Ark. Gov calls special session on tobacco money
LITTLE ROCK, Ark., March 31 (Reuters) - The Arkansas Legislature will meet in a special session on Monday to decide how to spend the state's share of the national tobacco settlement, estimated at about $1.6 billion over 25 years.
``We need to have something in place quickly because Arkansas is one of the worst health problem states in the country,'' Jim Harris, spokesman for Gov. Mike Huckabee, told Reuters Friday.
In calling for a special session, the Republican governor lent his support to a plan drawn up by the Coalition for a Healthy Arkansas Today, or CHART, which would give more money to state college campuses for health research. Harris said the legislature was likely to approve the plan.
The special session is expected to last about five days. The governor wants a spending plan in place before the tobacco money is expected to begin flowing in late summer.
But the governor has opposition in the Democratically controlled legislature.
House Speaker Bob Johnson wants more money to go to Medicaid and programs like meals on wheels.
State Attorney General Mark Pryor, a Democrat, had advised the governor to wait a little longer before calling the special session, saying that there is not yet a consensus on the plan, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Friday.
Pryor helped fight the state's case against the tobacco companies. Currently, an appeal is pending in the Supreme Court on the issue of legal fees which must be decided before the state begins to receive the money.
Pryor said a hearing on the legal fees issue is not expected before the fall and that the legislature should wait until then before approving any plan, the newspaper said.
But Harris said the regular session of the legislature begins in January and that the governor wants a plan in place long before that.