Special session to begin Tuesday; agenda grows | Arkansas Blog

Special session to begin Tuesday; agenda grows

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VOUCHER CHEERLEADER: House Speaker Jeremy Gillam.
  • VOUCHER CHEERLEADER: House Speaker Jeremy Gillam.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson's office says the special legislative session will begin Tuesday.  Adjournment of the current budget session will occur Monday afternoon.

As yet, no call for the session has been issued. The governor has said highway funding will be one topic. It's certain that the issue of prescription reimbursements under the Medicaid expansion program will be an issue. Pharmacists' complaints about the rates set by CVS, the benefits manager used by Arkansas Blue Cross, led to a proposal for Insurance Department oversight of the process. There's still no formal proposal on the table.

The agriculture industry is expected to try to introduce legislation to override an Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality decision against a new permit for the C and H Hog Farm in the Buffalo River watershed.

Finally, House Speaker Jeremy Gillam has vowed to round up votes to get the special session to consider Republican Sen. Jason Rapert's bill to provide a direct state tax subsidy — a voucher shell game — for K-12 private schools. It will cost the state $5 million a year or more, according to one estimate. A similar benefit in another state, Iowa, went overwhelmingly to the wealthy.

I've asked Gillam about his unusual interest and rare trip to the well of the House to push for a tax break for private school parents.



It would certainly earn him points with the senator from Conway, not to mention the Walton billionaires, who support anything that drives people away from conventional public schools. Gillam is leaving the legislature at the end of 2018. It's a time when past favors are sometimes gratefully remembered.

A rule prohibits legislators from instantly turning their service into lobby jobs — but there's an exception for employees of higher education institutions and other state agencies.  That exemption allowed former Sen.. Gilbert Baker to slide into a $132,000 lobby job at the University of Central Arkansas in Rapert's home town. Baker had some problems that subsequently caused his departure from UCA.  Johnny Key went from the Senate to a $130,000 lobbying job at the University of Arkansas under the same exception for legislators who take state jobs.

The governor's statement on the special session:

“I appreciate the General Assembly’s quick action on all appropriation bills in the fiscal session. I’ve previously indicated that a special session would follow the fiscal session, assuming that the appropriation bills were passed in regular order.

“With the General Assembly’s timely completion of the fiscal session, today I’m announcing that I will call a special session of the General Assembly to begin next Tuesday at 9 a.m. This special session is necessary to address a number of matters that include highway funding and pharmacy reimbursement legislation.

“I anticipate formally issuing the call on Monday. I appreciate the work of the legislature and look forward to a swift and productive special session.”

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