Weather delays vote on private option


LITTLE ROCK — The weather interfered with plans for a vote on the private option Monday, but House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, said he expected a vote Tuesday and predicted that an appropriation of renewed federal funding for the program would pass.

A winter storm that moved through the state Sunday night and early Monday made travel conditions hazardous, and as a result, only 71 of the House’s 100 members were in attendance Monday. Appropriations bills require a three-fourths majority to pass, or 75 votes in the House.

The fiscal session has been dominated by the private option, the state’s program created last year that uses federal Medicaid money to provide private health insurance to people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. A budget bill for the Department of Human Services that includes a $915 million appropriation of federal funding to continue the program has passed in the Senate but has been defeated in multiple House votes.

Carter said Monday he did not know whether road conditions would continue to affect attendance Tuesday, but “ideally, we would have all 100 members here, if it’s possible and they could get here safely, and we’d vote and we’d have a three-fourths vote, and that would be a great day.”

If the measure were to fail once more, Carter said he did not plan to call for repeated votes through the week. In that event, he said, lawmakers could end the session without passing a budget — the governor could call a special session later to address the budget — or go into recess.

“If the votes aren’t there, then the only other possibilities to my knowledge are to have a special session or recess on our own volition and come back before the 45 days are up,” he said, though he added, “I think we’ll pass the bill.”

A fiscal session cannot be extended beyond 45 days.

Carter had said previously he hoped to end the session Thursday. He said Monday that if the private option funding passes on Tuesday it may be possible to end the session later this week, though it may be necessary to go into the weekend.

Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison, one of the leading proponents of the private option, said members had continued talking about the issue over the weekend. He said he could not say for certain that any members had switched from opposing to supporting it, but he believed members were ready to decide the issue.

“It’s time to throw it up and see where it lands,” he said.