The legislative session should be over at the middle of this week. There were more than 2,500 bills filed this session. As of last Friday there were 1,365 of those bills that have officially become Acts in Arkansas. This Tuesday marked the 100th day of the regular session, the longest in history.
Last week the legislature approved the “private option” health plan with 75% majorities in the Houses of the legislature. It is called “private option” because it takes Medicaid dollars and uses them to purchase private health insurance for people whose yearly income is less than 138% of the federal poverty level. The goal was to not simply expand a government program, as the federal government had initially directed, but instead to provide health coverage through the private sector and thus allow the free market to hold down costs.
The Senate also approved a package of tax cut bills that will save Arkansas taxpayers more than $150 million a year when they take full effect. They include reductions in state individual income taxes, capital gains taxes and sales taxes on energy used by manufacturers, farmers and poultry growers. Arkansans in the military will not have to pay income taxes on their service pay, saving them more than $7 million a year. Volunteer firefighters who buy their own equipment or have it damaged in the course of duty, will qualify for income tax deductions. Also passed during this session, were a number of pro-life bills, a photo ID requirement to vote bill and other election legislation.
The proposed budget provides for the first cost of living raise for more than 30,000 state employees who do not work at the higher education institutions, for the first time in three years. They would get 2% raises in fiscal 2014. Under the proposed budget, the Public School Fund providing state aid for the state’s 239 districts would increase by nearly $47 million to $2.046 billion. The state Department of Human Services would get a nearly $95 million increase to $1.226 billion, with the state’s Medicaid program getting an $85 million increase to $890 million.
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