Legislature likely to stay past Friday deadline


LITTLE ROCK — Legislation setting state spending priorities showed little movement Wednesday, making it likely that the General Assembly won’t meet its Friday deadline to wrap up business.

Meanwhile, the Joint Budget Committee endorsed an appropriation bill Wednesday that would grant a 2 percent raise to the state’s judges and prosecutors, and a co-chairman of the panel said he expects rank-and-file state employees to get the same pay increase in separate legislation, but not legislators or the executive branch officials.

The Senate sent to the governor Senate Bill 914 after approving a House amendment to the bill that wold create a new state office to investigate suspected Medicaid fraud.

The bill, sponsored jointly by Sen. David Sanders, R-Little Rock, and Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, would establish an Office of Medicaid Inspector General as part of the governor’s office.

SB 914 also would create the new criminal offense of health care fraud and direct the Office of Information Technology to test and strengthen the Medicaid payment system to detect fraud, improve accountability and automate processes for the review of claims.

The House voted 57-23 Wednesday to approve SB 1010 by Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, which would require all mattresses sold in the state to bear a label stating whether they are all new or contain previously used materials. Selling a used mattress as new would be a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The bill goes to the governor.

In a 78-9 vote, the House passed SB 821 by Sen. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, which would require people being paid to collect signatures for a ballot initiative to be registered with the secretary of state’s office and to sign affidavits stating they have not been convicted of any crimes.

The bill goes to the Senate for concurrence in a House amendment.

The House voted 90-0 to approve HB 1896 by Rep. Ann Clemmer, R-Benton, which would require the state Department of Education and the state Department of Higher Education to work together to study the reasons behind the high need for remedial classes among Arkansas college freshmen and to develop a way for high schools to share in the cost of offering those remedial college classes.

The bill goes to the Senate.

Also Wednesday, the Senate passed, 33-1, HB 1017, by Rep. Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith, which would allow a school district to adopt curriculum standards for an academic course on the Bible.

The bill goes to the governor.

The Senate also approved HB 1774 by Rep. James McLean, D-Batesville, which raises the minimum state funding for an adequate education for all K-12 students by 2 percent in each of the next two years. The measure also includes a 1.8 percent increase in separate funding categories for English-language programs, alternative-learning environments and professional development.

The bill passed 35-0 and goes to the governor.