LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe on Tuesday called lawmakers back to the Capitol to address a looming increase in teacher insurance premiums and prison overcrowding.
Beebe issued a proclamation convening a special legislative session to begin June 30 to address the two issues. This is the third special session Beebe has convened since taking office in 2007.
The session is intended to focus primarily on measures aimed at averting a 35 percent premium increase set to hit 47,000 public school employees this fall. The proposals being considered include dropping part-time employees from plans and excluding spouses from coverage if they can receive insurance from their own work. The package includes a plan to transfer $4.6 million in expected tax savings from districts to the state for the insurance program.
The legislation also includes proposals to require verifying the eligibility of dependents on teacher insurance policies and to allow the state to scale back or eliminate coverage for weight loss surgery.
The shortfall is blamed on an increasingly expensive insurance program, with many employees participating in generous plans that feature no deductibles. The Legislature last year required the plans to include a deductible starting in 2015, as part of a series of measures aimed at overhauling the program.
The session will also include legislation that would free up $6.3 million in the budget to fund up to 600 additional prison beds. Law enforcement officials from around the state have asked for the additional funding to ease prison overcrowding. Arkansas' inmate population has risen since the state enacted stricter probation and parole policies last year. Many state inmates are being held at county jails as they await state prison beds.
This will be the second special session the Legislature has held over the past year to address the teacher insurance program. Beebe signed into law measures approved during a special session in October aimed at limiting premium increases, including setting aside $43 million from the state budget surplus and redirecting state money in future years.