Arkansas House gives final OK to keeping Medicaid expansion; Arkansas man accused of making ricin indicted by grand jury; College savings dispute stalls Arkansas treasurer's budget; Fire at Arkansas horse barn injures 2

Arkansas House gives final OK to keeping Medicaid expansion

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas lawmakers voted Wednesday to keep the state's Medicaid expansion another year after federal officials said the state can require people on the program to work or volunteer to keep their coverage.

The Arkansas House approved by a 79-15 vote the budget for the state's Medicaid program and the hybrid expansion, which uses federal and state funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents. The measure needed at least 75 votes to pass. It now heads to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's desk.

"It just reflects the fact that when people listen and they work for a good end result, we can get the job done," Hutchinson told reporters after the vote.

More than 285,000 people are on the program, which was created as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health law.

The Trump administration earlier this week approved Arkansas' request to require thousands on the expansion to work or volunteer. Arkansas is the third state allowed to impose a work requirement on Medicaid.

The bill cleared a major hurdle a day earlier in the state Senate, where vacancies had created uncertainty about the program's future. The proposal passed without a vote to spare in that chamber Tuesday. In the House, it passed without any debate.

Republican Rep. Brandt Smith, who voted against the measure, expressed skepticism about the work requirement and said he had hoped Arkansas would get another limit it proposed to restrict the program's eligibility. Federal officials and the state said they're still discussing that proposal, which would remove more than 60,000 people from the program.

"The taxpayers of this state deserve better and when I see it getting better I'm all for it," Smith said.

Arkansas' work requirement will affect non-disabled, childless adults on the plan who are 19 to 49 years old. People affected by the change will be required to work or participate in other activities such as volunteering or vocational training for 20 hours a week. Arkansas' requirement will not affect people on its traditional Medicaid program, which covers more than 645,000 people statewide.

Fire at Arkansas horse barn injures 2

HOT SPRINGS — Authorities found two people injured and 40 horses evacuated after an early morning barn fire in west-central Arkansas.

The Sentinel-Record reports that the Hot Springs Fire Department was called to Oaklawn Park on Tuesday for a reported fire in the second-floor tack room in the Swaps Barn. Oaklawn officials say the fire resulted in the loss of two dorm rooms, which serve as living quarters for those helping around the stable.

Fire Chief Ed Davis says that all horses and workers were safely moved away from the fire, which was contained and extinguished within 20 minutes. Authorities say none of the horses were harmed, and that two people were injured but one of the injuries is minor.

Fire marshals are still investigating the cause of the blaze.

College savings dispute stalls Arkansas treasurer's budget

LITTLE ROCK — The budget for the Arkansas state treasurer's office has stalled in the Legislature over a dispute about efforts to allow taxpayers with 529 college savings plans to withdraw funds for education expenses at public, private and religious K-12 schools.

The Arkansas House voted 74-15 Wednesday in favor of the treasurer's budget, one vote shy of the 75 needed to pass. It's the second day in a row the proposal has failed before the House. House Speaker Jeremy Gillam says he doesn't plan another vote on the measure.

The bill includes a provision intended to mirror a change in federal tax law that was recently enacted. Supporters say the change in state law is needed to ensure Arkansans don't face state tax penalties if they withdraw funds for those educational expenses.

Arkansas man accused of making ricin indicted by grand jury

LITTLE ROCK — Federal prosecutors say a grand jury has indicted an Arkansas man accused of manufacturing the deadly toxin ricin after watching the show "Breaking Bad."

Officials say 21-year-old Alexander Joseph Jordan of Little Rock was indicted Wednesday for possession of ricin without obtaining the legally-required registration. His attorney, Nicole Lybrand of the Federal Public Defender's Office, declined comment.

Prosecutors say Alexander was hospitalized on Feb. 23 and told authorities he had ingested ricin and produced two mason jars of the toxin in a blender at his home.

Alexander says he learned how to make toxic ricin on the internet after watching "Breaking Bad," a fictional crime drama about the production of methamphetamine.

If convicted, Alexander faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.