LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Legislature convenes Monday for its regular legislative session, with questions about the state's Medicaid program and the program's possible expansion expected to dominate the agenda. This year's session will mark the first time in 138 years that Republicans will control the state Legislature.
A rundown about the lawmakers and the issues they'll face during the 89th General Assembly:
WHAT'S AT STAKE? - The top issues facing lawmakers revolve around the state's Medicaid program. The Department of Human Services has proposed cuts to several services to make up a $138 million shortfall in the program. They include eliminating the lowest level of nursing home care paid for by the program. The program cuts are included in a $4.9 billion budget that Gov. Mike Beebe has proposed for the coming year. Lawmakers are also considering whether to expand the Medicaid program under the federal health care law.
WHO'S IN CHARGE? - For the first time since Reconstruction, Republicans are. The GOP holds 21 of the 35 seats in the state Senate and 51 of the 100 seats in the state House. Incoming House Speaker Davy Carter of Cabot and Senate President Michael Lamoureux of Russellville are both Republicans. Beebe is a Democrat serving his second and final term as governor.
WHAT WILL IT COST? - House officials estimate their costs at about $13,000 a day during the session, while the Senate estimates it costs about $12,300 each day.
HOW LONG WILL IT LAST? - Arkansas' constitution says regular legislative sessions cannot go longer than 60 days unless two-thirds of the House and Senate approve an extension. The 2011 regular legislative session lasted 94 days.
WHO'S MY LEGISLATOR? - Both chambers have sites where you can find your legislator by putting in your ZIP code or address. The Senate website is www.arkansas.gov/senate/ and the House website is www.arkansashouse.org
CAN I MAKE A DIFFERENCE? - Definitely, if you take the time. You can track bills and legislative activity on the General Assembly website at www.arkleg.state.ar.us
CAN I WATCH? - Yes, but it's easier to watch in person than online. The House broadcasts its proceedings online at www.arkansashouse.org but the Senate does not broadcast anywhere. The Joint Budget Committee's proceedings also won't be broadcast online. At the state Capitol, the House and Senate galleries are open to the public, and there is seating for the public at committee hearings. For a schedule of committee hearings and agendas, go to www.arkleg.state.ar.us
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