Gov. Mike Beebe's office announces:
Governor Mike Beebe issued a call Tuesday to bring the Arkansas General Assembly into a special session to provide funding that will open more inmate beds and improve the viability of the Public School Employee Life and Health Insurance Program. The special session will begin on Monday, June 30 at 4:00 p.m.
The call includes bills that, if approved, will do the following:
- Provide ongoing revenue to open about 600 additional beds in Department of Correction facilities and the Pulaski County Jail;
- Eliminate part-time employees from eligibility to participate in the Public School Employee Life and Health Insurance Program; and
- Adjust the composition of the State and Public School Life and Health Insurance Board and its subcommittees, modify the definition of and require verification of "dependents," require that some participants establish health savings accounts, require the Board to identify FICA savings within districts for potential employee premium assistance, and limit coverage for the treatment of morbid obesity and bariatric surgeries.
The above changes to the Public School Employee Life and Health Insurance Program resulted from study and analysis undertaken by a legislative task force created for this specific purpose last October during another special session.
The legislation is not in a form that Beebe's office feels impinges on the "matrix" that determines sufficient state support for public schools. It does adjust the health insurance oversight board, which will be one small sop to school officials who saw a board controlled by members of the cheaper and better state employees insurance plan setting rules for their inferior school insurance coverage. It remains to be seen how this legislation avoids what school leaders have said was a problem — taking money from districts that spend more on employees to apply to insurance, at the cost of other budgeted uses of the money.
The main parts of the insurance bill are as long described. The state plans to recapture $4.6 million that the districts had spent as they chose from payroll tax savings provided by insurance plan contributions. Part-time workers won't get insurance. Spouses of employees with insurance at their jobs can't get school insurance. Some procedures, such as weight-loss surgery, will no longer be covered. Thank goodness nobody is suggesting any of this for the far cheaper, better supported state employee plan. It might affect dozens of legislators and their spouses who participate.
The governor's spokesman said the earlier statement about a new version of the bill — thought to create problems on school funding — turned out not to be a "new" draft, but an old draft that shouldn't have been circulating. ?!?
One bit of good news is that special interest legislation to hamstring the Arkansas Lottery
to limit competition for the Oaklawn casino in Hot Springs did not make the call. The bid to limit video games will undoubtedly return in the regular session, if the games aren't up and running by then.