Members of the Arkansas Legislature are expected to convene for a special session Thursday afternoon to address health insurance increases for the state’s public school employees.
Governor Mike Beebe will issue an official call for the special session later Wednesday.
A 50 percent hike in insurance premiums for public school employees was set to take effect January 1, if lawmakers were unable to rally enough votes in support of a short term fix that would cap premium increases at 10 percent.
The governor’s spokesman Matt DeCample says lawmakers began building a broader consensus Tuesday evening.
“In the Senate, we had 25 votes, but we needed 27 for one of the bills that would provide short term assistance from surplus funds in 2014 for the public school employees,” DeCample said. “Overnight, that total went from 25 to 29 and the governor feels that is sufficient enough to go forward with calling the session.”
DeCample says ideally the session will run for three days, the minimum length of a special session, to ensure the most efficient use of time and taxpayer money.
Lawmakers are considering using $43 million from state surplus funds this year and redirecting state money in subsequent years to lower public school employee insurance premiums.
In August, a board approved increases up to 50 percent for the 47,000 teachers on the state plan starting in 2014. According to an analysis by the Associated Press, under that board's decision, the premium for family coverage under the most popular plan will increase from $1,029 to $1,528 a month.
"We're relieved to hear a special session will be called," said Brenda Robinson, president of the Arkansas Education Association, which advocates on behalf of teachers. "We know its been a great effort by the governor and a bi-partisan group of legislators who were able to reach a consensus."
Robinson said she and other representatives will be watching carefully during the session to see how it plays out.