The Arkansas Senate passed the state Human Services Department’s medical services appropriation, with its continuation of the Arkansas Works program to expand Medicaid coverage in Arkansas under Obamacare. The vote was 27-2.

Sen. Bryan King, a long-time foe of the program, delivered a stemwinder of a speech urging tabling of the legislation. He argued it’s a windfall for insurance companies, ineffective in improving health and wasteful of tax dollars. His motion failed, 15-17.

The actual bill required 27 votes to pass., a heavy lift with three seats in the 35-seat Senate vacant. But opponents gave hints in the debate that the measure would pass.

When the Senate moved to debate on SB 30, Sen. Alan Clark, a historic foe of the Medicaid expansion, complimented the addition of a work requirement to participate. He said it wasn’t enough to win his support. But he said if the roll call came down to one vote, he would not be that vote. He’d support it rather than putting the state through more drama in waiting until a special session to resolve the issue. Sen. Terry Rice, another old foe, dismissed the work rule as a limited change.  He also said, “I just hate a crisis every time we come together.” He predicted the debate would be repeated in 2019. But to avoid the continuing debate in a special session, he said he’d vote for the bill.

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Sens. King and Linda Collins Smith angrily denounced criticism they’d received from the governor’s office. and stood firm in their opposition Collins Smith tearfully said that her “heart breaks” for the burden put on working people by the medical program. She said the bill didn’t have to pass today. King and Collins Smith voted no. Sens. Flippo and Stubblefield didn’t vote, same effect as a no. Sen. Stephanie Flowers voted present, same as a no.

Among those endorsing the legislation, Sen. Joyce Elliott reminded the chamber that working people would benefit from the legislation and they faced other barriers. She said the legislature needed to decide “who and what we are” as a state. She said “systemic poverty haunts this state” and “we still act as if we have throwaway people We still act as if it’s not OK to be better than this.”

The House almost vote on the legislation, but it’s believed to enjoy stronger support there.

Said Gov. Asa Hutchinson, whose whole budget depends on this money:

“I’m very grateful for the senators that were able to support Arkansas Works and the DHS appropriation. Obviously the work requirement was a significant factor in showing the reform that we’re accomplishing, and I appreciate the Senate’s leadership in passing this on the first vote.”

Here’s a fuller report on the Senate action from Benji Hardy for the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network.