Southwest Arkansas legislators were hopeful of a conclusion to an extended regular session of the Arkansas General Assembly on Tuesday, as they looked back on a session that sought a third way for Medicaid expansion and supported development of a steel mill in Arkansas.
Both State Representative Brent Talley, D-McCaskill, and State Senator Larry Teague, D-Nashville, hailed the session as a success, not only for the passage of the Medicaid “private option” concept, but for the steel project and a budget that includes a number of tax cuts.
“As I look back over the session, it has truly been an honor to represent District 3 and I look forward to being back home to continue working with the citizens of Hempstead and Nevada counties,” Talley said Friday. “I am glad that we have been able to provide an insurance option to over 250,000 uninsured working families in Arkansas and assist rural hospitals.
“We will come out of this session with tax cuts that will help with jobs and assist families across the state,” he said.
Teague said that the original session was to have expired Friday, and he expected work to continue through Tuesday under a special recall by leaders of both legislative houses. But, he said lawmakers got a lot done Friday.
“We passed out Revenue Stabilization today in Budget, we still need to pass the General Improvements Project bill out of Budget,” he said. “I expect we will do that soon.”
Both of those came about late Friday afternoon, as the Lege agreed to split $170 million in GIP money with the governor's office, giving each chamber $35 million and Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe $100 million. A package of tax cuts, ultimately costing about $140 million a year, was also passed out for Beebe's signature Friday, according to the Associated Press.
The flurry of activity typically seen around the close of a legislative session was marked this year by the distinction of having a Republican-controlled legislature. Consequently, both Talley and Teague expressed satisfaction with the level of bi-partisan effort the session produced.
“There have been moments when we altered from a bipartisan approach, but overall the House members have remained focused on representing their constituents,” Talley said. “At times, we have just had to agree to disagree and then move forward.”
Teague said the session was successful in one respect, in that, “I always believe that the real accomplishments of the Session is the legislation that we prevent from becoming law.”
He did not elaborate on that point, but noted that bipartisanship did exist where many detractors prior to the session had predicted failure.
“We did fund the Big River Steel Mill and we did work out the Private Option health care issue,” Teague said. “I received quite a bit of flak from various media outlets regarding my statements before Session that I believed we would put the people of Arkansas first and party politics second. I believe that for the most part we accomplished that.”
Page 2 of 2 - Republican State Senator Jimmy Hickey, of Texarkana, was not available for comment at press time today.