Arkansas State Capitol, Little Rock
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV/AP) - The Arkansas Legislature has convened for this year's session with Republicans controlling the House and Senate for the first time in 138 years.
Lawmakers gathered at the state Capitol on Monday to begin in the 89th General Assembly. It marks the last regular session for Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who is term limited and cannot run for re-election next year.
The GOP has the majority in both the House and Senate for the first time since Reconstruction and lawmakers face an immediate question of how to fill an estimated $138 million shortfall in the state's Medicaid budget.
Lawmakers are also considering whether to expand Medicaid's eligibility under the federal health care law. Beebe supports the expansion, which would add 250,000 to the program. Republicans are generally reluctant about the idea.
Medicaid expansion will impact a quarter of a million Arkansans. The grocery tax affects the entire state and the unsettled future of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery hangs in the balance.
"It's a really critical time for our state and our nation so we need people to come together and put politics aside and do what's right for the state of Arkansas," said Democratic Freshman Rep. Warwick Sabin.
Sabin remained optimistic strong legislation can be formed by a General Assembly dominated by Republicans. While most Republicans see debt written all over Medicaid expansion, Sabin contended expansion could ease the burden.
"We have an opportunity through the federal government to expand Medicaid to ensure more people, to bring the cost down through a more efficient system," said Sabin.
Republican Majority Leader, Bruce Westerman, said he is already working on a Medicaid plan.
"We've got some issues on the spending restraints, controlling the growth of the state budget and then I'll be rolling out some Medicaid legislation as well," said Westerman.
Sabin said unlike Washington D.C. the state legislature will accomplish a lot because of bipartisanship.
"Nothing is getting done up in Washington D.C. Because of all the partisan political maneuvering, here in Arkansas we've been fortunate that that hasn't been the case," said Sabin.
Despite party affiliation big decisions await this session. Governor Mike Beebe hoped to significantly reduce the grocery tax and something must be done to secure the future of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery. With his forty other colleagues Sabin said the house is up to the challenge.
"As a freshman class we have an opportunity to prove to the citizens of Arkansas that we'll work together in a bipartisan way to make practical pragmatic changes for the state," said Sabin.
You can watch everything that happens in the House of Representatives on their live stream from the Capitol. Arkansas' House shelled out more than $375,000 to equip four committee rooms with cameras and hardware.
You can also keep up with everything in the Arkansas Senate with their website.
Also, on the 88th General Assembly website, you can keep track of all the and proposed and find a list of all your Arkansas legislators.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.