LITTLE ROCK — Changes to Arkansas' levee system after recent flooding in the state should be on the agenda if the Legislature is called back into session to take up the future of its health insurance marketplace, a key lawmaker said Wednesday.
Republican Sen. Jason Rapert, who is the chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee, said he hoped lawmakers would take a look at the levees and at potentially giving the state more supervision over them if a special session is called in the coming months.
"We need to clear up maybe some areas of miscommunication and neglect," Rapert told reporters. "I hope if we do have a special session, the governor would allow us to handle that."
Arkansas officials said earlier at a legislative hearing that the state needs more oversight over dozens of locally run levees around the state. Under the current system, officials told lawmakers, they're unsure exactly how many levees are in the state and the condition of many of them.
"The General Assembly needs to address this lack of oversight," Randy Young, executive director of the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, told lawmakers.
Lawmakers are looking at the possibility of a special session if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that health insurance subsidies aren't available to people in states that haven't set up their own marketplaces under the federal health law. Arkansas has been given conditional approval to set up its own exchange, but a law enacted earlier this year leaves the decision up to the Legislature if the Obama administration loses its case before the high court.
A 2009 legislative audit said the state was served by a mix of levees "with no central oversight of the flood control structures," but the Legislature did not adopt most of the changes in law recommended by that report. The report called for creating a complete listing of all levees in the state, requiring levees to report maintenance status to the state and directing the ANRC to develop standards for levee maintenance.
"We've got a patchwork that's been put in place that's caused a lot of confusion. ... You have areas where there are literally people throwing their hands up and not knowing where their authority is and how to go about it," Rapert said.
Read Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.