LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — ARKANSAS LEGISLATURE
Arkansas legislative leaders say they need more information about the flexibility the state will have if it expands Medicaid and better figures on how much of a shortfall the program faces as they wrapped up the first week of the session.
The Arkansas House and Senate recessed on Thursday for a four-day weekend to mark the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Lawmakers convened on Monday for the start of this year's legislative session.
Senate President Michael Lamoureux said lawmakers want to know how much flexibility the state will have if it expands Medicaid's eligibility under the federal health care law. He also said lawmakers want a firmer number on the new projected shortfall the program faces this year.
Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe has urged lawmakers to support the expansion.
The Arkansas Supreme Court says it won't reconsider its ruling that lets school districts keep excess property tax revenue if they raise more money than that set under Arkansas' funding formula.
The high court on Thursday denied Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's request that the court rehear the case.
Justices ruled last year that state education officials cannot withhold excess money from the Eureka Springs and Fountain Lake school districts, where higher property tax collections pushed the districts above total school funding levels set by state law.
State officials have warned that the court ruling could jeopardize Arkansas' school funding system, which was tied up in court challenges for years.
Gov. Mike Beebe has said he hopes the Legislature can address the issue this session.
Arkansas Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Dustin McDaniel says President Barack Obama's gun control plan is "distressing."
McDaniel's remarks on Thursday come a day after Obama signed 23 executive actions, including orders to make more federal data available for background checks and to end a freeze on government research on gun violence.
McDaniel told The Associated Press that the biggest concern for state attorneys general is whether the president's executive orders infringe on people's constitutional rights.
The attorney general's comments come nearly a month after the only announced Republican candidate for the 2014 gubernatorial race, former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson, was tapped to head a National Rifle Association effort to push for armed officers in the nation's schools.
Arkansas lawmakers are proposing measures that would expand the places where people can carry concealed handguns — including churches and college campuses.
Two measures were filed Thursday that would expand the locations where concealed handguns are allowed. The measures are among several gun-related pieces of legislation that are expected to be considered in this year's session.
Republican Sen. Bryan King of Green Forest proposed allowing concealed handguns at churches. The measure would leave it up to the church to determine whether to allow them. King proposed similar legislation in 2011 that passed the House but did not clear a Senate panel.
Republican Rep. Denny Altes of Fort Smith filed a separate bill that would allow faculty and staff at colleges and universities to carry concealed handguns on campus.
A former speaker of the Arkansas House who backed better highways as a legislator has been appointed to a 10-year term on the state Highway Commission.
Robert Moore of Arkansas City replaces Chairman R. Madison Murphy. Gov. Mike Beebe made the appointment Thursday.
Moore backed recent funding increases for highways and in 2011 warned that if the state didn't fix its roads, financial problems would follow. Moore said Thursday that the value of good roads "cannot be underestimated."
The governor tapped Moore as an idea floats through the Legislature to use state general revenue for highway funding, even though voters last year approved a 10-year road package worth $1.8 billion. Moore said Arkansas needs to find creative ways to fund roads; Beebe said he opposes using general revenue for highways.
An Arkansas lawmaker is proposing changes to a lethal injection law that the state Supreme Court struck down last year.
Republican Sen. Bart Hester of Cave Springs filed legislation Thursday that would spell out how the Arkansas Department of Correction is to carry out executions.
Last year, the state's high court sided with a number of death row inmates who argued that the 2009 execution law violated part of the state's constitution that deals with separating the branches of government.
That law that was struck down said death sentences are to be carried out by lethal injection of one or more chemicals that the director of the Department of Correction chooses.
Correction spokeswoman Shea Wilson says the agency is still digesting Hester's proposal.
ARKANSAS LEGISLATURE-SPENDING CAP
Thirty-five Arkansas legislators are backing a bill that would set a cap on how much the state's government can grow each year.
House Republican Leader Rep. Bruce Westerman introduced the bill Thursday. The measure would limit growth in the state's annual expenditures by either 3 percent or the three-year average increase in the state's gross domestic product — whichever is less.
Westerman says the goal is to prevent government spending from growing faster than state's economy.
The bill has 29 other sponsors in the House, and five senators have also signed on.
Westerman says Republicans plan to introduce additional legislation that would further restrict state spending.
A spokesman for Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe says the governor is reviewing the legislation.
A legislative panel has advanced a proposal creating a task force that will study replacing a state veterans' home that closed last year.
The Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee on Thursday endorsed the proposal by Republican Sen. Jane English of North Little Rock to create an Arkansas veterans' home task force.
English's proposal would create a 22-member task force that would begin meeting in May to work on recommendations for replacing a state veterans' home in Little Rock that closed last year.
The panel would look at potential locations for a new facility, the cost and potential funding sources. The proposal calls for the task force to issue its recommendations by Oct. 31.
English's proposal heads to the Senate, which is expected to vote on it Tuesday.
Former state Sen. Randy Laverty has been named the commissioner of Arkansas Rehabilitation Services.
Laverty served in the House of Representatives from 1995 to 2001 and in the Senate from 2003 until this year. He is a Democrat from Jasper.
Arkansas Rehabilitation Services aims to provide opportunities for Arkansans with disabilities and is a division of the Arkansas Department of Career Education. Laverty will take over as commissioner on Feb. 3. He replaces Randy Parker, who came out of retirement to serve as interim commissioner.
Arkansas Department of Career Education Director Bill Walker says he's "delighted" that Laverty will serve as commissioner. Walker says Laverty's experience in the Legislature will help the agency enhance the services provided to Arkansans with disabilities.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
"It's more important that we get things right than do it quick. We're literally talking about shaping health care policy for 10 or 20 years. It's not a McDonald's drive-thru."
Senate President Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, on tackling Medicaid. Lamoureux said lawmakers want answers on whether the state could opt for a smaller expansion than the federal health care law calls for, despite the Obama administration telling states that partial expansion wasn't possible.