State Sen. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale) cast the decisive 27th vote in favor of granting Gov. Asa Hutchinson's appropriation to the Department of Human Services funding the state's health care coverage for low-income Arkansans called Arkansas Works.
The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for a vote, and then on to Hutchinson, who's expected to sign it.
Clark didn’t vote on the appropriation the first round. He didn't cast a vote at all; neither did Sens. Gary Stubblefield (R-Branch) or Scott Flippo (R-Mountain Home). Meanwhile, state Sens. Brian King (R-Green Forest) and Linda Collins-Smith (R-Pocahontas) voted against it. The normally 35-member Senate is missing three senators due to death and resignation and so 27 votes is necessary to pass an appropriation bill such as this.
After the roll call only 26 senators had voted for the appropriation. Clark was again asked for a vote, and this time, he said 'aye.'
Both Collins-Smith and King said Hutchinson's staff maligned and mischaracterized their position.
"Like Sen. King I, too, was attacked wrongly in my district by the governor, but tell me what's changed, because nothing's changed except an increase in the cost to the taxpayers of Arkansas," Collins-Smith said, holding back tears.
The state expanded federal Medicaid health care coverage years ago as a response to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare. There are nearly 300,000 Arkansans who get health care through the public-private partnership called Arkansas Works.
It continues to be funded by Republican majorities in both chambers, many of whom profess to oppose it. Clark himself has voted against appropriation at least five times.
This week, the state got the go-ahead to implement a work (or volunteer) requirement of 20 hours a week that would affect about 40,000 low-income, childless and non-disabled recipients between the ages of 19-49. It does not affect people on traditional Medicaid.
That, Clark said, influenced him greatly, but perhaps not more than his belief that the three special elections to fill the empty seats will produce the support the governor seeks.
"You know, looking forward, looking at the special elections … I have no doubt the vote is already out there if [this fell] one vote short.”
For his part, Hutchinson said in a press release he's "very grateful for the senators that were able to support Arkansas Works and the DHS appropriation," and on the first vote.
Clark himself said one reason for his change of heart is that he's sure, if the appropriation didn't pass, that the governor would call another session this year to get an appropriation, and "there's no sense in us coming back in June."
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