. Amendment No. 1 would prevent the 10 percent reduction in weekly benefits mandated by this bill from reducing an individual's weekly benefit amount below $81. Amendment No. 2 clarifies that the changes in this bill are effective for initial claims filed on the latter of the effective dates stated in this bill. _
***SB 542 by Sen. Missy Irvin passed the final hurdle yesterday when the Senate voted to concur in the House amendment. The bill will now go to the Governor. As originally drafted, SB 542 would require the Department of Workforce Services (DWS) to track false statements and misrepresentation by applicants for unemployment benefits and report to the Legislative Council. Amendment No. 1 would prohibit termination of unemployment benefits from false statements or misrepresentations made by the claimant outside of the current benefit year. The amendment would shorten the statute of limitations to allow for temporary disqualifications for reporting false statements from 5 years to 2 1/2 years. It also would remove the new tracking and reporting requirements, and would require DWS to provide reports of unemployment insurance claim fraud upon request by the Legislative Council. _
***SB 850 by Sen. Jim Hendren failed in the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee yesterday. It remains on the Committee’s agenda and may be considered again. As originally drafted, the bill would reduce the rate of the Unemployment Stabilization Tax from 0.7 percent to 0.5 percent and, when assets of the Unemployment Compensation Fund are less than 0.4 percent of total payrolls during the preceding calendar, from 0.8 percent to 0.6 percent. Amendment No. 1 sets the effective date for the tax changes in this billas 2014 rather than 2013. Amendment No. 2 adds an additional section that amends § 11-10-705(a), requiring an employer's tax record to include a payment representing a stabilization tax payment on wages paid by the employer. The amendment also clarifies that the changes in this bill only apply to calendar years 2014 and after. Amendment No. 3makes technical changes to clarify effective dates.
***HB 2206 by Rep. Hank Wilkins remains on the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee agenda. This bill amends § 11-10-210, the Department of Workforce Services Law, excluding services performed under a contract by a licensed person from the definition of “employment” and providing that the Department is under the Administrative Procedure Act. It also amends § 11- 10-308(d), requiring petitions for review of Department determinations to be filed in the circuit court in which the petitioner resides or does business under the AAPA.
***HB 1585 by Rep. Charlie Collins remains on the House calendar. This bill would change the personal income tax rates by elevating the top tax rate from $34,000 to $44,000 and then lowering the top tax bracket from 7 percent to 6.875 percent. The bill also makes technical corrections to the tax code.
***SB 515 by Sen. Cecile Bledsoe remains on the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee agenda. We have been told the bill may be recommended for Interim Study.Amendment No. 2 would place the burden of proof on the employer in a case in which an employee is terminated for misconduct and the employer has work available within the restrictions imposed by the employee's workers' compensation injury. It would also increase the number of weeks for which an employee shall receive disability compensation for each of the permanent injuries on the schedule in this section. As originally drafted, SB 515 would amend Workers' Compensation Law providing that an employee who retains a compensable injury is entitled to benefits during the healing period only if the employer does not have work available with the employee's medical restrictions.
***HB 1994 by Rep. Jim Nickels would authorize the Workers' Compensation Commission to determine an amount for the future medical needs of a joint petition claimant when deciding whether a final settlement award is in his or her best interests. The bill clarifies that an order may allocate claim proceeds of a joint petition. It is on the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee agenda. _
***HB 2107 by Rep. Stephanie Malone, which has failed in the House Insurance and Commerce Committee once, remains on the Committee’s agenda. This bill would amend § 11-9-410, allowing an employer to receive a future credit in a claim for workers' compensation benefits if the employer has been reimbursed for payment of such benefits as a result of bringing a successful action against a liable third party. The bill states that the right of an employer or carrier to recover damages against a third party is absolute and that the employer's consent is required before any other action in tort against the third party may be taken. Amendment No. 2 instructs a court hearing a case under this section to not consider the “made whole doctrine” when considering the entitlement of an employer to an absolute lien in a third party claim regarding workers' compensation.
***SB 813 by Sen. Jon Woods is on the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee agenda. This bill would amend Workers' Compensation law to require a complaint of muscle spasms to be an objective finding, with a specific diagnosis of palpable muscle spasms to qualify as a compensable impairment.
EMPLOYEE HANDGUNS ON COMPANY PROPERTY
***HB 1269 by Rep. John Catlett remains on the deferred list in the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Catlett told us yesterday he plans to send the bill to interim study. The bill wouldprohibit an employer from basing an employee’s employment status on concealed handgun licensure and would require employers to permit employees with handgun licenses to possess a handgun locked inside a vehicle in the employer's parking lot. It includes exemptions for certain properties owned by chemical, oil or gas companies and for property owned by a person other than the employer that is subject to a mineral lease. It also precludes liability of an employer for damages resulting from an employee's possession of a handgun and states that the employer does not have a duty to patrol or secure the parking area.
This session, the House filed 1,300 bills and the Senate filed 1,192 bills.
State Senators: 501-682-2902
State Representatives: 501-682-6211
To view schedules, calendars, bill information and legislator information, visit: www.arkleg.state.ar.us.
To view live stream video and audio from the Arkansas House of Representatives, visit www.arkansashouse.org.
Part of this information was taken from the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the Springdale Chamber of the Commerce and the Rogers Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce.