Governor Beebe has called a special session of the Arkansas General Assembly to begin today at 3:00 p.m. for legislators to address the health insurance premium increase that public school teachers and employees would otherwise face starting January 1, 2014, which I’ve discussed here and here. Governor Beebe had stated that he would not call a special session unless and until there were enough votes in the House and Senate to pass a resolution. Yesterday, the Governor became confident that a consensus had been reached.
The legislature will consider a package of five bills that will address the premium increase in the upcoming year and will hopefully lead to a long-term solution. Those bills will, from what I understand:
- Shift $43 million from the state surplus to the public school employee health insurance plan for the 2014 plan year. This will still leave public school employees with a 10% premium increase for the 2014 plan year, but that’s better than the 50% increase they were facing. This is only a one-year solution, as state surplus funds are not ongoing.
- Shift $7 million from the teacher professional development fund to the plan. This would be an ongoing modification of teacher professional development requirements and funding.
- Shift $8 million from the Public School Facilities Fund. Again, this is another ongoing funding solution.
- Establish a task force to study and revise the public school employee health insurance plan for a true long-term solution. This bill will also authorize health savings account contributions from school districts and would eliminate zero-deductible plans for both public school and state employees, meaning that the Gold plan would likely be eliminated, or at least severely restructured.
- Clarify the distribution of URT revenue. This is the most controversial bill of the package, as it specifically addresses the issue decided by the Arkansas Supreme Court in Kimbrell v. McCleskey, which I discuss in detail here. If you remember, the Court held in McCleskey that school districts who collect more than the per-pupil foundation funding amount as determined by the General Assembly in URT collections may keep the excess funding, thus resulting in richer school districts receiving more per-pupil funding than other districts. Critics say that McCleskey is not in line with the Lake View School District line of cases, which I discuss here, here, and here. This bill would clarify that those districts with higher collections cannot retain any amount over the foundation funding amount. The excess would be collected by the State and redistributed to other districts, along with other forms of state tax revenue, as necessary to ensure the same per-pupil amount for every district.
If all goes well, the special session should be concluded by Saturday. I’ll post copies of the bills once filed.
UPDATE: As of Friday morning, 22 bills have been filed, some off topic.
UPDATE: The special session ended at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday morning, thus meeting the three-day requirement of the Arkansas Constitution. The Governor was unable to garner enough support to correct the URT distribution issue mentioned above, but other than that, everything passed as planned, leaving public school employees with only a 10% premium increase for the 2014 plan year. Below are links to the new Acts:
Act 1 – To Allow Savings from the General Facilities Funding and Supplemental Millage Incentive Funding to be Used for Public School Employee Health Insurance
Act 2 – To Modify the Requirements for Teacher Professional Development
Act 3 – To Create a More Sustainable System of Health Insurance Benefits for Public School Employees
Act 5 – Supplemental Appropriation for the Department of Education