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Arkansas legislators adjourn but returns for special session

Arkansas State Capitol

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Members of the Arkansas Legislature ended their 2018 session Monday but will return to the state Capitol on Tuesday to address concerns over reimbursement rates arranged by pharmacy benefit managers in state health insurance plans and to tweak laws that could pinch off some federal highway funding.

Legislators formally concluded a four-week fiscal session after approving a $5.6 billion state budget that takes effect July 1. Shortly after they concluded their work, which included House members electing Republican Rep. Matthew Shepherd of El Dorado as their leader for next year, Gov. Asa Hutchinson asked them to return Tuesday morning.

"Prior to the fiscal session, a number of matters that warranted immediate action by the Legislature were brought to my attention, including issues such as highway funding and pharmacy benefit manager oversight legislation," Hutchinson said. He asked legislators to work in a "quick and efficient manner over the next three days."

Pharmacists rallied at the Capitol this year — and packed a meeting room as legislators took testimony from health care industry officials — to complain that reimbursement rates arranged by pharmacy benefit managers were not matching their costs for prescriptions they were filling under state-run insurance plans.

The Arkansas Pharmacists Association said CVS Caremark was paying pharmacies owned by its parent company an average of $60 more than it paid independent drugstores for about 270 common prescriptions.

Dom Gugliuzza, the vice president of finance and analytics at CVS Health, told the Legislative Council's Health Insurance Marketplace Oversight Subcommittee in January that the company planned to review what was happening.

Legislators are also being asked to change state law so it defines alcoholic beverages and open containers in a way that matches federal law. Hutchinson has said federal highway funding is at stake.

Hutchinson also wants lawmakers to look at how the state awards liquid animal waste permits. The Sierra Club and other groups say that if the permit process is changed, it might become more difficult to shut down a hog farm that operates near the Buffalo National River in northern Arkansas.

Other legislation addresses possibly authorizing special equipment so that visually impaired people can play charitable bingo games, altering the right to a jury trial if both parties agree either before or after a lawsuit is filed, authorizing the use of all-terrain vehicles on public streets or highways if it is the most reasonable path, and authorizing the use of tax-deferred tuition savings funds for primary or secondary schools.