Arkansas Lawmakers Reject Changing Panel Rules

ANDREW DeMILLO | Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – Arkansas lawmakers on Friday rejected an effort to change the way certain committees vote after Republicans said they were worried it was aimed at easily implementing parts of the federal health care law and other controversial matters before a potential GOP takeover of the Legislature.

The proposed changes failed to win the two-thirds vote needed before the Arkansas Legislative Council, after Republican lawmakers called for the revisions to wait until next year's legislative session. The proposal would have allowed the council's subcommittees to approve items based on a majority of the members present rather than the majority of the panel's members – a move that would have allowed items to advance more quickly.

Supporters of the change said it was aimed at avoiding issues stalling in lower committees when lawmakers don't attend meetings. Sen. Jim Luker, a Democrat supporting the changes, indirectly referred to the federal health care law as he cited issues that have stalled in committees.

"Many of these things are somewhat time sensitive and there to keep the state in the game so to speak on an issue that's now the law so far as the laws of this country are concerned and will remain the law until Congress changes them," said Luker, D-Wynne.

Arkansas is setting up a partnership with the federal government to establish an online marketplace for patients to shop for insurance policies, a key part of the federal health overhaul. The state opted for the partnership approach after Republican lawmakers last year opposed legislation allowing the state to set up its own insurance exchange. The council's subcommittees have been considering federal grants over the partnership exchange.

After making gains in recent years, Republicans believe they're poised to win control of the state Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. Several GOP lawmakers questioned the timing of the changes, with the election less than two months away.

"Are we serving the best interest of the people of Arkansas when we're making this late change at this late hour?" said Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, who Republicans hope to vote in as speaker if they win control of the House.

Andrew DeMillo can be reached at

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