Arkansas Senate picks new leader to take over for resigning Sen. Michael Lamoureux

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LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — The Arkansas Senate voted Friday to allow its incoming president to take the reins early, as lawmakers divvied up committee assignments and began preparing for next year's legislative session.

Sen. Jonathan Dismang was elected by acclamation to begin work immediately as Senate president, a title he hadn't expected to take until the session begins in January. Dismang was elected to replace former Sen. Michael Lamoureux as the chamber's president. Lamoureux resigned from the Senate to work as Republican Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson's chief of staff.

Dismang had been elected last year to serve as Senate president for the 2015 session. Dismang had avoided a last-minute fight for leadership of the Senate on Wednesday, when fellow Republican Sen. Gary Stubblefield dropped his bid to unseat Dismang as president.

Dismang is heading a Senate controlled by Republicans, who are sharply divided over the future of the state's "private option" Medicaid expansion. The program needs at least three-fourths support in the House and Senate, and several opponents of the program were elected in last week's midterm election.

In another hurdle for the program, five opponents of the private option claimed seats on the eight-member Public Health Committee on Friday.

Dismang, an architect of the program, has said it'll likely need to change in order to be reauthorized but declined to elaborate on what those changes may be.

"Hopefully, there's a compromise out there that can be reached," Dismang said.

One of the first tasks facing Dismang will be appointing two members to a new commission being set up that will set the salaries for the state's top elected officials. The commission is being set up under a constitutional amendment voters approved. Other members of the commission will be appointed by the governor, House speaker and state Supreme Court chief justice.

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