Monday, June 23, 2014

UPDATE: Special session coming with bills on insurance, prisons

Posted By on Mon, Jun 23, 2014 at 12:21 PM

UPDATE: Gov. Mike Beebe said today that legislative consensus apparently has been reached on a temporary fix to avoid catastrophic increases in school employees health insurance. That means he'll soon call a special session  to pass agreed legislation on insurance and increased money for prisons.

UPDATE: Legislators are saying the session will be Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.

The insurance deal calls for tapping school funds for a portion of the money and tossing both part-time employees and spouses of school employees who can get insurance on their own jobs off the insurance plan. The plan will still be more expensive than the state employee insurance plan and be less inclusive. For that reason, it seems to me only a temporary fix. Something has to give someday on a unified public employees insurance plan. Some day.

The legislature also is prepared to divert about $6 million a year from the central services fund to prisons and county jails so that they may hire people necessary to accommodate more prisoners.

As of yet, votes apparently are lacking to consider a bill to limit the Arkansas lottery's planned move into video games. Same for the fight over opening up the state broadband system for colleges to public schools.

PS — House is undergoing repair work. So it may have to meet in Old State House or Big MAC. New surroundings. Same old faces.  And, since it's all cut and dried, if the new location means loss of webcasting, we won't miss much.

PPS — I asked one of the sponsors about enforcement of spousal requirement. He said there will be a statement that says anyone found in violation will be prosecuted.

UPDATE: I've received copies of letters legislators have received. One is a lengthy argument from a spouse of a teacher who works in the insurance business who believes the changes won't lower costs as anticipated and will drive more people out of the school insurance pool. He notes, too, that the "fix" for the plan includes no additional state money. Another is from Fort Smith School Superintendent Benny Gooden, with a number of objections to the plan, including the takeback of money from school districts and the composition of the board that oversees employee benefits — weighted in favor of state employees though they are less numerous than school employees.

Here's Benny Gooden's letter.
Here's the letter from the spouse of a teacher.

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