UPDATE Bill to create Medicaid inspector clears Senate


LITTLE ROCK — Legislation that would create a new state office to investigate suspected Medicaid fraud cleared the Senate on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 914 passed 31-0 and goes to the House.

The bill, sponsored jointly by Sen. David Sanders, R-Little Rock, and Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, would establish an Office of Medicaid Inspector General with the task of rooting out fraud in the government health care program for the poor, elderly and disabled.

“We’re consolidating and coordinating existing efforts that are taking place … to look at waste, fraud and abuse in the Medicaid system,” Sanders said after the Senate vote.

The office would be part of the governor’s office under the bill. Its director would be a gubernatorial appointee, confirmed by the state Senate, and would serve at the will of the governor.

The new office would be authorized to hire a staff to investigate suspected Medicaid fraud and abuse, working in conjunction with the attorney general’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit as well as U.S. attorneys and state prosecutors.

Creation of the new office would mean consolidating the staff and “other Medicaid fraud detection, prevention and recovery functions from the relevant governmental entities into a single office,” according to the bill.

SB 914 also would create the new criminal offense of health care fraud and direct the Office of Information Technology to test and strengthen the Medicaid payment system to detect fraud, improve accountability and automate processes for the review of claims.

Republican legislators have pushed for reform of the current Medicaid program this session as Gov. Mike Beebe and legislative leaders attempt to hammer out a deal to use federal dollars to subsidize health insurance for Arkansas’ working poor through the state’s health exchange as an alternative to expanding the Medicaid program.

The Senate also approved SB 902 by Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, 18-17, with Lt. Gov. Mark Darr breaking the tie.

The bill would make the removal of a specialized dog collar that can be tracked by GPS a Class C felony, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and up to $100 fine.

Clark said the collars can cost up to $1,000 and are put on hunting dogs so their owners can track them.

The bill, which originally would have allowed the dog’s owner to enter another person’s property to retrieve the dog if it ran off, was defeated last month with 34 senators voting no and Clark the only yes vote.

SB 802 by Sanders passed 35-0 and goes to the House. It would allow larger trucking companies, which contract with independent truckers, to offer them worker’s compensation insurance. Sanders said his measure “preserves the independent carrier’s right to independence.”

The Senate also approved HB 1354 by Rep. David Branscum, R-Marshall, which would define an “infamous crime” — an offense which would disqualify a person from running for or holding public office — as a misdemeanor theft or property offense; abuse of office; tampering; or a misdemeanor involving deceit, fraud or a false statement. Felonies already prohibit people from running for or holding public office in Arkansas. The bill passed 27-1 and goes to the governor.

The House on Tuesday approved a number of bills, including:

—HB 1391 by Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, which would place restrictions on the possession, sale and breeding of non-human primates, including prohibiting direct contact between primates and the public except in limited circumstances and creating a registration process that would allow for the tracking of primates in the event of a disease outbreak. The bill passed 56-15 and goes to the Senate.

—HB 1480 by Rep. Mary Broadaway, D-Paragould, which would require large out-of-state distilleries and wineries to pay a $50 fee for a permit to allow their products to be sold in Arkansas, plus a $15 registration fee for each brand label sold in the state. Registration fees would go into a fund to be used to educate law enforcement officers and alcoholic beverage severs about Arkansas’ liquor laws, promote alcohol safety awareness and enforce state laws concerning underage drinking.

The bill passed 55-25 and goes to the Senate.

—HB 1975 by Rep. Darrin Williams, D-Little Rock, which would create a sentencing enhancement for metal theft, make accomplices to metal theft criminally liable and ban a person convicted of metal theft from ever selling scrap metal. The bill passed 85-4 and goes to the Senate.

In a voice vote, the House passed House Resolution 1029 by Rep. Betty Overbey, D-Lamar, commending University of the Ozarks President Rick Niece and his wife, Sheree, for their service to the university. Niece became the university’s president in 1997 and will retire this summer.

The Senate and House approved Senate Resolution 21 and HR 1029, respectively, honoring Greenwood High School football coach Rick Jones for being named Football Coach of the Year by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Jones and members of his coaching staff were on the Senate floor when Sen. Bruce Holland, R-Greenwood, read SR 21.

Elsewhere Tuesday, the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee in a voice vote rejected Senate Joint Resolution 19 by Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, which would ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.