LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) – Delta and state economic leaders gather Thursday in Pine Bluff to talk about the future of the Arkansas Delta.

Simmons Bank is sponsoring a conference called, "The Arkansas Delta: Why It Still Matters." The company said the conference is designed to help community leaders network and discuss how towns can be managed amid population declines. It will also feature panels on health care, education, agriculture and economic development.

Speakers include Mike Preston—the executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission — and Greg Hamilton—a senior research economist at the Institute for Economic Advancement at UALR.
The event begins at 9 a.m. at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.

The full House and Senate are expected to take up Gov. Asa Hutchinson's plan to continue the state's hybrid Medicaid expansion.

The governor's "Arkansas Works" plan — which adds new provisions to the private option — was approved in House and Senate committees Wednesday. The plan has been controversial among Republicans and was not without its critics.

Republican Sen. Terry Rice said the plan enslaves future generations to debt, but other GOP members said it would be foolish for the state to give up on federal money that 30 other states are accepting just to highlight their opposition to the health law.

The expanded Medicaid program covers more than 250,000 Arkansans.

And finally, two men have been charged with failing to turn over more than $6 million in withholding taxes collected by hospital employees in Hope.

James Cheek, 67, and Herschel Breig, Sr., 68, pleaded not guilty in federal court Tuesday to nine charges. The allegations relate to taxes collected from staff at Hope Medical Park Hospital from May 2008 to April 2012.

The men are already serving federal prison sentences for nearly identical crimes committed in Texas.

The Hope Medical Park Hospital has since gotten new owners and is now called the Wadley Regional Medical Center at Hope.