The legislative session is like a roller coaster, lots of ups and downs, twists and turns, and just when you think you’d rather be gliding along on a merry-go-round, you hop on for another ride.
The final week of the 88th General Assembly took House members on a fast and furious flight through a thunderstorm of debate on the federal healthcare law, state-owned vehicles, congressional redistricting and even monkeys.
To get the coaster rolling, a bill requiring out-of-state online retailers to collect sales tax from Arkansas buyers passed the House and will soon be signed into law. I opposed this measure because it amounts to taking more money out of the pockets of hard-working Arkansans.
The Legislature is not your ordinary rodeo. Midweek, House members wrangled over a $72.6 million state Insurance Department appropriation bill which included $1 million in funding for the federal healthcare overhaul. Concerned about tying the federal healthcare law to a bill that funds an essential state agency, House Republicans made several attempts to remove the $1 million from the budget bill.
Meanwhile, legislation to establish federally mandated insurance exchanges necessary to the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was en route to the House floor. As a result, a deadlock on passing the Insurance Department appropriation surfaced, with a majority refusing to strip the budget bill of $1 million in federal healthcare funding. Fortunately, House members lassoed a compromise on Thursday, agreeing to pull down the bill to implement the insurance exchanges and send the legislation to interim study. Consequently, the Insurance Department appropriation garnered the 75 votes needed to pass the House.
I believe the compromise helps ensure a slow and deliberate process for examining a federal law that will drastically alter our healthcare system. We now have a year to study the impact of the federal healthcare law, giving legislators sufficient time to act responsibly in the upcoming fiscal or general session. Until the Supreme Court rules on the law’s constitutionality or Congress acts, our state should not spend money implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
A congressional redistricting gerrymander slithered its way out of the Arkansas House, despite overwhelming opposition from concerned citizens, Democrats and Republicans alike. The “Pig Trail Gerrymander” or “Fayetteville Finger,” does not respect our state’s regional communities of interest and will devastate the continuity of Northwest and Southern Arkansas. I opposed this partisan power grab by the State Democratic Party and hope our colleagues in the Senate will take a principled stand for the people of Arkansas, reject this unfair and illogical proposal and look at reasonable alternatives.
Members took up some monkey business on Thursday when a bill to restrict Arkansans from owning primates failed in the House Public Health Committee. Proponents say citizens have a right to own a monkey, and noted that some individuals use primates as service animals. As a result, the bill was pulled from consideration and sent to interim study.
The personal use of state-owned vehicles by elected officials and state employees dominated newspaper headlines and coffee shop talk last year. In an effort to assure taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely, the House passed a bill to allow state agencies to furnish state vehicles with GPS devices to collect data for tracking purposes.
A $4.6 billion balanced budget for the 2012 fiscal year cleared the full House this week. The budget bill, known as the Revenue Stabilization Act, deals specifically with general revenue and prioritizes spending for public schools and prisons. I voted against this budget because it increases state spending too much.
We also approved a General Improvement Fund bill that sets aside surplus funds for special projects. The Governor controls $40 million, while the House and Senate each control $5 million. If you can recall, last month House members voted to use their share of the surplus for statewide projects, rather than funding lawmakers’ pet projects.
Over the course of the session and under the shining dome of Capitol Hill, we worked vigorously to cut your taxes, increase government transparency, hold the line on spending and move our state forward economically. As of Thursday, 903 out of 2,234 House and Senate bills had been signed into law.
The 88th General Assembly held the shortest session in two decades. However, because congressional redistricting is not complete, the House and Senate will reconvene on Monday to complete the process. Members will still return for a “sine die” on April 27, which is the final adjournment of the legislative session.
While we have recessed until next year’s fiscal session, I will continue my work to serve as your voice in the Arkansas House of Representatives. Please contact me with any issues, questions or concerns you may have. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org