- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 13, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Latest on the beginning of the legislative session focusing on Arkansas’ budget (all times local):

4:45 p.m.

House Speaker Jeremy Gillam says it’s possible the Legislature may recess if the funding measure for Arkansas’ hybrid Medicaid expansion deadlocks in the Senate.

Gillam told reporters Wednesday that a recess is one of the options legislative leaders are mulling if the Medicaid budget bill doesn’t get the three-fourths vote needed in the Senate. The measure is scheduled go before the Senate on Thursday.

Gillam said a short recess could give lawmakers a chance to talk with constituents in their districts about the impact of ending the expansion. Gillam has warned that state agencies across the board would face significant cuts without the program.

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3:20 p.m.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he’s not considering any changes to his plan to keep and rework the state’s hybrid Medicaid expansion as a way to win over fellow Republicans who have vowed to defund the program.

Hutchinson told reporters Wednesday he’s confident the Medicaid budget bill funding the expansion has the 75 votes needed in the House to pass. Supporters of the plan have acknowledged the measure isn’t likely to clear the 27 votes needed in the Senate.

Lawmakers last week approved legislation outlining Hutchinson’s changes to the program, which uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for thousands of low-income residents. The Medicaid budget bill funding the program needs at least three-fourths support in each chamber to pass.

Hutchinson said the Medicaid budget bill is not the time to debate the policy of his hybrid expansion plan.

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2:55 p.m.

Funding for Arkansas’ first-in-the-nation hybrid Medicaid expansion is heading toward its first vote in the Legislature’s fiscal session.

The Joint Budget Committee on a voice vote Wednesday advanced the Medicaid budget bill that funds the program, which uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for thousands of lower-income people.

The Senate is expected to take up the measure Thursday.

Supporters of the expansion acknowledge they are likely short of the three-fourths vote needed to approve the budget measure. Republicans opposed to the program have vowed to block any budget bill that includes funding for the expanded coverage.

The vote comes less than a week after lawmakers approved legislation outlining Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s plan to keep and rework the program, which was created as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health law.

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12:20 p.m.

House Democrats say they want to resolve the funding standoff over Arkansas’ hybrid Medicaid expansion before any other budget bills are considered this session.

House Minority Leader Michael John Gray sent Speaker Jeremy Gillam a letter Wednesday asking that the Medicaid budget bill funding the expansion be taken up before any other proposals. Gray cited warnings that ending the expansion would lead to significant budget cuts.

Lawmakers last week approved Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s plan to keep and rework the expansion by large majorities, but shy of the three fourths support the Medicaid budget needs.

The hybrid expansion has sharply divided Republicans who control the Legislature.

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12:05 p.m.

Arkansas lawmakers have begun a session focused on the $5.3 billion budget for the coming year, as a standoff looms over efforts to defund the state’s hybrid Medicaid expansion.

The Senate and House gathered Wednesday for their fiscal session. They’re meeting less than a week after lawmakers approved Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s plan to keep and rework the hybrid expansion, which uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for the poor.

The plan was backed by large majorities, but shy of the three-fourths support the Medicaid budget bill funding the program needs.

Hutchinson and legislative leaders have warned of significant cuts for state agencies if the expansion isn’t funded. The governor said Tuesday his highway funding proposal is dead if the expanded coverage ends.

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10:30 a.m.

Opponents of Arkansas’ hybrid Medicaid expansion have filed a proposal to cap enrollment in the program and terminate the expanded coverage by year’s end.

Republican Sen. Bart Hester on Wednesday filed a proposal to repeal legislation signed into law last week outlining Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s plan to rework the hybrid expansion, which uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents. Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger filed an identical version in the House.

The legislation approving the expansion passed by large majorities, but shy of the three-fourths support the Medicaid budget bill will need for funding. Lawmakers will take up the Medicaid budget bill at the fiscal session, set to begin at noon Wednesday.

Hutchinson, a Republican, has warned that state agencies will face significant cuts if the program isn’t funded.

The opposition’s proposal needs two-thirds support from the House and Senate to be introduced since it’s not a budget bill.

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6:21 a.m.

Arkansas lawmakers are returning to the Capitol for a session focused on the budget, with a standoff looming over efforts to block funding for the state’s hybrid Medicaid expansion.

The House and Senate are scheduled to convene at noon Wednesday for the fiscal session. They’re meeting less than a week after lawmakers approved Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s plan to keep and rework the hybrid expansion, which uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for the poor.

The plan was backed by large majorities, but shy of the three-fourths support the Medicaid budget bill funding the program needs.

Hutchinson and legislative leaders have warned of significant cuts for state agencies if the expansion isn’t funded. The governor said Tuesday his highway funding proposal is dead if the expanded coverage ends.


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