Gov. Beebe calls special session on teacher insurance program

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said Wednesday he'll call lawmakers back to the Capitol this week to approve a plan to increase funding to the state's teacher insurance program to lower premium hikes that are set to take effect next year.

Beebe told reporters that he planned to call for the session to begin Thursday afternoon, with lawmakers expected to work through Saturday on the plan to address the rate hikes. Beebe's office said the governor planned to issue a formal proclamation calling the session later Wednesday.

"It could go to Monday, but you have a lot of people that want to be out of here for other reasons next week," Beebe said. "Theoretically, if everybody agrees and it goes smoothly, you can get it done Thursday, Friday and Saturday."

The announcement came a day after Beebe said there wasn't enough support yet for him to call a special session.

Beebe has said he wouldn't call lawmakers back to the Capitol unless there was support to pass the measures aimed at lowering the insurance rate hikes. State officials say an additional $54 million is needed to keep teachers' rates at the current level. A state board in August approved increasing premiums by as much as 50 percent for the 47,000 teachers on the state plan starting Jan. 1. For example, the premium for family coverage under the most popular plan will increase from $1,029 to $1,528 a month.

Legislative leaders have been measuring support for a plan where the state would use $43 million from its surplus this year and redirect state money in subsequent years. The new money would lower the premium increases to 10 percent.

Using the surplus money would require the support of 75 House members and 27 senators. Beebe told reporters Wednesday that the plan has the support of at least 77 House members and 29 senators.

Beebe said the session will also take up a proposal unrelated to the insurance premiums that would phase out the excess property tax revenue a handful of school districts have kept and redirect those funds to the state. The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled last year that the state can't keep the excess funds from districts where higher property tax collections pushed the districts above total school funding levels set by state law.

Opposition to that plan from lawmakers who represent those districts had been an obstacle in winning support for the package of insurance fixes.