Beebe: Special session to start Monday


LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe on Tuesday issued a proclamation calling legislators back to Little Rock for a special session starting Monday to address teacher insurance premiums and prison overcrowding.

Beebe said the session will not include consideration of a proposal by Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, to bar the state lottery from adding monitor games.

“They don’t have the votes in the House, and the House is not interested in doing it,” Beebe told reporters at the state Capitol.

The governor said he did not expect any attempts to raise extra issues during the session.

“If they jump the traces then we’ll call them out on it, but right now it appears to be a done deal. Should be completed in three days,” he said.

Three days is the minimum amount of time in which the Legislature can pass a bill. Beebe said he did not want Arkansas taxpayers to have to fund anything beyond that.

On tap for the session are two proposed bills that seek to reduce costs in the public school teacher’s health insurance system to avoid an anticipated 35 percent increase in premiums and a proposal to ease prison overcrowding by shifting $6.2 million in annual funding from the state Central Services Fund to the state Department of Correction to allow it to open 600 new prison beds.

During a special session last October, the Legislature earmarked $43 million from the state’s budget surplus to hold what would have been a nearly 50 percent increase in teacher premiums to 10 percent. Lawmakers also shifted another $36 million annually from other state sources to shore up the system and created the task force to recommend structural changes.

Some recommendations are being implemented without legislation. The ones requiring legislation are proposed for the special session, such as excluding spouses from coverage if they can obtain insurance through their employers; making part-time employees ineligible; requiring verification of the eligibility of teachers’ dependents; and setting a limit on how much the state can pay for weight-loss surgery.

The Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association said earlier this month that 2,700 state prisoners were in county jails waiting for state prison space to become available, putting a strain on sheriffs’ offices.

Beebe said he agreed to call the special session only after legislative leaders assured him Tuesday that they would not pursue a proposal that turned up at the Bureau of Legislative Research to tap into the funding formula for public schools to address teachers’ premiums.

That proposal was an outdated draft that was sent to the bureau by mistake, Senate President Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, said Tuesday.

Beebe and legislative leaders said the fixes proposed for the special session are short-term and that lawmakers will have to continue addressing the issues in future sessions.

“It’s incremental on both of them,” Beebe said. “If anybody thinks this is the end-all and the cure-all and the be-all of all this stuff, I suspect they’ll be dealing with it for a while.”

House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, said, “I don’t think anybody thinks on either of each issues what we are capable of doing in this special session are the only changes that are ever going to be made.”

Carter also said he was “excited” that the House would meet during the session in the historic Old State House in downtown Little Rock because the House chamber at the Capitol is under renovation.

The Old State House, which formerly served as the state Capitol and is now a museum, has not been used for a legislative session since 1909, although the Legislature met there for commemorative purposes in 1951 and 1983, according to the House staff.